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Agriculture Gotham Greens Method urban agriculture

Published on October 8th, 2014 | by Tina Casey

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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+.



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