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How to Start a Rooftop Farm
1. First thing you’ll need to build a rooftop farm is a proper roof: structurally sound, with a load rating that can support 8-10” of soil; relatively flat and completely leak-free. Unless you enjoy lugging five-gallon buckets of gravel and fish emulsion up the stairs, some freight elevator access is a big plus. And the landlord should be a progressive, forward-thinking type with a commitment to greening the community, an appetite for vine-ripened heirloom tomatoes and a sense of humor about the hippies who just showed up in the lobby with six months’ worth of stinky compost (thanks, guys, we’ll take it all!).
2. Be prepared to spend some time writing grant apps and campaigning on crowdfunding websites like Kickstarter. Slow money for triple bottom line businesses is the wave of the future, but at present you will need to do some serious networking to find investors who are prescient enough to support innovative new business models.
3. Source your soil and green roof materials, and make sure you’ve got a water source or two up on the roof. Hauling tons of growing medium atop a building will most likely require a crane, so be ready to make friends with an architect and the Department of Buildings, and operate on union schedule. Hope you like hard hats and making coffee runs!
4. Rooftop farming is a team activity. You’ll need a couple of really committed partners to get the business off the ground and run day-to-day operations, plus an army of friends and neighbors to help dig out your beds and stake your tomatoes. Have no compunction about asking everyone you know to pitch in and build a community of green thumbs: if the woman who makes change at your laundromat grows Pak Choi on her fire escape, get her to lend a hand harvesting head lettuce! Your deli guy’s brother grows habaneros in the Yucatan? Ask him to send you some seeds!
5. Congratulations, you now have a shit-load of vegetables! What are you gonna do with 300 pounds of tomatoes in one day? You’ll need to establish distribution channels for your produce, via wholesale to restaurants, retail at markets or CSA shares directly to the community. Let’s face it: you can only eat so much salad.
Anastasia Cole Plakias, co-founder and managing partner, Brooklyn Grange