Growing Cities Blog

Urban Orchards

October 5th, 2013

This week was my first week back home in New England  after a Summer out West and a long road trip back, and I must say, after the intense heat in Colorado and Utah, I couldn’t wait for the New England Fall. What better way to celebrate Autumn colors, smells, and tastes, than to go apple picking! A couple friends and I spent the sunny day meandering through rows upon rows of fruit trees, laden with huge gorgeous apples of all kinds, sampling the different varieties, and jokingly complaining about how full we were getting (and we hadn’t even found the Jonagolds yet!) And somehow we still managed to find room for the apple-cider donuts and pumpkin ice cream that awaited us at the welcome barn. As we sat there munching on these Autumn delectables, we reminisced about apple-picking excursions of our childhood and basked in how perfect life felt at that moment.

Orchards have always been a significant part of our fall food traditions, and so that led me to think about the orchards of our cities. Here’s a smattering of organizations and projects that are bringing vibrancy to our urban centers through forests and their fruits.


The Philadelphia Orchard Project has been very active, planting fruit trees and berry bushes while working with other community organizations to create productive, beautiful orchards.

uo 3pack

Urban Orchards is a company in Albuquerque that turns the city’s normally unused fruit into natural jams and jellies. Yum!


There are plenty of fruit trees already growing around your city! How do you find them though? The guys at Falling Fruit are helping to compile the locations of these public trees in one huge map for your convenience!


And then there is Fallen Fruit, which describes itself  ”as a common denominator to change the way you see the world. Using photography, video, performance, and installation, Fallen Fruit’s work focuses on urban space, neighborhood, located citizenship and community in relation to fruit.” They helped to create the first public fruit park in CA!


And finally, there is Beacon Food Forest in Seattle, WA! This new project strives to create a public food forest that mimics the dynamics of a natural forest so that it can sustain itself over the years, providing free food to the community, visitors, foragers, and those in need.

Please feel free to post links to any other urban orchards that you know of! Let’s spread the fruity goodness!

A Smattering of Roof Top Gardens

September 14th, 2013

Inspired by a recent twitter exchange with the Netherlands’ Grown Down Town, here’s a bit of a compilation of what kinds of systems roof top gardeners are using. The fact that most of these examples stem from the rooftops of New York City shows that it really depends on the circumstances and specifications of the roof and operation that determine what to use.

Replicating the Earth…On A Roof: Eagle Street Rooftop Farm (NYC, NY) –


Details on how they grow:

“• The green roof base system is comprised of 2” of built-up components: polyethelene, drainange mat, and retention and separation fabrics.

• With the approval of the building’s engineer, 200,000 pounds of growing medium were lifted onto the roof by crane in “super-sacks” over the course of a single day. The growing medium, laid directly onto the green roof base, is a mixture of compost, rock particulates and shale and is manufactured in Pennsylvania. It is a green roof component that at the same time retains water, allows for air circulation and is lightweight.

• The green roof can hold over 1.5” of rain, providing a significant reduction in storm water runoff. The captured water, in turn, can help to cool the warehouse below yielding a reduction in cooling costs.

• Installation cost was approximately $10 per square foot. This is significantly lower than most green roof installations due in part to two main factors: the three story building and open expanse of roof were very accessible, and that recycled materials such as used rafters were utilized for edging.

• Upon completion of Goode Green’s base system installation, the growing medium was moved into by place by a team of farming volunteers over the course of three days. It was arranged into 16 north-south beds measuring thirty inches to four feet in width and divided down the middle by a single long aisle. The beds have a soil depth of 4-7”. The aisles were filled with mulched bark.

• Since overhead watering on a rooftop often evaporates or blows away, irrigation was inititally provided via black plastic drip lines, using city tap water.  In 2010, the drip irrigation system was de-installed, as the root systems of the crops rotated and intercropped through the farm during the growing season were incondusive with drip watering (e.g. carrots, microgreens, radishes).

• Currently, the Farm relies on hand watering (via hose) for seedlings and transplants, and rainwater for established plants (e.g. kale, chard, tomatoes).”

Simplifying the System: Gotham Greens

*Jun 12 - 00:05*

Check out their short video about how they grow their greens with hydroponics

How they grow:

“The greenhouse in an impressive hydroponics growing facility that yields 20-30 times more produce per acre than conventional field production and uses 20 times less water in the growing process. Hydroponics allow for water to be recycled and go directly to plants meaning no water is lost to soil.

Additionally, Gotham Greens’ products are free of chemical pesticides, insecticides and herbicides, and their packaging is high quality, food-grade, tree-free, GMO-free compostable containers made from renewable plant fibers.”

Computer-Monitored Container Gardening: Grown Down Town


 How they grow:

“Irrigation system is integrated into crates, where you put inserts with sprouts from herbs, veggies & fruit.

The inserts take water from beneath and computer system knows when it’s dry or wet.

It grows very well on flat roofs all over the city.”


Bus-Gardens! (Originally from Pop-up Cities)


“It is surprising that no one thought of it much earlier. Luckily, greening the city has gained a huge fan community. Landscape artist Marc Grañén, in collaboration with Grupo IRACO, takes it to the next level by using vehicle roofs as flower beds, turning unused space into little oases.

In order to make rooftop gardens on vehicles possible Marc Grañén uses IRACO’s Aquapro SkyGardens which are phytokinetic gardens made of aquaponic foam embedded in a steel grid. The flower bed is kept moist by a sedum carpet of small succulents that are planted in addition to small shrubs and ferns. The whole area is then covered with a protective mesh. Interestingly, the plants on the vehicle’s rooftop are watered with the waste from its air conditioning unit and, in addition, buses can be cooled down by 38.5° F through rooftop gardens and, thus, save on air conditioning as a whole.”

Gardening for everyone, anywhere!


If you want to grow food without setting up large scale or expensive systems, use cheaper, available materials to create a garden nearly anywhere. Urban Garden Solutions

One method of growing:

“The plastic wading pool is the most cost-efficient container available. A 4 – 6 ft diameter pool of 12 – 15 inches deep, provide a decent size growing area and costs under $10. They are known to last for more than 6 years in harsh climate regions like Chicago. The topsoil, peat moss, and manure that fill the pool can be bought for under $20.

Wading pools can be placed in any area that could not be used for conventional gardens, such as rooftops, black tops, along fences and railroad tracks.

On contaminated surfaces, such as brown fields, vacant lots and abandoned industrial sites, wading pools can be used to isolate the growing medium from contamination.

As the wading pools are above the ground they tend to dry up quickly. Therefore water the wading pool gardens as often as you see the need. You can stop watering when you see the water dripping from the holes on the side of the pools.”

A good reference for finding green roofs and rooftop gardens, also check out

Vermont Sail Freight Launches in October!

September 9th, 2013

Forward: Since this post is based in personal experience, I figure I would introduce myself to avoid confusion. My name is Kim and I’m happy to say I’m working as an intern for Growing Cities! I am very excited to be blogging with you all from now on!

During World Water Week last week, I could not help but be reminded of an amazing project that I’ve been following for the past year. I was lucky enough to go to college in beautiful Vermont, where there are so many people rethinking our food system. One of whom I have had the chance to meet on a couple of occasions (he’s a real “diversified” farmer, experimenting with rice, using draft horses, milling his own grain for the delicious bread he sells at local markets, the list goes on!). His name is Erik Andrus and the first time I met him, some classmates and I were making a film about his farm and about why he does things the way he does ( and the second time I was helping him bale hay (which was one of the most fun experiences in my life). But I remember him, even at that time a couple years ago, talking at length about the newest project that had been buzzing around his head. It was fairly simple: using solely water and wind power, carry and sell Vermont products down the Hudson Valley waterways, all the way to New York City.


Last fall, he launched his Kickstarter campaign for Vermont Sail Freight, and along with partnership from the Willowell Foundation in VT and the Greenhorns, the project was soon a GO! To see the building process, look at their blog

I’m excited for this project for many reasons, but two of which stand out in relation to urban agriculture and meeting the food demands of urban centers. The Vermont Sail Freight Project is one that connects city residents with good food from producers – whose main concerns are quality of their products and health of their land, communities, and children – in a sustainable manner. The vessel has a practical design: “the Vermont Sail Freight Project’s synthesis of these new and old influences led to this prototype design, 39 feet long, 10′ wide, and capable of carrying 12 tons. She’s suitable for lake, canal, river and harbor navigation, adept at handling and sorting cargo, and is an attractive means of delivering produce directly to our customers” and only needs a small crew. If the vessel, named Ceres, proves to be as cost and energy effective as she seems through her upcoming voyage, maybe we could be seeing more sailing barges pop up on our waterways. As Greenhorns put it:

“As we conceive of the next 10 years in local food system development, and the entry and scaling of next generation farm operations– distribution is a keystone issue. We’ll be working on the vast re-design of processing, aggregation, transportation, and value-adding, for a regional food system that is fair, transparent, and synchronizes product flow without pinching the farmers unfairly. As we embark re-building a regional food system, we’ll do well to recall our history, and the trends that have disempowered producers and served to centralize and concentrate control of the supply-chain– this sail boat project is a perfect vessel for a tremendously important conversation about distribution.”

I couldn’t agree more! (More on the VSF website


Another thing about this project is that it uses technology to its advantage. It was an internet-based startup, which will pre-sell its goods through an online market called (also started in VT) and will allow customers to track Ceres’ progress on Google maps as she sails downriver. I think it is the perfect marriage of something old and something new. There is something very physical and personal about this project, reminding us of the old trading routes and maritime history, and at the same time, it uses the internet to both facilitate the public’s connection to the project and to create a system that is easy for customers to get involved. I enjoyed how the Greenhorns dubbed the project on the website, as a “poetic water-shed connection to the marketplace and eaters.”

Ceres launches in October! For more information, visit

The images on in this post are from the VSF blog.


The Quotable Growing Cities Series Pt. 1

January 19th, 2012


Check out these inspiring quotes from our interviews with urban farmers across the country…enjoy!


Will Allen, Urban Farmer Growing Power, Milwaukee, WI

“It takes a lot of skill to be able to grow food sustainably. Its an art form. We need to raise agriculture up to another different level like they do in Europe where farmers are on the same level as engineers and doctors… because the food that we eat is the most important thing in our lives.”

Antonio Roman-Alcala, Farmer/Activist Alemany Farm, San Francisco, CA

“We can be joyful while we’re trying to change the world. As long we we’re also aware that you can’t get away with things just by doing the easy stuff. You actually have to challenge certain things and put yourself in uncomfortable positions, often risking things in order to achieve real change.”

Karen Washington, Community Gardener, The Bronx, NY

“If we’re talking about social justice it has to encompass the food that we eat, the people that grow the food, how they’re treated, their health benefits, their wages. How hard they’re living. Are they living in substandard housing? Do they have heat and hot water? What about the children? Are they getting a good education? Is it quality in terms of schools? So for me, the movement started about growing food but then blossomed into this social justice conscious.”

Darron Joffe aka “Farmer D”, Farmer/Entrepreneur, Atlanta, GA

“My advice for people interested in sustainable agriculture is just plug in…wherever you are, connect to your local food community.  Connect to your local food non-profits, go to farmers markets, meet the farmers, and just talk to people…this is the best way to figure out where your passion is and where you fit best!”

Dorsey Barger, Farmer Hausbar Farm, Austin, TX

“In the US we have this bizarre idea that meat comes in a little yellow tray and its cold and its wrapped in a little plastic wrap…We dont picture the chicken.  We dont see the feathers.  We dont see its little feet…But here on the farm we’ll sometimes go out and grab a couple of doves who are eating the chicken feed or we’ll trap squirrels and other pests that are eating our vegetables, and that’ll be lunch, 15 or 20 minutes later.  That’s the circle of life here on the farm.”