Farming Chicago's rooftops: The Urban Canopy

Back in August when I wrote about The Plant, a former meatpacking warehouse turned urban farm in Chicago, I made only the briefest of mentions of the business incubation plans the founding organization envisioned for the space. The brewery planned for the space has received the most attention thus far, but if you head up to the rooftop of the building, you’ll find another sustainable business at work: The Urban Canopy. As you might imagine, they’re in the rooftop farming business, though they’re taking a quite different approach from most with their rooftop hydroponics system.

Why hydroponics? Founder Alex Poltorak told me that demonstrating the accessibility of rooftop farming is a big part of The Urban Canopy’s mission, and the modular system they’ve developed definitely has a leg up on this front: it creates something akin to a windowfarm for building rooftops (and means no one has to haul soil up multiple flights of stairs). The hydroponic system does put some limitations on what a “farmer” can grow (no potatoes, for instance), but most crops that we want fresh – tomatoes, lettuce, strawberries, kale, etc. – will work in this system. If you’ve got access to water and organic fertilizer (like compost or worm castings), you’re good to go.

The Urban Canopy spent much of last year piloting the system; they’re ready to crank it up a notch in 2012 by turning the entire 3000 square feet of The Plant’s roof into a hydroponic farm. Alex believes they can grow over 2500 pounds of food in the space, as well as create an example of the possibilities for providing fresh food to urban neighborhoods. On top of all of that, they’ll also support another Windy City agricultural venture they discovered right her at SUNfiltered: they’ll host beehives for Bike-a-Bee.

Like the idea? Then consider donating a few bucks to The Urban Canopy’s Kickstarter campaign. They’re really close to hitting their goal, and could go over it significantly with ten days left. Every dollar helps improve the quality of food in Chicago’s Back of the Yard.

We’ve discussed similar models like Brightfarms; if you know of others, share them with us.


Image credit: The Urban Canopy at flickr (with permission)