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World's second-largest rooftop farm takes root in Boston

Kaid Benfield

Posted March 7, 2013

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  rendering of Higher Ground Farm (by: Recover Green Roofs for Higher Ground Farm)

The aptly-named Higher Ground Farm will open this spring on the roof of the Boston Design Center.  It will cultivate an amazing 55,000 square feet, or a little over an acre, on top of the Design Center’s renovated old warehouse, just across Boston Harbor from Logan Airport and only a mile and a half from the heart of downtown.  It will be the city’s first rooftop farm and, according to an article written by Steve Annear for BostInno, the world’s second-largest.

Founded by Courtney Hennessey and John Stoddard, former classmates at the University of Vermont, Higher Ground will use organic methods to grow a diverse array of fruits and vegetables for the Boston community, to be sold through community-supported agriculture shares and an on-site farm stand, and to restaurants.  According to Stoddard, the farm “is also working on a partnership with a non-profit to distribute vegetables to corner stores in places where fresh produce isn’t readily available.”  Operations will begin this spring. 

  Courtney Hennessey, on location (courtesy of Higher Ground Farm)  

As discussed in my recent article on Peaceful Belly, the community-serving organic farm outside of Boise, I’m a fan of city gardens and farms that contribute fresh food and benefits to the urban environment but do not interfere with important urban attributes such as density and walkability.  Cities still need to be cities, for a host of environmental and other reasons.  Higher Ground’s approach, which does not occupy any street-level urban space, only enhances the city fabric without displacing it.

In addition, because it also is a green roof, Higher Ground helps cool the heat island effect that otherwise raises city temperatures and air conditioning needs.  Green roofs also absorb stormwater, a huge benefit especially so close to the harbor.  (I previously wrote about a rooftop garden in downtown Washington, created by the non-profit food provider Bread for the City, here.)

  the roof the the Boston Design Center (via Google Earth)

  less than two miles from downtown (via Google Earth)

In an article posted on the website of the Massachusetts Sustainable Business Leader Program, Stoddard notes that a recent zoning update has made it easier to engage in city gardening, and urges that more of the right types of urban spaces be devoted to the growing of food:

“In re-imagining our food system as a key component of an environmentally sustainable human society, let’s draw from our agricultural past while placing it in a modern context. Localized organic food production on rooftops, in empty warehouses, in freight containers, and in vacant lots has great potential to increase the availability of fresh healthy food, while benefitting the ecosystem and reconnecting urban populations to where food comes from. So while we probably will not see a ruminant resurgence in the Boston Common, we might begin to hear chickens clucking and bees buzzing from our rooftops. Let’s plant the seeds now for our food future by investing in roof agriculture.”

Higher Ground’s rooftop farming infrastructure is being installed by Recover Green Roofs, a Massachusetts-based company that also created the rendering accompanying this article.  For more, let Hennessey and Stoddard tell you in this on-location video:


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Kaid Benfield writes about community, development, and the environment on Switchboard and in the national media. For more posts, see his blog's home page. Please also visit NRDC’s sustainable communities video channels.

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LeeMar 7 2013 12:48 PM

This is generally a great idea, especially since it doesn't displace urban uses and has all sorts of other benefits, which you note. My only question pertains to location, almost literally at the end of a major airport runway. Won't those vegetables, fruits, and soils be hit with -- and possibly absorb -- all the nasty components of a lot of jet exhaust?

Lisa FiglioliMar 7 2013 05:10 PM

Meet John Stoddard and other rooftop farming pioneers at the Urban Farming Conference in Boston this Saturday, March 9, 10:45 a.m. Details here:

Here's the panel topic and line up:

The benefits of roof top farming in an urban setting make it an attractive alternative when ground-level space is scarce, utilizing and beautifying space in a community for growing fresh produce. The possibilities abound for roof top gardening and our speakers will engage you with their vision and share best practices. Year round growing, hydroponics, vertical and container gardening are just some of the methods to be discussed. How can your model be fiscally and operationally sound? What do you need to consider for future expansion? What environmental issues are unique to roof-top gardening?

Conversation Leaders:
Mark Winterer, Co-Founder/Director of Operations, Recover Green Roofs (Moderator)
Mohamed Hage, Founder, Lufa Farms
John Stoddard, Founding Farmer, Higher Ground Farm
Joseph Swartz, Director of Farming, Sky Vegetables, Inc.

mark slaterMar 13 2013 09:54 AM

so how do we get a patch of this land to farm?!!

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