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These 16 urban farmers turned to the roofs to feed their cities

· 8 Minute Read
Urban rooftop farm

One of the main challenges cities face in their journey towards a local, fair and sustainable food system is the lack of space. That’s why all around the world, urban farmers are turning to the roofs to feed their cities. From the highest to the biggest and from Copenhagen to New York: these 16 edible roofs show food can be grown pretty much anywhere.

1. Hop farming on the roofs of Johannesburg

Construction engineer Khaya Maloney grows hops – the key ingredient in beer – on a rooftop in Johannesburg. Maloney left his corporate career to start a hydroponic farm, without any experience. Hops typically can be harvested once a year and aren’t cultivated in the area of Johannesburg, due to environmental factors, but Maloney made it happen: “With hydroponics, because you’re dialing in the nutrients directly into the roots of a crop using technology and water filters and everything else, I have managed to have three of four cycles a year meaning I harvest every three months,” Maloney told Business Insider.

2. A hospital in Boston is feeding its patients with food grown on the roof

Right on top of the Boston Medical Center you find a thriving rooftop farm, with more than 25 crops. The farm provides fresh, local produce to the hospitalized patients, cafeterias and the Preventive Food Pantry: a free food resource for low income patients. 

“Food is medicine. That’s why we’re doing what we’re doing,” says David Maffeo, the hospital’s senior director of support services. “Most urban environments are food deserts. It’s hard to get locally grown food and I think it’s something that we owe to our patients and our community.”

3. In Singapore, the roof of a car park was turned into an urban farm

Danielle Chan, co-founder of Citiponics grew up working for her mother’s farm in Malaysia, delivering produce to Singapore. ⁣After visiting a rooftop farm in New York City, she was inspired to create something similar back home. And so she did, right on top of a car park. 

4. This company is farming the roofs of New York city

From a rooftop vegetable farm right on top of an Italian restaurant to a spectacular farm at the Javits Convention Center in the middle of Manhattan, Brooklyn Grange is turning New York into an edible paradise, one roof at a time.

5. A stunning hydroponic rooftop farm is transforming a concrete jungle in Gauteng

With her stunning hydroponic rooftop farm, Zandile Kumalo is on a mission to make the concrete jungle of Gauteng a little greener. At Neighbour Roots, located on top of a shopping center, she grows a variety of fresh vegetables and herbs that she distributes to several restaurants and businesses on the floors below her.

6. The largest rooftop farm that is feeding Paris

Paris has been famous for centuries for its refined cuisine. But just like the majority of large cities, it highly depends on food supplies coming from outside the city. Nature Urbaine is trying to change that. Right on top of Paris Expo’s Pavillon 6 in the southern 15th arrondissement, this 14.000 square meter urban rooftop farm is providing Parisians with lettuce, tomatoes, strawberries, beets, basil, mint, and other fresh and organic fruits, vegetables and aromatics.

Related: The 15-minute city. How Paris is turning density and lack of space into a strength

7. Brussels grows fruits and vegetables on top of a supermarket

Over sixty species of plants are being cultivated at the Lagum Project: a rooftop garden on top of a supermarket in Brussels. Since March of this year, over 2 tonnes of produce have been harvested. The harvest is distributed to the neighbors and used in ‘Refresh’, a social restaurant that’s part of the Lagum Project.

8. A rooftop farm in the heart of Copenhagen unites farmers, chefs and citizens

ØsterGro started in 2014 on top of an old car-auction house in Copenhagen. The rooftop farm covers 600 square meters with fields of organic vegetables, fruits, greens, herbs and edible flowers, a greenhouse, henhouse and three bee-hives. ØsterGro is a community-supported agriculture (CSA) project. Besides members receiving their weekly harvest from the rooftop, the fresh produce can also be enjoyed at the restaurant Gro Spiseri, where chefs turn the fresh harvest into delicious meals.

9. Growing veggies at 300 meters high in the middle of Hong Kong

Rooftop farms are sprouting all over one of the most crowded cities in the world: Hong Kong. Rooftop Republic demonstrates that the sky really is(n’t) the limit. Their latest project is an urban farm 300 meters above the ground.

Thanks to initiatives like Rooftop Republic, more than 60 rooftop farms have sprouted all over Hong Kong since 2015. For a city that imports more than 90 percent of its food, this is a great step towards a local and sustainable food system.

10. Feeding an entire city from the roofs of shopping malls

In Montreal, Lufa Farms is on a mission to prove that high-yield, year-round farming is a smarter, more sustainable, and commercially viable way to feed cities. According to the rooftop farmers, converting the rooftops of 19 average-sized shopping centers would grow enough veggies for all of Montreal. With 4 farms up and running, they are getting closer to that goal every year.

11. This rooftop farm in Rotterdam helps to fight against floods

The Dutch city of Rotterdam is mostly famous for its port, which is the biggest in Europe. But amidst all this industrial activity, a green treasure is hidden. The DakAkker is a 1,000 m2 urban rooftop farm, where organic fruits, vegetables, flowers, and herbs are grown and bees are kept. But that’s not all. Part of the roof has been transformed into a smart roof. This intelligent water storage system is automatically driven by the weather forecast and helps the city in its battle against floods.

12. A hydroponic rooftop farm in the heart of Tel Aviv

In 2015, on the rooftops of the Dizengoff shopping center in the heart of Tel Aviv, the ‘Green in the City’ urban farm was founded. Six years later, the farm continues to provide restaurants, shops and private customers with fresh lettuce, basil, spinach, kale, bok choy and more and hydroponic farms have started to pop up all over Israel.

13. The first Indigenous rooftop farm in Australia

Yerrabingin means ‘we walk together’. Built on the 500 square meter rooftop space of an office building, this native rooftop farm uses the principles of Indigenous knowledge, collaborative design and permaculture to create and maintain Australia’s first Indigenous rooftop farm for urban food production.

14. The woman behind the largest organic rooftop farm in Asia

Bangkok is famous for its traffic, density, and frequent flooding. Landscape architect Kotchakorn Voraakhom is trying to change that. She repurposed over 20.000 square meters of unused space on top of the university and turned it into Asia’s largest organic rooftop farm: the Thammasat University Urban Rooftop Farm. Voraakhom said the devastating floods in 2011 were a turning point for her. That was when she decided to dedicate her life to making her home city a greener place.

15. A rooftop community garden in New York serves as a launching pad for college students

The rooftop community garden of Manhattan College has been designed and built by students to provide food to the community and hands-on learning for their peers. Since the launch in 2012, the students have grown a variety of crops, including watermelon, corn, tomatoes, bell peppers, spinach, squash, broccoli, lettuce, pumpkins and beans. And now, local high school students can earn college credits participating in a sustainable internship program at the rooftop farm.

16. Palestinians transform Bethlehem rooftop with hydroponics systems

Although Aida is not a megacity like all the other cities included in this list, it’s an example worth mentioning. Aida is a cramped refugee camp, with more than 3,000 people living in only 0.7 square kilometers, according to the UN. With no green space on their doorstep, residents started a rooftop garden in 2014. Last year the project expanded with the help of pipes and other equipment, and the residents began to grow food using hydroponics. While transforming rooftop corners of the camp into gardens will not remove the need to buy vegetables grown elsewhere, it can improve the community’s resilience.

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