Tuesday, December 09, 2008


The "Greenest" Market: Sky Vegetables Concept Features Rooftop Gardens

In my other life, I work as the editor of a gardening magazine. Today a guy called asking for some academic resources and tuned me into the idea that started out as an entrepreneurial challenge to students in the business school at the University of Wisconsin.

Source: Growing Edge Blog

Here's a link to an article about the idea for a grocery business with attached rooftop garden. This new venture is looking at creating sustainable urban gardens on top of supermarkets under the name: Sky Vegetables. If you click on that link, it pulls up an illustration of what they are proposing. Along with a big hydroponic greenhouse, the model on their site also has a row of barrels to collect rainwater, which they will use in an aquaponics system to create nutrient from fish waste. The model also features solar panels and a wind turbine on the roof and composting barrels where produce workers can chuck rotting fruit and veggies. So, not only do consumers get the most fresh, most local food possible, but it seems as if produce workers will also get a little recreational therapy while they work (one of the qualifiers for Best Companies to Work For awards). I’m not sure this model allows workers to do a little gardening and composting on the clock, but if so, working in the produce dept of a market just got a little sexier. . . sign me up. What a great idea! Do you think it will catch on?

I wonder what kind of investment markets would have to make. One of the hurdles, I can imagine, to sustainable production, is getting the technical expertise to man the hydroponic and aquaponic systems. Hydroponic farmers are a special breed, they stay in the business by knowing intimately the intricacies of growing. It seems if this model were to work, the market would have to hire an on-site greenhouse manager with lots of technical and hands-on knowledge. Another hurdle might be educating consumers that hydroponic growing can be sustainable. Typically it has gotten a bad rap for issues like synthetic nutrient run-off and high energy consumption from use of grow lights, etc. But don’t forget what Growing Edge’s own Lynette Morgan said about the Myths of Hydroponics “Hydroponic crops can most certainly be grown without “chemical” pesticides and many currently are,” writes Morgan. And though growing in soil in many countries is still considered the cornerstone of the organic growing, “That’s not to say that fully organically-certified soilless or hydroponic growers don’t exist, because in some countries, such as the U.S., they certainly do and many are highly successful with this system. . . We no longer see a separate division between organics and hydroponics which gives rise to a whole host of hybrid systems incorporating the best of both methodologies.”

I also recently found this post on the blog Ethicurean about hydroponics and organic growing and it’s worth a read. The author writes: ”I believe that Hydroponic plant growth can be the closest to organic growth as possible. I’ll explain why. . . for the most part, I use organic methods. I use composted steer manure, et al. I also enjoy seeing and visiting areas of natural plant growth. Living in the Northwest I see the wonders of nature daily; the old-growth forest whose trees sustain themselves through natural moisture and composting. It’s really a perfect example of how little moisture and nutrition it takes to maintain plant growth…”

How would this idea also influence food security issues if markets didn’t have to track down their veggies thousands of miles away to some remote operation in South America, but rather could track the origin of their food by running up the stairs to their greenhouse.

Growing hydroponically doesn’t have to run counter to sustainability. In fact, there are several products and suppliers whose mission it to offer sustainable products. And shouldn’t issues of water usage and the high costs of transporting food play into this equation? Growing food on the roof of a market- it’s a brilliant idea, why didn’t I think of it? Seems I’ve seen a model of this somewhere, perhaps in Australia, I’ll have to get back to you on this!

Wednesday, December 03, 2008



Here are a few carrots a dug out of the ground just a few weeks ago. I LOVE gardening!

Here I am in my neighbors yard in Sept. in Oregon.

Recently I interviewed Roger Doiron, founder of Kitchengardeners.org who reminds all of us of the old-fashioned cure for hard times: grow your own food!

Here's Roger relishing in a 'rip-up-the-yard' well done!

What does food activist and gardener Roger Doiron want you to do with your yard? Eat it! He’s one of a handful of activists organizing a grassroots (or as he calls it, “carrot-roots” movement) to get us to look at the green space in our yards through different lenses. Doiron’s the guy behind the “Eat the View” campaign that seeks to persuade President Obama to resurrect a Victory garden on the White House lawn like former presidential families: John Adams, Thomas Jefferson and Eleanor Roosevelt among others, in order to send the political message that it’s time to start gardening again. “We look to our leaders to not only say the right thing and do the right thing, but to chew the right thing,” Doiron is fond of saying. “We want a leader than tells people to get their hands in the soil.” Doiron has his own white house — though a much humbler abode — located north of the U.S. Capitol in the clammy fishing town of Scarborough, Maine.

Doiron sets an example of home gardening by showing people how he created his own garden in front of his own white house. He created a clever video that shows him pulling up a square of grass in his front yard, (sort of carpet layer-style) dumping a truck-bed full of fertile soil, creating neat rows and planting veggie seeds — all with the intent of showing viewers just how easy it is to garden.

The 41-year is an optimist. He’s passionate about gardening, food and the kind of activism that encourages people to get outside and take action. In the face of our nation’s troubles: a financial collapse, energy crisis and food shortages, his message is empowering: Create your own security by getting your hands dirty and planting a seed.

And he’s succeeded at getting his neighbors to put their hands in the soil and start raising their own food. He’s build a community of more than 5,000 gardeners strong called Kitchengardeners.org. He also spearheaded the move by three Scarborough elementary schools to develop gardens attached to their kitchens, a feat he maintains was relatively easy (wink, wink- you can do it in your community too) “The good energy, the good intentions, the good will — everything we needed was already there,” he said.

His efforts are not unlike similar campaigns: Oregon’s Food Not Lawns and one out of Northern California called Edible Estates that both seek to redefine the idea of a the “lawn” and transform our “All-American” sterile spreads of golf-course grass, trimmed shrubs and perky flowerbeds into no-nonsense, free-flowering and fruiting garden patches that can be harvested on a daily basis. Let the tearing up of lawns begin!

Roger became intrigued with the idea of starting a grassroots movement around slow food and gardening when he lived in Belgium where he worked for a global environmental group for 10 years called Friends of the Earth. He was charged with helping to influence policy in support of more sustainable ways of life. “These challenges that we are up against are so enormous, it’s easy to be overwhelmed,” he said. He reached a point where he felt like the wheels were getting mired in trying to create change from the “top-down” so he decided he would reverse his approach. “I had an epiphany, I thought, ‘I can continue to butt heads with European members of the parliament, or I can look at small actions I can take – and see if I can get enough people to take—and try to shift policy that way.”

From this decision, Kitchengardeners.org was born. The idea is simple and old-fashioned, but Doiron believes it’s exactly what’s needed during these insecure economic times. He wants people to eat what they grow in their own yards and in the process discover that the journey to great food can be as close as a step outside your front door- the ultimate way of shortening the distance between people and their food. “Kitchen Gardeners has taken ‘local food’ to its logical extreme, saying, ‘you can be a local food producer yourself!’”

What else will gardening do besides reconnect us to our foods? Roger believes it has the power to connect us with community again. “People are looking for community and fellowship and we need to create that sense of community around growing food,” he says.

Gardening is a way of democratizing the Slow Food Movement, which Doiron says is great but has needed a more “hand’s on,” accessible and even affordable, approach. Doiron remembers falling in love with the idea of slow food, but realized he had to change the rules a little so he wouldn’t go broke. “I wasn’t going to keep up with the lawyer and the doctor spending a couple hundred dollars on dinner.”
“We are telling people, now you’ve been won over by the Slow Food Movement, but if you really want to know what good food it, let me hand you this seed packet and tell you about composting.”

While in Belgium, Doiron said he learned about how interconnected gardening is to European culture and how they make the most of every season’s harvest. He fell in love with his mother-in-law’s cooking— a perfect combination of German heartiness with a delicate French side. “I remember those weekends as this seemingly unending blur of one good dish after another.”

Dinner was at least a three-course affair, homemade soup followed by a homemade meal followed by homemade dessert, he said. Thoughts about what she would cook on the weekend when he and his future wife Jacqueline, would visit, kept him going during the week: foods like Belgium endives wrapped in wild boar and cooked in a white sauce tossed with grated cheese.

“One of the things I realized is that good food doesn’t have to be complicated.”

“The garden tells us what’s for dinner,” says Doiron. He and his wife and three boys – ages 8, 11 and 16 – have about a 1/3 acre of land around their house. Of that, they’ve devoted 1200 square feet to a garden that produces a little more than half of the fresh food they eat. Produce like: salad greens, carrots, kale, leeks, chard, sweet and hot peppers, cabbages, lots of fat onions and of course Maine Kennebec potatoes from which the Doirons relive their days in Belgium by making fries (See recipe below). They also harvest grapes, apples, raspberries and do root cellaring- creating a space for carrots and potatoes and other roots where they can access them all winter.

“We are busy people, but the garden plays a central role in our lives.”
Doiron shares a favorite family recipe, something simple and quick. French fries? Forget about how the French cook ‘em, “Belgium has the best fries in the world,” Doiron says. What’s their secret? They fry them twice.

Recipe for Belgium Fries:

(Doiron uses Maine Kennebec potatoes from his garden)
Cut the fries thick and fry them for 6-7 minutes at 320 degrees
Then fry them again at 375 degrees to crisp them up.
The Belgians eat their fries with Mayo and wash them down with beer.