Imagine you’re a bird soaring above a city, and instead of looking down and seeing a quilt of concrete rooftops, wavy from a heat mirage, all you see is green. Like a St. Patrick’s day-themed checkerboard, these little green squares would be the food and energy source of the future. This is the vision of Alex Poltorak and his hydroponic Urban Canopy Rooftop Farm, located in Chicago’s Back of the Yards neighborhood. Alex hopes his literal urban jungle will be an inspiration for urban farmers citywide – all it takes is a little creativity, some determination, and maybe a few feet of piping to harness the goods that Mother Nature provides.
Alex started his farm by soliciting donations on the KickStarter website, describing his vision of a “more sustainable and equitable urban food system.” Local, organic, healthy, and environmental are the key words that garnered pledges for the campaign, which just reached its goal early in the year. So this spring they broke ground – figuratively, of course, otherwise they’d burst right into The Plant, an indoor farm located in the building upon which the Urban Canopy sits! And since starting, Alex has constructed a “wind hedge,” installed two beehives under the care of Jana from
Bike-a-Bee, and most importantly, built an entire closed hydroponic system.
For hydroponic newbies like myself, the structure looked like an elaborate tangle of white robotic arms from outer space, except it’s got plants bursting out of it in all directions. Not something I could’ve built in just one season without prior experience, like Alex did! But Alex insists he’s no expert – all the ideas he’s utilized have been a result of experimentation and trial and error. I think his success stems from his open-mindedness – one of the facets of Urban Canopy is that as a business they are constantly changing and flowing, just like the water in the hydroponic system. This attitude has led Alex to many breakthroughs in canopy farming. For example – who knew that lemon cucumbers (see left) and baby watermelons could grow like vines, intertwined and suspended on a rope?
So what does this all mean for you? Well firstly, getting involved in rooftop farming is the way to go. The EPA’s list of benefits of green roofs is extensive, but in my opinion they forgot one thing – the healthiness and tastiness of a fresh vegetable from just upstairs! And not to mention you’ll be using less energy than you would if you bought food that was transported hundreds of miles in refrigerated trucks. Instead, Alex turns on a pump that cycles a water and compost mixture he calls “compost tea,” using about $2 worth of electricity per month. If that isn’t green, then I don’t know what is. To make it greener, maybe we could all start our own rooftop patches, to make our cities green checkerboards in more ways than one.
Cheers to green growth in white pipes,