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A downtown farm? It's up on the roof

A downtown farm? It's up on the roof


ST. LOUIS • The rooftop of a sprawling urban warehouse may not seem like the classic locale for a farm, but a group of urban gardeners in St. Louis is seeing it a different way.

Urban Harvest STL, a group of city residents and gardeners, plans to turn the roof of an 8,000-square-foot warehouse at 1335 Convention Plaza into the city’s first rooftop farm: The Food Roof.

“Our goal is to bring hyper-local, organic food to the surrounding community, and downtown,” said Mary Ostafi, who launched the group in 2011. “We want to help the health of the social fabric downtown. We want to build community while growing food.”

The number of community gardens and urban farms in the city has risen in recent years, following a national trend that has seen unused urban pockets transformed into food production. One of the consequences of the trend has been a move upward – to rooftops — especially in areas where land is scarce.

In St. Louis there happen to be plenty of urban spaces where food, in theory, could be grown. But Ostafi says that few of those spaces are downtown.

“We know that the most successful community gardens are close to residents,” she explained. “The opportunity for us is in our urban rooftops and parking lots, but developers don’t want to give up their parking lots.”

So Ostafi approached the owner of the storage facility, who jumped on board, convinced of the benefits of having a “green” roof, which can lower utility bills.

“They reduce run-off so there’s a reduction of storm water management,” Ostafi explained. “The more planting we have on hardscape, the more our water will be absorbed. It also acts as an insulator and decreases energy costs. It reduces the urban heat island and helps filter the air.”

Ostafi, a downtown dweller and trained architect, is the in-house sustainability consultant at HOK, the global architecture firm headquartered downtown. This summer she enlisted the help of interns there to come up with plans for the roof, which include garden beds, and built-in irrigation systems. The plans also call for chicken coops and beehives.

The idea, Ostafi said, is to start relatively small in the first year, with between five and 10 members receiving boxes of produce each week. Anything leftover will go to charity. But eventually, Ostafi hopes the Food Roof will be able to provide to more members and downtown restaurants.

Beyond that, the goal is to help more people understand the possibilities of farming in non-traditional urban landscapes.

“We want this to become a community platform, a place to learn about urban farming,” Ostafi said. “We’re going to try to encourage people to grow food on their own balconies or rooftops or wherever they have space.”

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