It was March of 2013 that I was contacted by Josiah Cain of Sherwood engineers and Design Ecology to consult on a rooftop farming project to be built in Berkeley Ca, just a few blocks from the UC campus. The 72 unit building was in schematic design and the client was excited at the possibility to grow food on the 16 roofs of the residential building. My role was to assess the viability of the farm operation and recommend the type of supportive systems. After a lengthy review from from the city of Berkeley the Client received the go ahead from the city of Berkeley to develop the design for permit submittal in November of 2013.
Over the course of the next year I worked with a team of designers, architects, engineers, consultants and other farmers to design a rooftop farming system that is now awaiting it's final plan check and construction permit approval. Half way through the DD phase the client proposed that I install and operate the system, which would result in me getting my contractor's license and starting Top Leaf. We are looking to begin construction in early 2015 starting in the basement with the processing area and farm annex. These areas will include a certified processing area and a walk-in cooler for the farm's produce as well as a supportive annex housing a fertigation system, vermicompost system and a geotea vortex brewer.
As the project unfolds a team will be put into place for the installation and then the operation of the farm and landscape. The edible landscape located in the courtyards of the building will be for the residence to self-forage herbs, berries and fruits while the market farm operation will supply a bi-weekly harvest through a subscription, in which the residence in the building will have fresh local greens and artisian vegetables. the food will literal travel 0 food miles and under 200 foot feet as alot of the transportation will be vertically. Plants are started on the roof, harvested and brought to the basement for harvest, up again to the appropriate floor that the customer lives and dropped at the doorway, or picked up from the community deck at the farm stand where other products from other farms will be available...doesn't get any fresher than that
The roof itself is a hybrid Hydroponic growing platform with a lightweight growing medium that will have a saturated subsurface, much like a hydro/aquaponic system. The water is circulated through the roof panels and returns to the main reservoir in the basement where the pH, nutrient levels and vitality of the water is maintained and adjusted. This system allows us to be super productive and resource conserving. As the buildings are built as modules and then assembled on-site, most of the main hardwiring of this system will be performed at the factory and then pieced together on-site.
There are some amazing rooftop farms in this country such as the Brooklyn Grange in NYC and Higher Ground Farm in Boston. Building upon their success as well as looking at other operations at scale such as Lufa Farms in Montreal and Gotham Greens in NY, We are aspiring to offer a pretty epic farming system. Based off my 15 years of farming experience and integrated permaculture design, I am really excited to see this project take shape.
Subscribe to our Farm log or keep up to date with us on Facebook as we roll this project forward next year. We plan to be operational by late next summer and will no doubt be learning a thing or two. On the horizon is the next rooftop which is in the beginning design phase with the same client. That project will be over 40,000 square feet of roof compared to the Garden Village farm which is just over 11,000 square feet. No doubt the sky is the limit.
Benjamin Fahrer is the owner and operator of Top Leaf Farms and has over 18 years of organic farming experience, building, design work and teaching in natural resource management.