In the process, she estimates she carried up 225kg of the 775kg of soil they bought and put in planters.
“My decision to start a garden is an extension of my work,” Crossfield said. “Growing my own food helps me understand better what I write about: how food gets to our table, the difficulties it entails.”
It’s not all about agricultural policy, she said.
“The bottom line,” she said, “is that I harbor a secret desire to be a farmer, and my way of doing that is to use what I have, which is a roof.”
Two weeks ago, Crossfield transplanted seedlings from her apartment onto the roof: golden zucchini, oakleaf lettuce, Brussels sprouts, butternut squash, watermelon, rainbow chard, cucumbers, nasturtiums, calendula, sunflowers, amaranth greens, tomatoes and herbs.
In San Francisco’s Tenderloin District, Maya Donelson has filled planter boxes with vegetables on an 85m² patch of roof at the Glide Memorial Church. For the last two years she has managed the Graze the Roof Project at the church’s Glide Center, a neighborhood social service provider.
The food goes to the center’s volunteers and children in the neighborhood who work in the garden one day a week and learn to cook what they grow.
“I’ve never had one kid who hasn’t wanted to get his hands dirty,” said Donelson, who studied architecture and environmental design. “They are willing to try anything if they see it growing and pull it out of the ground. We juiced the purple carrots and the kids drank that.”
Sustainable South Bronx, a nonprofit environmental organization, said it would help Alfred E. Smith High School plant a roof garden and has helped a company in Hunts Point put strawberry plants on its roof. (The owner likes strawberries, an official of the group said.)
One of the more ambitious projects is a 560m² roof farm in Greenpoint, New York, which will grow food for local restaurants and shops.
Ben Flanner, a transplanted Wisconsinite who’s running it, said he became fascinated with organic agriculture and was set to take an internship on a rural farm but then had a change of heart.
“I wanted to farm but I didn’t want to leave the city,” he said.
Flanner was lucky to find an environmentally aware company — Broadway Stages, a stage and lighting company — that wanted a green roof on one of its buildings. It paid to prepare the roof for planting and agreed to let him grow food on it. Flanner and his partner, Annie Novak, did the planting and will be able to keep all the profits from their organic vegetables.
“People are knocking on my door to buy the stuff,” he said.
Andrew Tarlow, a partner in four nearby restaurants, including Marlow & Sons, has agreed to buy anything Flanner grows.
The roof cost US$6,000 to prepare, said to Lisa Goode, who with her husband, Chris, owns Goode Green, a company that designs edible roof gardens. There are at least 1,000 seedlings planted in 16 beds, each about 20m.
“A smaller roof would cost more per square foot,” she said.
Flanner’s costs for the garden itself were less than US$2,000, but Goode said it would take more than one roof for him to make a living.
“This is sort of a pilot to see if it can become a viable business model because he isn’t going to make any money from this,” she said. “If we can get the owner to do more roofs, he can then make a profit.”