Rooftop Organic Produce 8/2/2010 11:23:13 AM

A wave of innovators is developing profitable models for sustainable alternatives to industrial agriculture. These new entrepreneurs are developing breakthrough technologies, approaches and business models that can help create a post-industrial food system that is less resource intensive, more locally-based, and easier to monitor and control.

There are a host of reasons why urban farming is more complicated, once you start, than opening a hamburger restaurant. Among these: Skewed planning laws, competition for land from developers, insecure water supplies, pollution management, and the sheer number of diffferent actors involved even in a simple food system. But the "just start a business" approach will inject a new dynamic into the range of experiments multiplying all over the world.

Case in point: London grocer Thornton's Budgens just began selling organic produce grown in a rooftop garden. Dubbed Food from the Sky, the rooftop garden project is a collaboration between Thorntonís Budgens, The Positive Earth Project and the local community. In late May, a crane lifted up the necessary materials onto the roof of Budgens' Crouch End store, including 10 tons of compost, fencing, trees and over 100 pallets. The project is collaborating with the heritage seed library to grow a number of endangered species of food; it also plans to run food growing workshops on the roof and provide seeds from the harvest free of charge to residents and schools. The garden's first organic fruits and vegetables just went on sale in Budgens, all grown and harvested by volunteers. All proceeds from the not-for-profit venture will be put back into the project; plans for the future include the addition of chickens and top bar bee hives.

As urban areas continue to sharpen their focus on sustainable and local production, it's not hard to imagine food retailers large and small setting up rooftop farms of their own. The project has already inspired the local community and organizations such as The Soil Association and the London School of Economics (who are also now looking to build one).

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