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Growing food on city roofs.

Planting and harvesting crops of city rooftops could help solve many urban problems. "Edible landscapers" already are producing crops on roofs, balconies, decks, and walls, William H. Roley, Jr., director of the Permaculture Institute of Southern California, reported to the World Future Society. New technologies promise to expand city dwellers' ability to feed themselves from farms only an elevator ride away.

Besides saving money, the city farmers improve urban air quality, provide jobs for local residents, and reduce the congestion and pollution caused by trucks bringing food into the city. Moreover, there is "something uniquely satisfying about eating food that we have grown ourselves," according to Bob Walter, president of Los Angeles' Eco-Home Network. "Breaking an ear of corn off the stalk, husking it, and eating it right in the garden is an experience impossible to duplicate with produce trucked in from distant farms. The sugars begin turning to starch in the first five minutes after you harvest, and then that elusive taste is lost."

New technology promises to make urban farming far more practical, profitable, and pleasant. For instance, Paul Mankiewicz of New York's Gaia Institute has spent seven years testing and perfecting a super lightweight growing medium called Solid State Hydroponics in order to reduce the weight that ordinary soil otherwise would impose on a roof. The substance utilizes recycled styrofoam shredded into small particles to replace the sand and fill that make up 80% of ordinary soil. Underground tubes bring water and nutrients to the plants.

Mankiewicz also has developed a very lightweight greenhouse that uses thin-film glazing instead of standard glass, thus costing less than traditional greenhouse structures. By combining all these techniques, the rooftop farm of a large apartment house might produce enough fruits and vegetables to feed perhaps 4,000 people every year.
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Publication:USA Today (Magazine)
Date:Jun 1, 1993
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