Want to build a rooftop farm? Here is what you need to know
Not just any roof will do
Luckily, times have changed. A few years ago, prospective roof farmers had to beg building owners for a place to build their farms. According to Anstasia Cole Plakias, co-founder of Brooklyn Grange, New York, nowadays developers, landlords and brokers are actively seeking rooftop farmers. But just because everyone is looking for someone to build a garden on their roof doesn't mean every roof is perfect for a commercial-scale venture.
A few potted plants can create a garden but a financially viable farming project does need a little more space. Although hydroponics, vertical gardening, aeroponics and air-dynaponics systems can by highly efficient, even in small spaces, a prospective commercial-scale farmer do need a pretty big roof to build a profitable farm.
The surface size required to build a profitable farm will be influenced by several factors including produce varieties and cultivars, the chosen farming systems and overall running costs of the operation. The guide ‘Urban Farm Business Handbook’ provides a series of handy tools and worksheets that can help determine surface requirements.
You'll need a roof that can take the pressure. Dirt is heavy and wet soil even heavier. To prevent structural damage, as well as lawsuits, troubled landlords and frustrations, its essential to evaluate the structure, waterproofing and weight bearing pillars of a building before attempting to build a commercial-scale garden or farm on top of it. Prospective farmers are advised to work with a structural engineer when selecting a building.
The vitality of sunlight, water and electricity may seem obvious but there are a few more things that you'll need to turn a rooftop garden into a successful business. A freight elevator will prevent frustration for both the farmers and building occupants while allowing larger structure to be lifted to the farm. Crops will usually be harvested the night before delivery and a good sized cold room will come in handy to keep produce fresh and prime condition.
Rooftop farms are an eco friendly solution to a multitude of urban problems. However, building a rooftop garden miles away from the target market will add to production costs and add to air pollution when produce need to be transported, thus cancelling out any environmental benefits that the projects would offer.
Strangely enough, a view can also be an influential factor in selecting the perfect roof.
Do your equations carefully
Every successful business starts with a plan, and a commercial-scale rooftop farm is no exception. The capital layout required by hydroponics, vertical gardening systems, aeroponics and air-dynaponics systems can be quite high. On the other hand, new farmers will have to wait for crops to be ready for picking before they'll start seeing a return on investment.
Besides the obvious production delays related to growing produce, there's also the matter of acquiring reliable clients. Rooftop farms, especially those producing top-quality organic crops, can build a good clientbase in a short matter of time but prospective farmers will keep in mind that there will be a delay between the start of the farm and the first sale.
While good money can be made from organic rooftop farming, there are additional income opportunities that can be explored to supplement the farmer's income and to overcome the initial payment delays.
Brooklyn Grange, a rooftop farming company that has been in business since 2010, regularly host yoga classes, composting and beekeeping workshops, weddings, dinner events and even a learning laboratory for local kids. This is where a rooftop farm with a view has a competitive advantage over those without good views. Brooklyn Grange's New York branch offers visitors views across the East River of Lower Manhattan.
Reap the fruits of your labour
Starting a new business will always remain a challenge and building a commercial-scale urban farm is no exception. That being said, with a solid business plan, proper research and lots of hard work, running a rooftop farm might just be one of the most rewarding city jobs imaginable.
Plakias from Brooklyn Grange co-founded their first rooftop farm with Ben Flanner more than seven years ago and never looked back. She quit her office job in search of greener pastures but admits that she's a city girl, born and raised, and wanted to bloom where she was planted.
“New Yorkers, just like everyone around the world, are more and more interested in reconnecting with their food production system,” she said. Rooftop farming requires a lot of logistics, heavy lifting and infrastructure but the world's rooftops are ripe for farming.
About the Author: Alex Omelchenko is a public relationship and marketing manager at Apex Window Werks, as well as a husband, father and owner of Scottish Fold cat. Apex Window Werks is a home window repair company that services Illinois, New York, Ohio & Colorado. Their services include but are not limited to wood window and door repair & replacement, glass replacement, foggy window repair and patio door mechanism repair.