Urban farming has taken a new direction and thus in search of farming space are scouring the cities. While there are other options like reclaiming unused land for cultivation, in Chicago, land comes at a high premium. Farmers here are eyeing spaces that they may not have to fight from developers: that is rooftops that are already green.

The city of Chicago has about 359 roofs that are now partially or fully covered with vegetation, which has all kinds of environmental benefits such as reducing the urban heat island effect, cleaning the air, reducing the building energy costs.

Chicago turned a 20, 000 square feet green roof into its first major rooftop farm. It is the largest soil based rooftop farm in the Midwest according to the Chicago Botanical Garden. The farm is maintained through its Windy City Harvest Program. The largest convention center in North America harbors the farm whose aim is to provide the center’s food service company,  SAVOR,  Chicago with between 8, 000 to 12, 000 pounds of food a year. Main crops grown are kale, collards, carrots, radishes, peppers, beans, beets, cherry tomatoes and various herbs. These are well suited to a rooftop setting and are fast growing.

Projects like these are a part of a larger trend towards expanding food production in cities, and Chicago is not left behind.  However there are not much of these rooftop farms because, urban farmers are just beginning to figure out how to make them work and not every green roof is suited for farming.

There are also many obstacles to transforming more green roof to into farms: from permitting, to delivery of water and soil to the roof to dealing with growing conditions that typical to the roofs,  wind, snow and sun.

On the contrary, the potential benefits are worth pursuing. There is plenty of opportunity in Chicago to convert more green roofs into farms and plenty of building owners interested in burnishing their green credentials.

To embark on such a project you do not have to go as big as a farm to take advantage of the space and sunlight on the rooftop to grow food. Container gardening can be practiced successfully on the roof. There are different variations for rooftop gardening in and across Chicago. The most prevalent are rooftop soil farms, aeroponic farms, raised bed or container gardens. Familiarizing yourself with these different modes is important for it can help determine which farm will be a good fit for you.