Thursday, August 27, 2009

Green Roof Growers with Local, Virtual Roots

A professor in North Africa recently emailed three Wicker Park residents. He had stumbled across the Green Roof Growers blog, and plans to grow tomatoes on his roof.

"He [the professor] doesn't have much water," noted Heidi, a Green Roof gardener, though after exploring her garden, which includes 11 varieties of heirloom tomatoes, herbs, beans, peppers, eggplant (pictured), melons, eggplant and no doubt other edibles I didn't jot down during a recent visit, it's probably safe to call what's going on a rooftop farm. (Oh yeah, there's a beehive, too.)

Because the professor doesn't have much water, the soon-to-be farmer will maximize six plus hours of North African sunlight, and grow his tomatoes inside a Sub-Irrigated Planter, or SIP. Though the acronym sounds daunting, as acronyms oft do, it's just fancyspeak for a container, which can take many forms, from cbucketommercially trademarked Earthboxes, to D.I.Y. versions, like five gallon buckets-- in Heidi's case, food-grade buckets from longtime neighbor Alliance Bakery, handy during her home's "leaky roof years," and, more recently, buckets donated from the nearby Vienna Beef plant (pictured). Other SIPs include 18 gallon plastic Rubbermaid (tm) totes, and recycled pop bottles, like these.

Per Heidi, the impetus to develop her garden came from a 2006 Chicago Reader story, "The Future in a Box," ( by Martha Bayne. Soon after reading Martha's story, Heidi, and Art, her partner, both pictured, started a garden on the roof of their hheidi and monitors ome, which housed a discotheque many years ago. Art constructed a trellis, along with a spiral staircase leading to the roof after a year, or so of using the fire escape to access it. Heidi visits the garden everyday, and when she's not able to make the trek physically-- she works from home as an editor of medical manuscripts-- she can peek into the beehive, or gardens via video screen monitors that Art installed.
Joining Heidi, and Art in their growing adventures were longtime friends Russ, and Bruce. Pictured in today's masthead amid his rooftop garden, Bruce lives about a block away from Heidi, and Art. Russ gardens from his roof in nearby UK village. Initially, the trio shared their experiences via Heidi's Flikr album, and Bruce's, yet after upwards of 35,000 visitors to their albums, the trio launched the Green Roof Growers blog. There, in a recent posting, Bruce gives a tour of his garden, and speculates the culprit behind his suffering tomatoes: blight. In another post, Heidi provides an in-depth, informative recap of a SIP workshop, held at Wicker Park a few months ago.

So, is it really that simple for a landless urbanite with a patio, or roof to start growing food? Just a few buckets, soil, seeds, sunlight, a bit of TLC, and in the time-span of a growing season I could be staring at my own plate of homegrown tomatoes, like these, pictured? Heidi, a self described evantomatos via green roof growersgelist for urban growing, certainly made it seem easy enough, as did Bruce, whom confessed to not being much of a green thumb prior to starting his garden, and is now the proud parent of healthy squash blossoms, pictured. Heidi's enthusiasm was near infectious, too, though no matter how powerful, it could not build me a roof, patio, or six hours of sunlight, all of which I've lacked over the past five years, thus I remain a grower of a dozen or so houseplants, and one somewhat unlucky lucky bamboo, none of which I can pop into my mouth at whim, though, for now, however, I'm content to consume vicariously through these photographs, and share a small slice of the Green Roof Grower's story here, as I'm guessing other people in the city have roof space, and wouldn't mind procuring dinner from it, along with a tan.

Green Roof Growers is now own the blogroll, at right. Readers can also contact the growers directly at

-- This story initially appeared in the Aug 24th Pipeline eNewsletter as well as reposted on my neighbors, Eric, and Morgan's blog, Ecofiend.

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