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.

A Call To Farms – Why America Needs A New Victory Garden Movement


WWII-era U.S. War Garden poster

Victory gardens, also called war gardens or food gardens for defense, accounted for the production of nearly 40 percent of the nation’s produce at its peak in 1943.  Vegetable, fruit and herb gardens were planted at private residences and public parks in United States, United Kingdom, Canada and Germany during World War I and World War II to reduce the pressure on the public food supply and build morale. The U.S. government considered this effort a matter of national security. So, what has changed in the past 50 plus years?

Today, home and community gardeners grow only a fraction of what our parents and grandparents grew during the War. Meanwhile, agribusiness has grown out of control. Monsanto, who holds patents on about 80% of all genetically modified seeds, sues small farmers when their fields are contaminated with the patented seed. (see Rodney Nelson’s family farm) Monsanto spent almost $9 million lobbying Washington lawmakers during 2009, an off-election year for national politics.

The U.S. government gives millions of dollars every year, in the form of farm subsidies, to multinational conglomerates who grow monoculture crops like corn. Most of this corn is not even edible and is used solely to make high fructose corn syrup and fillers for highly processed, low ANDI scoring foods. These government subsidies make foods with high sugar content very cheap, according Marion Nestle, a nutrition professor at New York University and author of Food Politics: How the Food Industry Influences Nutrition and Health, referring to the most prevalent sweetener: high fructose corn syrup, which sweetens most soda pop while upping the calories. (Read a PBS interview with Nestle.)

The politics of food has become a global phenomenon, with nations like China purchasing hundreds of thousands of acres of Brazilian farmland to feed its growing population. Food prices have soared around the world in recent years pushing many impoverished peoples to the brink of starvation. While most of us in the U.S. have been spared this type of shock, nearly all of us have felt the squeeze on our food budgets. If this trend is to be reversed, a different system of food production is needed.

What we need is a brand new Victory Garden Movement.

National Security Is Food Security

Victory gardens were planted in backyards and on apartment-building rooftops, all in support of the war effort to protect our national security. Vacant lots were actually “commandeered for the war effort” and were utilized to grow whatever was needed. During World War II, sections of lawn were publicly plowed for plots in Hyde Park, London to publicize the movement. In New York City, the lawns around vacant “Riverside” were devoted to victory gardens, as were portions of San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park.

Today however, we are facing a new threat – not only to our national security, but to our food security. In 1870, 70-80 percent of the US population was employed in agriculture. As of 2008, that number has dwindled to approximately 2-3 percent of the population.

The cultural heritage of growing of food has been systematically hijacked from the American people over the past 60 years. In response to this shift, the urban farming movement in the U.S. and around the world has taken off. This movement is the result of many factors, food security being only one of them.

A distributed system is a resilient system. DARPA (the project that ultimately resulted in the creation of the Internet) was originally created in response to the Soviet launching of Sputnik during 1957, with the mission of keeping U.S. military technology ahead of the Soviets. The World Wide Web therefore was designed not from a small number of large supercomputers, which would be vulnerable to attack, but a distributed model with thousands of servers located all over the United States.

Urban farms, community and backyard vegetable gardens, represent this same systems model. By having tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of small urban farms located in communities all over the U.S., we can be resilient and practice sustainable agriculture on a small scale. Price spikes will be cushioned by those who, not only grow their own food, but share, barter, trade and sell to one another.

Corrine Asturias' front yard vegetable garden produces an overabundance and shares the surplus with her neighbors.

Community

The intrinsic nature of farming in an urban or suburban setting creates opportunities for community interaction. When one family replaces their front lawn with a series of raised beds, it has a ripple effect. People peer over their neighbors’ fences and are intrigued. Some even get inspired and start their own vegetable gardens or mini urban farms.

These interactions are only the beginning of the benefits to the community. For example, the Marin Open Garden Project encourages backyard gardeners to bring the excess from your garden to exchange with other gardeners every Saturday in San Anselmo.

Jobs

Urban farming offers the promise of safe jobs that are local and sustainable to the millions of unemployed. Many of them are struggling to pay their mortgages and feel trapped to look for work within commute distance. Putting people back to work in urban farming jobs could be a boon to our economy and put millions of Americans back to work – work that is necessary, healthy and safe.

Unlike conventional large-scale farming, organic urban farming is small scale (even micro-scale), uses no heavy equipment, toxic pesticides or herbicides. Conventional agriculture is among the most hazardous of industries. Farmers are at high risk for fatal and nonfatal injuries, work-related lung diseases, noise-induced hearing loss, skin diseases, and certain cancers associated with chemical use. Farming is one of the few industries in which the families are also at risk for injuries, illness, and death.

Sustainability

Growing food close to where it will be prepared and consumed exemplifies the path to sustainability. The savings in fuel from not having to transport food from long distances is a compelling reason alone. Add to that, the energy needed to refrigerate and store perishables, and we’re talking significant reductions in carbon emissions.

Nutrition

Produce begins to loose nutritional value immediately after harvest. When food is grown close to home, the time between harvest and consumption is often reduced to mere hours rather than days or weeks. This maximizes the nutritional benefit.

There is also an unquantifiable value to growing your own vegetables or knowing the people who do. You feel connected to your community in a real way and often wind up eating a more healthy diet, while wasting less of this precious resource.

“I probably spend as much time working in my garden each day as I spend making coffee only it is a lot more interesting”, said Corrine Asturias about her front yard vegetable garden that used to be a dry, eye-sore of a front lawn.

Physical Activity

The modern lifestyle is one of convenience and reduced physical effort.

Our forefathers were far more physical than the average American is today. Thomas Jefferson, for one, worked long hours on his own personal farm at Monticello and considered himself to be “a man of the land”. He was an avid farmer and is considered to be one of America’s early agronomists.

Vegetable gardening and urban farming is a wonderful way for people of all ages and abilities to get daily exercise, sunshine and fresh air. Modern growing techniques allow us to grow far more produce in a smaller space and with much less effort than before.

People of all ages and backgrounds can benefit from just a short time spent in the garden. “I probably spend as much time working in my garden each day as I spend making coffee only it is a lot more interesting”, said Corrine Asturias about her front yard vegetable garden that used to be a dry, eye-sore of a front lawn.

Flint River Farm in Flint, Michigan, the city’s largest urban farm.

Conclusion

The Dowling Community Garden in Minneapolis, Minnesota is the last vestige of the original Victory Gardens from World War II.

Fortunately, there is a sea change on the horizon. Places like Flint, Michigan and Detroit are experiencing a Renaissance in the urban farming movement.  Michelle Obama’s digging up the front lawn of the White House to plant a Victory Garden of her own is reminiscent of Eleanor Roosevelt’s own Victory Garden as first lady.

Our nation is ready for a new approach to growing our own food. History is again our great teacher, as we rediscover the ways our ancestors worked the land, sustainably and for the betterment of society.

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