Mr. Okra – A New Orleans Icon


I met Mr. Okra by chance on my way to the Jazz Fest this past May. He is a large man with an ear-to-ear smile and a voice that must be heard to be appreciated.

Mr. Okra truck

“I have eating pears and bananas,” he cried out from a colorful truck, full of fresh produce.

Arthur J. Robinson, nicknamed, “Mr. Okra” had just sold some produce to a woman unable to leave her home. His paid helper, a much younger and spry man jumped out of the Mr. Okra truck and delivered food to the woman with a smile.

This is how Mr. Okra has been selling his produce, including okra, from his colorful truck for decades, There’s even a short film by The Nom de Guerre filmmakers called, “Mr. Okra” (watch here) that tells his colorful story.

As he rides slowly down the streets of New Orleans, he announces by almost singing in a cadence all his own, the produce he has to sell; “I have oranges and bananas, I have eatin’ apples, I have cantaloupe, I have the mango, I have tangerine, I have garlic green, I have pinapple, I have merliton….”

Merliton or mirliton (pronounced meliton)

Merliton or mirliton (pronounced meliton) is a unique vegetable grown mostly in the deep south and was a backyard staple in South Louisiana. Virtually unknown anywhere else, this vegetable originally comes from South America and is now grown in many warm weather climates. Unfortunately, heirloom mirlitons were nearly wiped out by Hurricanes Katrina, Rita, and Gustav.

Each morning begins with loading up his hand-painted pick-up truck with fresh fruits and vegetables and slowly driving through the neighborhoods of Bywater, Tremé and the 9th Ward. His Cajun cadence is melodic, bellowing from the speakers mounted atop his truck and drawing people from out of their homes to buy what items he has available that day.

The Peoples Grocery in Oakland, California started out by doing much the same thing, by bringing the food to people living in poor neighborhoods. Most of them can not afford to get to a supermarket where a variety of fruits and vegetables is available.

Instead, these neighborhoods are caught in a cycle of purchasing low nutrient foods, high in sodium, fats and sugars (See: ANDI – Aggregate Nutrient Density Index) . All of these communities in West Oakland, Bywater, Tremé and the 9th Ward have one thing in common; they live in, what is now referred to as, “food deserts“.

Dr. Bob and Mr. Okra in new 2006 Ford f150.

Mr. Okra serves these communities by giving them access to nutrient rich foods. He does this with a style and flair uniquely his own. By delivering his goods fresh to the people most in need, he has become a highly visible icon and local hero.

In late 2009 the Mr. Okra truck, painted by Dr. Bob, started having engine problems. When this news got out, a group consisting of Tom Thayer of DBA, Nom De Guerre filmmakers, Ronnie Lamarque and his crew at Lamarque Ford, the Mayor’s office, River Parish Disposal, and hundreds of concerned customers, friends, and proponents of Nola culture came together to help.

On May 20, 2010 a benefit concert to buy him a new truck was held at dba on Frenchman Street. Bands including Morning 40 Federation and the Happy Talk Band played in support of the new truck, and Morning 40 had the distinction of being painted on the truck by beloved New Orleans artist Dr. Bob.

Short film, "Mr. Okra" by Nom De Guerre Films.

In true sustainable fashion, some local museums are interested in buying the old truck and extending its usefulness for years to come.

Mr. Okra is a living reminder of a bygone era in the early 1800s, where people would sing, dance, and play drums in accordance with their African traditions in Congo Square, in what is known today as the French Quarter.  Vendors filled the streets of New Orleans and Congo Square, chanting their offerings such as coffee and calas.

Today, if you’re in New Orleans and hear the sing song voice call out, “I have eatin’ apples, I have merliton…”, run and get your fresh fruits and vegetables from a living legend who continues to build community and improve the health and wellness of people in New Orleans.

To support the maintenance and upkeep on Mr. Okra’s truck, please go to: http://nomdeguerre.tv/foundation.html.

Resources:

Video of Mr. Okra
Merliton History
The Peoples Grocery
Supporting Local Food Culture

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Education You Can Eat


The wonderful chef, restaurateur, and leader o...

Leader of the Slow Food Movement, Alice Waters.

Forty years ago in Berkeley, Alice Waters started her restaurant Chez Panisse and brought rise to what is now the Slow Food Movement.

Today, Executive Director Nikki Henderson and author Michael Pollan are collaborating with The Chez Panisse Foundation to offer the first Edible Education course and lecture series at UC Berkeley Extension in the Fall of 2011.

She was inspired by her experience in France at age 18, “where food was woven into everyday life”, she explains. They ate what was in season and everything was fresh. If tomatoes weren’t available, they used what was.

This coursework will build on her Edible Schoolyard Program that’s been teaching children about growing and eating food for the past 16 years. “If they are involved with growing the food, then they will eat it – all of it.”

The Edible Education series examines multiple aspects of the food movement from the perspectives of experts in the field, including Frances Moore Lappe, Marion Nestle, Raj Patel and Eric Schlosser.

Enrollment in the course is closed but, keep tuned to the U.C. Berkeley Extension’s website for upcoming classes.

Resources:

Video of Alice Waters speaking about her inspirational experiences in France.

Tapping Into The Power of Community


We know that communities connect individuals. However, those individuals often go unnoticed and unrecognized.

Communities, and the people who build them, are garnering more attention these days. Yes, even president Obama was at one time a community organizer, but the trend goes deeper than that.

Front Porch Forum digitally connects members of a community.

The way communities have come together has traditionally been around public meeting spots, over the fence and at PTA meetings. Today, there is a new kind of community organizer.

Building Community Online

Meet Valerie and Michael Wood-Lewis, CEO and co-founder of front porch forum.com. Back in 2000, they wanted to meet and get to know our own neighbors in Burlington, Vermont. They took their idea online and started front porch forum, an easy and safe way for neighbors to communicate with each other.

People report feeling more connected to neighbors, and to the local goings on in their community. The effect is contagious and people become more active in organizing group events, volunteering, and even voting on local ballot measures. People in Burlington are realizing just how much they’ve been missing.

Underground Food Markets

In San Francisco Iso Rabins had been frustrated by his inability to get a booth at legit farmers markets. Most farmers markets require that you be certified as the “primary producer” of the food you sell. Wild foraged food grows on its own, so technically there’s no producer. This, combined with the abundance of delicious food being made in Bay Area home kitchens, gave him an idea.

San Francisco's Underground Market.

In 2009, he started San Francisco’s Underground Market.  Soon the market became a hit among foodies and young urbanites. San Francisco’s hip, young food entrepreneurs finally had a place to experiment and test their culinary talents on a discerning crowd.

The word got out and the event swelled to accommodate the hundreds and soon thousands of people who would line up to attend.

People like Jaynelle St. Jean – PieTisserie (AKA Pie Lady) got her start there in 2010. Until, early this summer when the San Francisco Health Department put a halt to the SFUM.

Shareable Food

The new foodie phenomenon is shareable food; there’s community meal sharing, potlucks, gift-economy restaurants, community food growing projects, food swap events, pop-up stores, stone soup gatherings, food-buying cooperatives, goat-sharing, chicken cooperatives, and events like The Big Lunch.

And for chefs who want to connect with foodies and organize community food events there’s Grubly, Munchery, Gobble, and EatWithMe.

Entrepreneurs are seeing the potential and have created new venues for food production and food sharing. La Cocina in San Francisco is a shared commercial kitchen, that serves to reduce the barrier to entry for small want-to-be-chefs.

Marketplaces create a space for entrepreneurs to get their products out there; and marketing cooperatives can help entrepreneurs aggregate and sell their products. These community-based solutions give entrepreneurs access to spaces and customers that are normally out of reach due to high rents and space availability.

Los Angeles Food Swap

Food Trading

The plethora of micro-local produce and food products is astounding.

In Boston, Massachusetts a site called, MAfoodtrader.org allows the greater Boston community access to local homemade breads, fresh eggs, cheese, nuts, fruit, kombucha starter, honey, CSA meat, fish, dried grains and beans. Some non-food items like homemade soaps, and even home-brew are up for trade.

Buying Local Fosters Community Building

Local businesses who provide services and products are most sustainable when their community supports them. This is how communities grow and thrive, especially in an uncertain economy that has become the “new norm”.

If you are interested in helping break down the legal barriers to small food enterprises in your community, you can support cottage food laws which have already been passed in half of the U.S. states. Some Bay Area cities such as, San Francisco, Berkeley, and Oakland have recently done this or are currently considering it.

Resources:
http://frontporchforum.com/
Food trading
Frugal Foodies

Credits:
Thanks to Janelle Orsi for her well researched and written article, The Shareable Food Movement Meets the Law.

In Search Of A More Sustainable Food System


We have grown accustomed to cheap, plentiful food when, and where we want it. Getting access to produce grown in other continents is a wonder of the modern era. This is all made possible by oil – and well, a little ingenuity by us humans. Let’s take a closer look at how our food system of today came into being and how we can make it more sustainable.

The Haber Process

The German chemist, Fritz Haber, is credited with inventing what is known as The Haber Process, (also called the Haber–Bosch Process) which essentially produces ammonia from readily abundant atmospheric nitrogen, giving us the ability to mass produce nitrate fertilizer.

It has been estimated that if humans were still hunter-gatherers, reliant on what resources they came across in a nomadic existence, the carrying capacity of the planet would be around 100 million people.

Fritz Haber, 1918

Fritz Haber - inventor of the Haber Process

This one invention is responsible for increasing the carrying capacity of the human race more than any other in history (It has been estimated that if humans were still hunter-gatherers, reliant on what resources they came across in a nomadic existence, the carrying capacity of the planet would be around 100 million people. Today, with modern agriculture, estimates range from 2 to 40 billion. – Keith Skene. Contemporary Review, Mar 22, 2010)

The Haber process is important because prior to this discovery, ammonia was difficult to produce on a large scale. Today, ammonia fertilizer generated using the Haber process is responsible for sustaining one-third of the Earth’s population (Wikipedia). Also important is the fact that the majority of the ammonia for this process is derived from petroleum products. Not only is oil responsible for how food is transported to your table, it’s actually in the food we eat, molecularity speaking of course.

Green Revolution

The only agronomist ever to win the Nobel Peace Prize was a man named Dr. Norman Ernest Borlaug. He is referred to as the father of the “Green Revolution“, because of his work to create new food production processes that helped “provide bread for a hungry world.” He revolutionized a new era of high-intensity farming  in the 20th century by introducing high-yielding crop varieties combined with modern agricultural production techniques to Mexico, Pakistan, and India. Mexico went from importing most of their wheat, to becoming a net exporter by 1963. Dr. Borlaug is often credited with saving over a billion people worldwide from starvation.

Borlaug speaking at the Ministerial Methodist Conference and Expo on Agricultural Science and Technology in June 2003

As he accepted the prize in Oslo, he issued a stern warning. “We may be at high tide now,” he said, “but ebb tide could soon set in if we become complacent and relax our efforts.”

Our Current Food System Was Born to Break

Our modern day system of food production and distribution is primarily centralized and controlled by a handful of multinational conglomerates (Archer Daniels Midland, Cargill and Monsanto, just to name a few). The complexity of today’s distribution system requires millions of lines of software code to manage and run the trains, ships, trucks and storage facilities, that are spread all across the globe. The whole system is only made possible by the existence of cheap and plentiful oil. Once oil prices rise past $200 per barrel and higher, the system is doomed to failure. This is a system that was born to break.

There are a number of factors that are currently taxing our modern system of food production. The following factors are all contributing to a “perfect storm” scenario that puts us on the brink of collapse.

Factors Straining Food System:

  1. Rising affluence of low-income people
  2. Climate change
  3. Lowered food reserves, particularly in the U.S.
  4. Nitrogen Fertilizer Causes Topsoil Depletion, Acid Rain and Lower Crop Yields

1. Rising Affluence of Low-Income People

India, Brasil and China all have growing middle class populations. As these countries reap the benefits of their stronger economies, they also go through the same growth patterns that the U.S. did back in the post-cold war years. A growing middle class, in terms of food consumption means a higher demand for meat, poultry, eggs and dairy.

This change in consumption patterns creates exponentially higher demand for grain. Livestock requires more grain than if the grain itself was eaten directly. In order to produce one pound of beef, a beef steer needs to eat 9 – 16 lbs, of grain and drink approximately 150 gallons of water. In other words, it takes 54 calories of fossil fuel to make 1 calorie of protein for beef.

2. Climate Change

We know that the increase of CO2 in our Earth’s atmosphere to record levels is causing, and will continue to cause, dramatic impacts to the planet’s natural cycles. These impacts include shifting shorelines, declining agricultural productivity, crisis of food supply, availability of water, the health of populations and extreme weather events.

Millions of agricultural peoples are located in the areas due to receive the most severe devastation from the rising ocean levels. Fleeing these arable lands will be a last resort for many in these communities. The impact of reduced crop production will be only one of many.

What is little known however are the impacts of environment related diseases, which could spread rapidly in epidemic proportions with changes in water availability and quality.

3. Lowered U.S. Food Reserves

The United States has historically responded to food shortages by shipping surpluses half way around the world. Under current U.S. food aid policy, the majority of food given to developing countries in crisis must be purchased from U.S. farmers and then shipped overseas on U.S. carriers in order to be distributed or sold at its final destination.

In years past, the U.S. has always had sufficient food reserves to accommodate most food shortages. But, recently starting with the food crisis of 2005 in Niger, this system has been weakened considerably.

Then, world food prices increased dramatically in 2007 and the 1st and 2nd quarter of 2008, creating a global crisis and causing political and economical instability and social unrest in both poor and developed nations. Massive food riots erupted in countries such as Cameroon and Egypt, with Haiti getting hardest hit. According to the UN’s Food and Agricultural Organization, the global price of food hit a new record high in December, 2010. See: Deglobalization – The Price of Food in the New World Economy.

We now are barely able to keep enough food reserves on hand making us, and the nations who depend upon us, much more vulnerable to shortages in the future.

4. Nitrogen Fertilizer Causes Topsoil Depletion, Acid Rain and Lower Crop Yields

Synthetic nitrogen fertilizers have an unintended adverse affect upon our environment.

Consistent use of petroleum based fertilizers deplete the soil of their organic matter, leave residues and buildups that inhibit microorganisms, and cause salinization. They also strip the topsoil of it’s ability to prevent erosion and runoff in times of heavy rain.

Fossil fuels have been cleverly hidden away under the Earth’s crust for millions of years. When synthetic fertilizers are used, they release this nitrogen on a massive scale. Decades of conventional farming has overloaded the carrying capacity of the Nitrogen Cycle. This overabundance of nitrogen, which is now at twice the level it was before the industrial revolution, has to go somewhere. The excess nitrogen shows up in the form of acid rain, nitrates in the water or nitrous oxide emissions in the atmosphere.

The reduction in healthy topsoil is directly attributable to high-intensity, conventional farming practices that use chemical fertilizers. Less topsoil on farmlands have resulted in lower crop yields and a greater dependence upon synthetic fertilizers made from fossil fuel. This catch-22 puts farmers in a cycle of soil-depletion behavior that is difficult for many to escape.

Multiple Factors Pushing Food Prices Up

Hollygrove Market and Farm allows members to make their own CSA boxes.

A complex combination of poor harvests, competition with bio-fuels, higher energy prices, surging demand in China and India, and a blockage in global trade is driving food prices up worldwide. As prices rise, the need for people to become “food-independent” increases. Fortunately, breaking free of the centralized food system of today requires only modest changes in one’s lifestyle.

Interestingly, Americans on average spend less than 15 percent of their expendable income on food, while globally the average settles around 40 percent or 50 percent of the household income, according to the Associated Press.

Centralized Versus Decentralized Food Systems

Until very recently, the worlds food systems were run by small farmers (less than 10 acres). Most large commercial farms are in the tens of thousands of acres. With this combination of resources; land, equipment, facilities, infrastructure, come inherent weaknesses and vulnerabilities. Crop failures due to flooding, insect infestations, molds and disease are only the beginning of the risks facing mega farms.

The more decentralized the food system, the more capable it is to withstand these devastating events.

A New Distributed Food System On The Horizon

Local honey sold at the Hollygrove Market and Farm in New Orleans, La.

As evidenced by the rise in popularity of urban farms, today’s food production system is undergoing subtle but, transformative change. People that have never grown vegetables before are tearing up their front lawns to provide their family with fresh, hyper-local produce.

Large, corporate run farming operations will still be needed in this new world of food production. The changes here will be less dramatic at first. One factor that will force change for the big farmers will be the rising price of oil. Energy costs alone will push innovation in the production methods and through the entire supply line from farm to market.

Smaller, local and community supported market and farm operations will enjoy a distinct advantage in the years ahead. For example, Hollygrove Market & Farm in New Orleans caters to the needs of their community the way that no agribusiness farm could. They sell freshly harvested, local produce along with locally farmed, organic eggs, honey and other products.

Small, community-based market and farms provide a level of food security that is needed to offset the price shocks and instability of our current food system.

The sooner we come together in communities to begin feeding ourselves, as our ancestors once did, the less suffering we will endure, as the current systems begin to fail. By working together, sharing ideas, seeds, tools, labor and meals together, we will rediscover many forgotten pleasures and become “food-secure” in an age of instability and transformative change.

References:

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/06/05/science/earth/05harvest.html?_r=2
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2007%E2%80%932008_world_food_price_crisis
http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2011/06/05/science/earth/harvest.html?ref=earth

Deglobalization – The Price of Food in the New World Economy


When we think of how low prices for food have been in the United States since the industrial revolution, we mostly congratulate ourselves for our technological and agricultural prowess that made this possible. Our ingenuity of being able to produce more food per acre than ever before is a badge of honor in our collective unconscious. All of us can’t help but take for granted how cheap food really is for the American consumer.

American organizations such as the Red Cross come to the rescue when disaster strikes in various parts of the world. Supported by our huge reserves of grain, wheat, corn and rice, transport planes are loaded with “surplus” grains, flours, milk powders and ready to eat meals. As Americans, we think that we have conquered the food production challenge – a perfect example of humanity winning out over nature.

Nothing could be further from the truth. The world has changed dramatically in just the past 10 years and yet our approach to agriculture has not evolved to meet today’s changing environmental landscape.

World Food Price Crisis

World Food Price Crisis

In July 2008 the price of oil – inexorably linked to the price of food – shot up to a high of $147.30 per barrel. This surge in oil prices (much of it stemming from commodities traders) has a multiplier effect on food prices. First, because fossil fuel is a major source of nitrogen fertilizer used in much of the large farming operations run by the worlds leading agribusiness concerns. Next, the transportation of food is run almost entirely on a system completely dependent upon fossil fuels. The result means increased pricing for food that is a staple for hundreds of millions of the world’s poorest people.

This multiplier effect was evidenced here in the United States when, in April 2008 Sam’s Club instituted a limit on how much long-grain white rice restaurants and retail customers could purchase due to world-wide shortages. The U.S. was mostly spared from major price jumps in food commodity prices – but, other developed nations were effected severely with the developing nations being the hardest hit by what has been labeled as the Global Food Crisis.

In India, food riots were reported in the Indian state of West Bengal in 2007 over shortages of food. Haitian food riots caused several deaths and prices for food items such as rice, beans, fruit and condensed milk have gone up 50 percent since late 2007 while the price of fuel tripled in only two months. The Brazilian government reacted by announcing a temporary ban on the export of rice to protect their consumers from shortages.

Many other factors were at work to create this dire scenario that led to the Crisis. The administration of former president George W. Bush was active lobbying Congress to pass the Energy Independence and Security Act that focused on promoting agrofuels and the automobile fuel industry. The act targeted the increase of agrofuels production by more than eightfold from 4.7 billion gallons in 2007 to at least 36 billion gallons in 2022.

Many small and mid-sized farmers were being offered exorbitant prices for their land by those wishing to cash in on the rush to turn corn into ethanol.

Price of Oil Peaks in 2008

Arable lands that once had been utilized for growing corn for consumption, were being diverted to the production of ethanol. This phenomena led to the relatively short-lived boom\bust of the ethanol craze in the U.S. The cost to grow the corn and convert it into ethanol was, as it turned out, a negative sum proposition. Only if the price of oil were to continue to climb past $140 could corn ethanol hope to be price competitive.

So far, just Brazil has proven that sugar cane can be converted into ethanol efficiently. After 30 years of technological innovation, government mandates and public acceptance, Brazil’s mandatory fuel blend is 25% of anhydrous ethanol and 75% gasoline or E25 blend. The combination of vast arable land and superior agri-industrial technology makes this possible.


Bibliography

1. 2007–2008 world food price crisis, Wikipedia
2. Food Wars by Walden Bello and Mara Baviera, Monthly Review (July-August 2009)
3. The price of food: ingredients of a global crisis, Heidi Fritschel (April 9, 2008)
4. Ethanol fuel in Brazil, Wikipedia

Soil Composting – Sustainable Means Local


Compost Bin

What does it take to build your own rich, organic soil and do it sustainably?

Many of you have heard of composting or may even have a bin out in the garden. But, is this system meeting your needs or do you find yourself making runs to the local garden store for a few bags of soil? Chances are that these bags came from many hundreds of miles away. A more sustainable system would be to make use of a local composting facility. That is, if there is one near you.

If you live in or near Sonoma, than consider yourself lucky. Sonoma Compost operates the Organic Recycling Program on behalf of the Sonoma County Waste Management Agency. They accept yard trimmings and vegetative food discards that are placed in curbside containers by local residents. Yard trimmings are also delivered directly to their site by landscapers, tree trimmers and the public.

Sonoma Compost’s program has already reduced 1,200,000 tons of yard and wood debris, then converted it into organic compost, mulch, recycled lumber, firewood and bio-fuel.Compost Bins

If you don’t have a composting facility in your area, here’s what can individuals do to produce sustainable, organic soil in their backyards or community gardens.

Backyard Compost Bins: Composting is nature’s own way of recycling and helps to keep the high volume of organic material out of landfills and turns it into a useful product. On-site composting reduces the cost of hauling materials and is generally exempted from solid waste regulations. Large scale facilities can handle more material and potentially produce a more consistent product.

Bokashi: This system relies on fermentation to decompose the matter rather than putrefaction, so no offensive odor is produced. In about 10 days, you can bury the nutrient-rich matter in the garden or empty the Bokashi kitchen compost bucket into your compost pile to help improve physical, chemical and biological environments in the soil.

Worm Bins: Vermiculture, or worm composting, allows you to compost your food waste rapidly, while producing high quality compost and fertilizing liquid. Best of all, it’s self-contained and nearly odorless.

The concept of a city run composting facility may not seem sustainable; especially if you consider that trucks burn fossil fuel to haul their loads through neighborhoods, causing air pollution, traffic and more wear and tear on the roads. Then, individuals make separate trips from the suburbs to the local composting center transporting soil back to their homes. The inefficiency of this system is obvious but, may be a means to an end.

I believe that the benefits to having a city-run composing program would outweigh the downside of having none at all. Once a program is up and running, people can utilize the service to enrich their backyard gardens, urban farmers would benefit greatly and there’s the benefit of a reduction in the volume of organic waste going to the landfill.

The following improvements could make this centralized composting system more sustainable:

1. Upgrade the trucks to bio-diesel or other renewables,
2. Encourage community involvement in home composting systems,
3. Run composting workshops,
4. Work with local entrepreneurs to start small, community-based composting stations in their neighborhoods.

To some, it might not seem that difficult to divert your organic waste to a compost bucket to your backyard, but many perceive it to be too time-consuming. There’s also a cultural barrier connected with the formation of soil: some perceive it to be dirty and smelly. Strangely though, many people also view composting as a socially-responsible effort rather than a common sense one, since they do not use the resulting soil in a garden.

With a little effort and a change in behavior, you could be producing many cubic feet of rich, organic compost in your very back yard. The qualitative benefits include a more abundant and productive garden for you and your family. This equates to better health and nutrition. Quantitatively, you are helping to divert from landfill, more than 25 percent your household’s waste and food scraps. In 1996, The Composting Council analyzed backyard composting programs and concluded that the average household in the study composted an average of 646 pounds per year, which amounted to more than 12 pounds every week.

Your family, your community and your tomatoes will thank you for it.

Your Home’s Most Underused Resource – The Roof


Insects collecting nectar unintentionally tran...

Honeybees are responsible for 80 percent of pollination, making up 1/3 of the human diet.

Forget tearing up that beautiful front lawn you have so beautifully landscaped. The roof is the most overlooked and underutilized space in your home. Let’s take a look at some of the possibilities and benefits to moving your sustainable ‘green thumb’ to the roof.

Bees On The Roof

When you think of bee keepers, you think of them on terra firma, right? Think again.

Once the colony is up and running, you don’t need to visit the hive(s) every day. Matter-of-fact, having your bees on the roof makes perfect sense. They’re out of the way and you won’t have to warn your guests every time they sit in your back yard.

Most of us seldom even consider the importance bees have in our ecosystem. But, consider that one-third of the human diet comes from insect-pollinated plants, and the honeybee is responsible for 80 percent of that pollination, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Not just the urban homesteader crowd is into keeping bees topside. Rooftop beehives are also a growing restaurant trend http://ow.ly/5oyM6.

Bees are also the ultimate locavores, as they look for food just within a three-mile radius. Try getting everything you eat from only 3 miles away.

Arvin Pierce places a brood of honeybees into one of the hives on the roof next to Maldaner's Restaurant in downtown Springfield.

The good news is that if you are gung-ho to get your rooftop producing sustainable, local honey, you’ll likely have no conflict with city hall. Unless of course they are prohibited in your municipality, which is unlikely. Ernie Slottag, spokesman for the City of Springfield, said he is not aware of any ordinance prohibiting beekeeping within city limits.

Roof Gardens

Roof gardens are being seen as the next frontier in the urban farming movement. And for good reason.

Many urbanites don’t have the space on their window sills or balconies for a descent garden. But, some are taking to their buildings’ roofs and making the most of the space with container gardening.

Rooftop gardener re-purposes old kiddie tubs for use as plant containers in Westerville, Ohio.

City rooftop gardens are also gaining momentum in the Big Apple. Gotham Greens in Brooklyn has just beg harvesting from the 15,000 square foot, state-of-the-art facility that will grow over 100 tons of fresh, local produce per year. See video: CNN – A farm on every rooftop. Created in 2008 with a mission of providing New Yorkers with local, sustainable, premium quality produce year round, they sustainably grow everything from seed to harvest, in their hydroponic rooftop greenhouse.

Chicago City Hall Green Roof

Living Roofs
The term green roof refers to the concept of covering the majority of the roof’s surface with flora. A key benefit to this coverage is the dissipation of solar energy in the summer months. Living roofs can also be used to indicate roofs that use some form of “green” technology, such as a cool roof, a roof with solar thermal collectors or photovoltaic panels. The term eco-roofs, has been used to describe any of these systems.

Depending upon your needs, budget and space, the possibilities are endless. As with any roof system you plan to install, you’ll want to consult an engineer or builder about the load bearing capacity of your own roof before starting construction.

Up On High

The views from your roof are seldom enjoyed unless you’re a kid. Why not enjoy a sunset, sunrise or just look around your neighborhood from atop your humble abode? Creating a space where you can sit and enjoy your urban homesteading efforts can be very rewarding and expand the livable area of your home.

Having a safe way to get to and from your new rooftop chill space is a must. But with a little planning and some forethought, you could soon be drinking margaritas at sunset from your new perch.

Water Catchment

Water catchment systems direct rainwater falling on your roof to a storage system for use in landscaping or sometimes even a new potable water source. Believe it or not, the average person uses 18,000 gallons of water per year! The importance in offsetting this consumption will only grow in a world of scarce water supplies.

Home systems range in scope and cost, but a modest home system can run you $5,000 – $8,000 to install, with a capture capacity of up to 100,000 litres of water or more per year.

Think you’re selfishly stealing the water for your own uses?

Rainwater harvesting, as it is also called, is actually viewed by many, as a partial solution to the problems posed by water scarcity: droughts and desertification, erosion from runoff, over-reliance on depleted aquifers, and the costs of new irrigation, diversion, and water treatment facilities.

True, harvested rainwater in the U.S. is used mostly for irrigation. But, with water becoming a growing issue, there is a growing interest in using rainwater for drinking and other indoor uses. Over 50% of household water is used indoors; bringing rain indoors could save the expense and environmental costs of treating and transporting water.

Rooftop System Benefits
Increased thermal efficiency is one main benefit to rooftop systems. By covering your roof with greenery, your inside temperatures remain cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter. You save money and energy in the process.

  • They cool and shade buildings, which reduces the ‘heat island‘ effect of a city.
  • Retains and utilizes rainwater, provides wildlife habitat, and enhances the roof membrane life.
  • Has an aesthetic appeal creating a private haven.
  • Removes heavy metals such as: cadmium, copper, and lead from runoff.
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