First published by the Greenville News at http://grnol.co/1nuK2Ie.
Words by Lillia Callum-Penso
Published 10:38 a.m. ET May 22, 2014
From a rooftop, Main Street looks bustling, a portrait of a small city caught in motion. Down below, people walk quickly to and from lunch, enjoying the late spring sunshine, with little thought to what's going on above them, but soon, they will.
Greenville's getting its first rooftop farm soon, and it's going in the heart of downtown.
Mill Village Farms, in collaboration with the culinary food tour experience, Dishcrawl Greenville, has been developing the idea for a rooftop farm for several months. The half-acre farm will be located above the old Windstream building at 2 N. Main Street and grow a variety of produce that will be sold to local restaurants and used for Mill Village Farms' Good to Go Mobile Market, and, organizers hope, help beautify Greenville too.
"It's very visible compared to where we've been working," says Dan Weidenbenner, director of Mill Village Farms. "People on Main Street, if they look up, will see theses vertical towers growing produce. It will be cool for the city."
The Hughes Development Corporation donated the space for the farm, but currently, the farm organizers are seeking an additional $50,000 in funding this summer to help with purchasing special equipment. The equipment to be used are called aeroponic towers, which essentially allow for growing fresh produce in a vertical format where the roots are suspended. The towers are also able to grow produce in as little as 24 days, Weidenbenner says.
In addition to being space saving and an efficient growing method, the towers are also a very green to grow, Weidenbenner says. They are self-regulating in that they automatically measure water level and nutrient level.
There are other benefits as well.
"You can expand the life of a roof, defer storm water drainage, and it also absorbs heat," Weidenbenner says. "The catch line is growing a greener world."
The rooftop farm is the brainchild of Will Morin, Dishcrawl Greenville's ambassador and self-proclaimed foodie. Morin has been honing his green thumb for a while now, working on an organic farm in St. Croix and doing his own smaller gardens for his parents and himself, but a chance viewing of the documentary, "Growing a Greener World" pushed his thinking even further.
The film presents a rooftop farm in Brooklyn, which produces 20,000 pounds of food a year and turns a profit selling to restaurants and the community. Morin turned to look out his window and his gaze settled on the barren roof of the Windstream building.
The gravel space is flat and devoid of any HVAC units or other obstructions and thus is perfect for a farm, Morin says. Morin met Weidenbenner at a Dishcrawl event at Tupelo Honey Cafe and presented the idea.
If successful, Morin has already spoken to city official about expanding the rooftop farm idea to other buildings downtown. In the future, Morin foresees growing soil-based farms on the rooftops downtown, growing a swath of locally produced products and helping to "green" the city's landscape.
"Imagine if all the buildings on Main Street had green roofs," Morin says. "This has the ability to really change things."
City Councilwoman Amy Ryberg Doyle was intrigued from the beginning. having lived in New York City for 10 years, Doyle was familiar with the concept that roofs provide a venue for many things - gardens, pools, basketball courts.
"When space is at a premium, people become creative. Modern architecture allows for many flat roofs for utilitarian uses," Doyle says. "There are more utilitarian ideas for rooftop uses.
"I know with this project it will be the first of many rooftop farms."
The rooftop farm is seeking businesses or individuals to sponsor one of the $750 towers. Those who do will get their name included in signage at the farm.
In addition, on June 22, Dishcrawl, led by Dishcrawl Greenville Ambassador Will Morin, will be hosting a Secret Suppers dinner with Larkin's on the River to raise funds for the rooftop farm project.
If funding is successful, Weidenbenner and Morin hope to have the farm going by July or August. They will begin with a quarter acre area and expand once the farm takes off.
The produce will be sold to local restaurants, as well as through Mill Village's Good to Go mobile market, raising funds that will go back into maintaining the farm.
Mill Village Farms is a non-profit that aims to use urban farming as a way to bring fresh organically produced food to areas labeled food deserts, and as a way to teach entrepreneurship and job skills to youth in the community. The rooftop farm will become the organization's fifth farm.