By Paulina Firozi
For more than a decade, Chicago has been at the forefront of the green-roof movement. Now the city is poised to take an active role in the next environmental push, using roofs to grow food. It’s a movement that is sparking interest in cities nationwide.
Rooftop farms are popping up around the city, from the McCormick Place convention center, which has grown tens of thousands of pounds of produce since 2013, to a historic Pullman neiborhood factory, expected to have the world’s largest operation when it’s completed this summer, to small businesses and educational programs.
Steven Peck, founder and president of Green Roofs for Healthy Cities, a Toronto-based industry association that promotes green roofs, said cities have “just scratched the surface” in the conversation about green roofs and rooftop farms, which are “making use of an otherwise wasted space.”
Across the country, there has been a call for new food-producing spaces, Peck said.
“There’s a demand for high-quality food in our cities, a consumer demand for it, a social need for it,” he said. “There’s a longing for people living in densely developed cities to reconnect to farming and to nature, to rooftop agriculture.”
It’s too early to tell what kind of impact rooftop farming, now only in its infancy, could have on food production.
There are at least 13 rooftop farms in Chicago, said Peter Strazzabosco, deputy commissioner of the Chicago Department of Planning and Development, although he said there could be more.
Other cities noted for green development include Washington, with three rooftop farms, and Toronto with two, according to officials in those cities.
Michael Bryson, a professor of humanities and director of sustainability studies at Roosevelt University, said the discussion of sustainability is crucial and that urban agriculture can contribute to the evolution of how food is grown and distributed.