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

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.

Urban Agriculture Becoming Integral to Urban Planning

Edmonton, Alberta, is about to integrate urban agriculture into their urban planning process. Yes, we’re talking Canada people.

And you thought that urban ag was just relegated to cities like Portland, Seattle, Detroit and Santa Cruz. Cheeeeeze!

The Edmonton city council is planning to grow urban agriculture from the ground up, due to a strong demand from its citizens. Areni Kellepan of the Sustainable Food Edmonton, says there is a desire from citizens to get into urban farming.

The natural landscape lends itself to food production because Edmonton contains large areas of rich agricultural lands within its civic boundaries.  Many organizations and initiatives related to food and agriculture are flourishing there. This is partly due to the influence of the University of Alberta and Alberta Research Council which has helped to create a culture that is pro-agriculture.

“The Way We Grow” – The Municipal Development Plan (MDP), is the City’s strategic growth and development plan.

The Way We Grow Goals:

  • Support the establishment of a food policy council
  • Work with the community to create a local food charter
  • Work with the region to develop a regional food policy council and food charter
  • Collaborate with communities, landowners and other organizations to identify potential areas and lands for urban agricultural activities
  • Establish guidelines for integrating urban agriculture into public and private spaces and developments

The city and its people have high aspirations. They hope to explore various forms of food production and urban agricultural activities. They include; market gardening, commercial farming, community gardens, allotment gardens, vertical gardens, backyard gardens, edible landscaping, roof top gardens, fish farming, animal raising (not including stock yards or feedlots) and bee keeping. Some of these activities already occur, others could be considered in the future.

Holistic Approach to Urban Planning

What’s different about Edmonton’s approach is that they aren’t doing what most cities do – trying to change the policies through countless amendments and ballot processes to a city policy that is out of balance with the needs of its people. The City of Edmonton is aligning its strategic planning processes to ensure an integrated and holistic approach toward city building over the next three decades. The purpose of the policy is to guide city planning and community design to support local agriculture and diversify the local economy. This is forward thinking at its best.

“There’s lots of farming communities, and farming families that have moved into the city that would love to have a place to grow food again,” says Kellepan. “I think [urban agriculture] is very important for the citizens of Edmonton. They’ve expressed the interest.”

Challenges of New Urbanism

Even though the people of Edmonton have a sincere interest in growing their own food, a challenge will be finding the time needed to take care of a garden in the city. “People in the city generally have [other] jobs that they have to go to,” he says. “Their time is more limited.”

For some it’s more an issue of not knowing how to grow a garden. Mayor Mandel emphasized the need to teach people, including himself. “I don’t know how to grow things. I wouldn’t mind going to someplace and someone showing me the best way to do this, and how to have the better kinds of crops that you can have in a small garden in your backyard,” says Mandel.

This situation, where the interest in self-reliance, DIY-culture and urban agriculture is high but, the people lack the knowledge is prevalent throughout the United States. Cities like Edmonton have listened to their citizens interest and are changing the way government works to aid this evolution.

This summer the city is looking to get feedback on the initiatives that will help to create a policy that works for everyone and raise awareness for urban agriculture. “If [people] are interested, through their awareness, then they will want to learn more about it and then they can make a decision on whether they want to create an opportunity in their backyard or how they want to get involved on a more broad base.”

I applaud Edmonton’s forward thinking and will be interested to see how an urban policy that embraces the citizen’s desire for local and sustainable practices will serve its people in the years to come.

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