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Graze the Roof: Container Rooftop Gardens
Organic gardens and green roofs are starting to sprout up all over urban America, with city dwellers raising food for their families and neighbors on any available land. Besides providing scrumptious salads, these green spaces also cut wastewater runoff, attract bugs, bees and birds and create a cooling microclimate amidst the city’s heat island. With such abundant benefits, why not put them everywhere?
Maya Donelson, a 2006 Syracuse University graduate, proposed such a verdant vision in her application for Focus the Nation’s Project Slingshot grant, which awards $10,000 to projects that directly address impacts of global warming. Funded by Cliff Bar, the grant is a way to “empower young people who have a bright idea that they can implement over the summer that will eventually become self supporting,” said Alex Tinker, one of Focus the Nation’s directors.
Donelson’s winning “Graze the Roof” proposal immediately appealed to Glide Church, a San Francisco congregation known for its progressive politics and service to the homeless population in the city’s run-down Tenderloin neighborhood. “They were looking for someone to start a rooftop garden,” said Donelson, “and I was looking for a location, so it was a perfect fit.”
Over this past summer she created a 1,000 square foot container garden on the church roof with the help of adult volunteers and kids in the Glide youth education program. Her mentor, Thomas Azwell, is a leading researcher on soil-less gardening techniques and worm composting, and has advised her on the use of state-of-the-art technologies for hydroponic food production. By trying out different substrates in the gardening containers, they will be able to monitor and demonstrate which ones work best for local conditions. And the kids, who come mostly from low-income families, will get involved in every part of the food cycle, from making the milk-crate containers to weeding, watering and cooking up the produce in their nutrition class.
Donelson is planning a fully functional on-site composting system that will also accommodate the food scraps from the church’s kitchen, which serves 67,000 meals per month for the homeless. An educational mural designed by the green consultancy firm 6S ties the whole project together, showing scenes of kids planting, harvesting, eating and composting their cucumber, kale, corn, squash and tomatoes.
“I hope the project will kick off more green initiatives at Glide Church and become a model for rooftop agriculture in the Bay Area and beyond,” she says.