Green Roofs - Living Architecture Monitor - Fall 2010 - (Page 37)

ON SPEC URBAN AGRICULTURE — HERO OR HYPE ? DESPITE THE ODDS, ENTREPRENEURS ARE PUSHING THE COMMERCIAL URBAN AGRICULTURE MOVEMENT FORWARD ONE HEAD OF LETTUCE AT A TIME By Keith Agoada Image of author courtesy of Sander Schoonbeek rban agriculture represents a multibillion dollar a year market opportunity. It has the potential to be one of the next great North American industries, a creator of thousands of green jobs, a boost for local and national economies as well as major provider of healthy and sustainable local food and products. Politicians, newspapers, journalists, municipalities, activists and bloggers have praised urban agriculture as being part of the solution to the many environmental and social sustainability problems we face. It is an idea that is growing roots in the mainstream, being accepted across political affiliation, race, religion and socio-economic status. Today, however, urban agriculture is largely a community, academic, hobbyist or supplemental business activity. While this form of urban agriculture is currently providing an invaluable and amazing service to urban dwellers, the business student and entrepreneur in me truly believes that if urban agriculture is going to realize its lofty expectations as a social, economic and environmental opportunity, the industry needs to be driven by private enterprise and investment, not just non-profit organizations. Currently, in the United States, the budding commercial urban agriculture sector appears less like a full-fledged “industry,” and more like a scattered group of individuals and firms with lots of potential and momentum but little to show in terms of gross domestic product and job creation. That said, there is a dedicated group of legitimate entrepreneurs and innovators across this continent who are working day and night to develop technologies, and are implementing urban agriculture businesses and projects that are operationally and financially sound. These are entrepreneurs who buy into the promise that if a significant market opportunity exists and you work your butt off to take advantage it, then you can and will be successful. This dream, which fueled the creation of all our great industries, is pushing forward the commercial urban agriculture movement one head of lettuce at a time. Bttr Ventures in Emeryville, California, for example, is collecting used coffee grinds from local Peete’s coffee shops, and turning it into do-it-yourself mushroom growing kits that are currently being sold at Whole Foods’ Northern California Region. Brooklyn Grange, in Queens, New York, this past summer installed an intensive green roof farm on a 40,000-square-foot roof and is selling dozens of varieties of herbs, vegetables and fruits at local restaurants and residents. U Future Growing LLC, in this past September supplied the innovative hydroponic growing equipment to a new restaurant Bell Book & Candle in Manhattan, New York which is growing its own produce on its 6,000square-foot rooftop farm. Sweet Water Organics in Milwaukee, Wisconsin is farming vegetables and fish in a warehouse using a technology based upon MacArthur Genius Award recipient Will Allen’s tiered sustainable growing system. And our company, Sky Vegetables, is integrating hydroponic and controlled environment greenhouse systems to an industrial warehouse in Brockton, Massachusetts to create a commercial farm with production to be sold to supermarkets and food service providers. So despite the odds and lack of private investment to date, urban gardeners appear to be quietly plowing new fields of opportunity. While expectations are high, and results up until now seemingly modest, there is definite reason to hold out hope, and to follow urban agriculture as it continues to evolve from a non-profit niche movement, to a full-fledged commercial industry. Keith Agoada is founder of Sky Vegetables based in Needham, Massachussetts. LIVING ARCHITECTURE MONITOR FALL 2010 37

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Green Roofs - Living Architecture Monitor - Fall 2010

Green Roofs - Living Architecture Monitor - Fall 2010
From the Founder - Urban Agriculture
Strata - T.O.’s New Green Roof Construction Standard
On the Roof With…Richard Conlin
Project - Farming for the City
Beekeeping - Diary of an Urban Apiarist
Exemplary Design - GRHC’s 2010 Awards of Excellence Winners
A Green Roof That Moves
Steeped in Ecological Design
Creating Community
A Model of Municipal Leadership
A Green Roof That Works
Like a Grassland Stream
Prairie in the City
Recycling Rainwater
Research - Increasing Urban Food Security With Extensive Green Roofs
Economic Valuation of a Rooftop Food Garden
Grhc Update - Macro-Scale Food Production
New Corporate Members
New GRPs
On Spec - Urban Agriculture — Hero or Hype?

Green Roofs - Living Architecture Monitor - Fall 2010