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Agriculture Gotham Greens Method urban agriculture

Published on October 8th, 2014 | by Tina Casey


Urban Ag Grows Up: World’s Largest Rooftop Farm In Chicago

October 8th, 2014 by  

Urban agriculture has been getting rather sciencey lately, so we perked up when news of a planned commercial scale “state of the art” rooftop farm in Chicago came over the wires. By commercial scale we mean about a million pounds of fresh produce annually, which basically blows your typical community garden out of the water.

Apparently the largest of its kind in the world, the new urban agriculture venture will sit atop a new manufacturing plant that will also be a global first. That would be Method’s new facility, which — if all goes according to plan — will be the first LEED Platinum manufacturing plant in the home cleansing products industry.

urban agriculture (pitchfork)

Image (cropped) by Valerie Hinojosa via flickr.com, cc license.

Benefits Of Urban Agriculture

Before we dig into this particular rooftop farm, let’s review some of the sparkly green add-on advantages of commercial scale urban agriculture on rooftops.

Like rooftop solar, rooftop farming gives you a twofer for the built environment, so you can get new land into production without steamrolling over other habitat.

That goes double when the building is an existing one, or when it’s built on an existing brownfields site.

For open-air rooftop farming, you also get some of the benefits of green roofs: stormwater control, energy-saving insulation for the building, a contribution to your neighborhood “heat island” management, and perhaps even a boost in the efficiency of your rooftop solar panels.


With greenhouses those benefits will vary, but you can still lay claim to the carbon-reducing advantages of hyper-local markets, close access to shipping points, and a local workforce.

Gotham Greens Goes Big

The Chicago project is the brainchild of the New York-based urban agriculture pioneer Gotham Greens. The company’s flagship rooftop greenhouse operation in Brooklyn yields more than 100 tons of fresh produce annually, and it also has another Brooklyn location designed to pump out 200 tons annually.

The Chicago facility is going to produce about 500 tons annually, so that’s a giant step up.

While greenhouses don’t convey the full benefits of open-air green roofs, in terms of urban agriculture operations the carbon management and resource savings is substantial. Here’s the rundown on Gotham’s rooftop farms from the press materials:

When compared to conventional agriculture, Gotham Greens’ irrigation methods use 20 times less land and 10 times less water and eliminate the need for pesticide use and fertilizer runoff…The company’s sterile greenhouses and comprehensive food safety program minimize the risk of foodborne pathogens including E. coli and salmonella.

A Rooftop Farm For Method

Aside from the aforementioned carbon benefits of urban agriculture, a rooftop farm gives the building some mighty high profile green cred to tuck under its branding belt.

Method is taking the opportunity to squeeze even more green juice out of the property, by going for the highest level of LEED certification.

So, while Gotham Greens will leverage its experience to design and build the urban agriculture operation, responsibility for designing Method’s manufacturing facility went to hands of William McDonough + Partners.

Gotham Greens Method urban agriculture

Rooftop farm for new Method facility (image courtesy of WM+P).

If that name doesn’t ring a bell, check out the massive “living roof” and water resource landscaping at Ford’s revamped Rouge River plant in Michigan.

Another interesting example of the firm’s work is the Hero MotoCorp plant in India, aka the “Garden Factory.” It drops some clues about what you could expect from the Method facility, taking into consideration the differences in climate and other factors.

First off is the firm’s “life-affirming” philosophy for the project, which it sums up in the form of a question: What if a factory could be a garden of health and productivity?

The answer, as WM+P describes it, has a lot to do with things that grow:

…WM+P has designed a facility which brings nature and technology together. Vegetation surrounds the workplace, penetrates inside to the assembly line, and makes its way onto the roof; at every scale enhancing ambient temperatures, air quality, and the visual environment.

The Hero plant was designed to accommodate enough rooftop solar to offset the considerable air conditioning needed by the facility. In Chicago those needs are somewhat more modest. Going by the site rendering the Method plant will not have rooftop solar, though it will have a ground-mounted solar installation.

The Method plant will also take advantage of the infamous Chicago wind — and support the growing distributed wind energy market — with a ground mounted wind turbine.

Among the resource-conserving features of the Hero plant are waste heat recovery systems, water reclamation including condensate from the air conditioning system, daylighting, and a biowall to assist with air quality.

The Hero plant also illustrates just how much green punch you can pack into one roof. Aside from the solar panels (which double as shade for the skylights), the roof also sports rows of greenhouses separated by open-air vegetation for rainwater capture and insulation. Altogether WM+P estimates a 20 percent savings on air conditioning from the roof alone.

As for the Method facility, that’s expected to be up and running early next year.

Go for it, Method.

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About the Author

specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Tina’s articles are reposted frequently on Reuters, Scientific American, and many other sites. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.

  • Calamity_Jean

    As a Chicagoan, I need to object to the reference to “the infamous Chicago wind”. Chicago is called “the Windy City” not because of the actual physical wind, but because of the “windy” hot air from its politicians urging people to come to Chicago to help rebuild after the Chicago Fire.

    • Wayne Williamson

      Jean, hadn’t heard that one, it makes sense but hadn’t heard it. Also, it is windy, like any large city with high rises(skyscrapers;-)

      • Calamity_Jean

        Yeah, it does get breezy sometimes, but for the next 10 days the wind isn’t predicted to get above 16 mph. Today it’s only 6.

        • Bob_Wallace

          If you’d like to see where the wind is blowing right now check out this page –


          Double click to zoom in.
          Click – hold – drag to spin the globe

          • Calamity_Jean

            Way cool! How do you zoom out?

          • Bob_Wallace

            Right click and “Back” will reset it to where you entered.

            Check out the typhoon at the southern tip of Japan. That is/was pretty much a record strength storm.

          • Bob_Wallace

            Vonfong is now down to tropic storm level. It was a Category 5 on Wednesday. Bit as they get.

          • Calamity_Jean

            Thanks! And yeah, I saw that. Very impressive.

        • Joseph Dubeau

          It get dam cold there. You would have to add heating to the green house roofs.

  • JamesWimberley

    This should be looked at for urban prisons. Prison farms in the Deep South have a horrible reputation (Parchman, Angola), but properly run, gardening work is therapeutic. Security? You can’t land a chopper on a greenhouse.

  • Brokelyn

    This is the future of fresh, organic produce. California is drying up and global warming will make farming much more problematic. The two existing farms in Brooklyn are obviously making money and this Chicago facility will too or they wouldn’t be built.
    Indoor produce grown hydroponically on stacked racks with LED lighting is the way to go because of accelerated plant growth and no pesticides needed. Winter won’t matter and the roof can be covered with solar panels to power the lights inside.
    This is the future and Detroit should take note with all their vacant land and need for jobs.

  • Marion Meads

    This is one of the most expensive way to grow your food. It would only be profitable to grow cannabis in such a high end setup, or through marketing gimmicks, able to sell to gullible people why their lettuce is priced at $50/head.

    • Offgridman

      Do you have some way of verifying how expensive this will make the food?
      Here in Tennessee local farmers that have started growing strawberries in stacked containers in greenhouses sell their products for lower prices in the local markets than what is charged for the ones shipped in from California or Florida during the winter. And this is just a personal preference, but they seem to have a lot more flavor than the ones from Florida that may look big and pretty, but are very bland from being grown in the sandy soil down there.
      Greenhouses when properly run allow great reductions in the usage of water and fertilizer along with a much extended growing season. Along with the interstate or cross country shipping costs that don’t have to be paid, it means locally grown products that are fresher and end up at the same or reduced costs from those shipped in from the factory farms. Along with providing more local jobs for the populace.
      I don’t have the specific reference handy, but it seems that I remember the shipping costs can sometimes account for half or even three quarters of the cost of fresh fruits and vegetables found in your local markets. Local farms like these can end up having many benefits for the people that live locally, in addition to the energy savings for the manufacturer.

      • Marion Meads

        I am a very progressive natural sustainable organic and clean farmer and been doing that for more than 40 years of my working life. You have to factor in the initial capital outlay amortized throughout the life of the project. My farmland costs me $500 per acre a long time ago, and today, it is still within $3,000 to $7,000 per acre depending on the crop planted and topography. An urban farm lot would cost, especially the likes of New York, about $3,000 to $10,000 per square foot. Let us say, the urban farm is just an add-on to the roof, and not worry about the cost land. Just compute the reinforcement needed, the structure you build over the existing buildings, the controlled environment infrastructure. Then calculate just the interest rate of the capital outlay plus the roof rental. And I can assure you that at $50/lettuce head, it may not be enough to break even, while it only costs me $0.25/head.

        It is precisely the same boat for the recent buyers of Napa Vineyards. At the current prices of their land, you would have to sell a bottle of wine for at least $100 just to break even simply because the cost of real estate has skyrocketed and that is just to cover the finance charges of a $5 Million vineyard.

        • Offgridman

          But that still doesn’t provide an example of food from these rooftop farms being excessively expensive. Yes property in your area is very expensive. In my area farmland sells for 800-2,000$ per acre depending on location and quantity of acres. And that still has nothing to do with what these rooftop farms have to figure for the usage of these areas. It certainly has nothing to do with the property prices in NYC or Chicago because they are making dual use of the property, and having the farms on the roof help the insulation factor and reduce energy expenditures.
          Also it sounds as if they will be using intensive usage in the green houses. The local strawberry farms also producing organic fruit, by using stackable containers and hydroponics are able to fit an acres worth of plants normally grown in dirt in a 150 sgft green house.
          Not meaning to disrespect you or your experience, but I think that maybe there are a lot of new farming techniques and methods of which you are unfamiliar that make it possible for these green houses to farm produce at much less than fifty dollars for a head of lettuce.

        • Joseph Dubeau

          I agree. Even if you don’t count the cost of roof, your cost are much higher. You have bring the soil up to roof, the cost of planters or containers, drainage, heat and cooling.
          I don’t think you bring any heavy equipment on the roof, so planters and harvesters are out.
          All the farming would have done by hand, so your labor cost would be much higher.

      • Matt

        They are big and have a large hollow space to make them stand up to shipping better. Likely also picked sooner. So less tasty, likely but it is the shipping and looks that are important.

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