Glitzy commercial farms tend to dominate the rooftop agriculture media scene. Magazines, newspapers, the blogosphere (and even I!) can’t resist featuring these highly photogenic rooftops. These farms rely on the surrounding community for indirect and sometimes direct sales, but generally the community does not play a critical role up on the roof.
Let’s tip our hats for the moment to community-oriented rooftop farms and gardens, which often prioritize stewardship, nutrition education, and community building. Graze the Roof, in San Francisco’s Tenderloin District, welcomes neighborhood kids and adults to its 900 square foot (0.02 acre) garden atop Glide Memorial Church. Project manager and garden educator Lindsey Dyer estimates that the garden welcomes 250-450 volunteers and 300-500 visitors each year, many of whom are low-income. Gardening workshops , community work parties, and an after-school program help reconnect neighbors to their food, while producing fruits and veggies for the church’s soup kitchen down below. “The dream was to transform an underutilized surface… into a vibrant landscape of food, community, and education” explains Lindsey.
Toronto’s AccessPoint on Danforth supports a 6,500 square foot (0.15 acre) rooftop garden that similarly provides opportunities for community development, environmental education, and social health activities. The underlying community health center attracts a diversity of visitors, while rooftop programming primarily engages immigrants and refugees. According to Green Access Community Animator Lara Mrosovsky, AccessPoint on Danforth is “the first Community Health Centre in Ontario to have an intensive green roof.” With over 40 heirloom vegetable varieties and 40 medicinal and culinary herb varieties under cultivation, this garden is sure to pave the path for other Canadian community roofs to follow.
At a smaller scale, home rooftop gardens such as that at the Sand Residence in West Philadelphia build community through neighborly interaction and vegetable sharing. Jay Sand’s three young daughters learn about stewardship and healthy eating throughout the growing season, and teach their friends about gardening during play dates. At least one other rooftop garden is visible from the family’s roof; perhaps the girls planted the seed!