Want to host a rooftop farm in 2010?

Recently word about PROOF has slipped into a couple of eco-friendly e-mail newsletters and people from around Philadelphia are contacting us with questions about how to become farm hosts for our experimental 2010 season (March to November). Yes, we are still accepting volunteers! PROOF has a good number of roof volunteers, but we could always use more. Most of our roof volunteers are in West Philly but we’ve been fielding questions from all over the city and plan to find some way to work in some capacity with everyone.

For those of you interested in volunteering your roof, here are the basic things you need:

1) a flat roof. The whole thing doesn’t have to be flat, but a good stretch of it should be.
2) reasonably easy access to that roof (via a door, roof hatch, out a window or other means of access that doesn’t require exterior ladders…though maybe a ladder going up one story is okay.)
3) a willingness to let PROOF staff and/or volunteers into your house two times a week (up to three times a week during peak growing season), so we can farm the produce
4) a positive attitude and an eagerness to work with PROOF throughout this experiment.

We’re interested in talking with renters but we’ll definitely require the owner’s written permission.

As a PROOF farm host (as long as we get a decent amount of grant money to pay for all this stuff 🙂

— A free roof evaluation by Cory Suter of Bioneighbors, a sustainable roofing company. (normally worth $100)
— Free planters, potting mix and plants, as well as free installation of your farm by PROOF volunteers (planter, mix, plants and installation an estimated value about $1000 per roof).
— Free maintenance of your farm by PROOF staff (estimating two visits a week from March to November to plant, care for and harvest produce, maybe three in the peak weeks)
— Free produce from spring to mid-fall of 2010. PROOF will try to give you at least a decent boxful of fruit and vegetables per week, with a bit less in the spring and fall and a bit more in the summer. We say “try” because the rooftop farm is in its first year and it’s therefore all an experiment, but we’ll do the best we can. (average value of a CSA – community supported agriculture – farm share equal to about what PROOF hopes to provide, $600)

Still curious? Some quick answers to quick questions:

— Q: Is this a “green roof” system?
— A: Not really. PROOF will be installing planters on your roof but won’t be putting soil or waterproof membranes on your roof, as are typical in a “green roof” installation. Green roofs are awesome though and if you want one, by all means do it!

— Q: Will the planters hurt my roof?
— A: PROOF is designing planters that will span party walls (the brick walls of your house that connect with the house on the row next door) so planter weight rests on them, not directly on your roofing material. We’re working on solutions for detached houses or twins.

— Q: What if I don’t have a hose bib upstairs?
— A: PROOF should be able to either run a hose up from a hose bib you may have on your first floor or use an adapter to get water from an upstairs sink.

— Q: Who pays for the water?
— A: Farm hosts do. PROOF is designing its planters to be self-watering, which greatly reduce water needs. Planters will also capture rainwater, so in rainy weeks or for a couple days after a thunderstorm we probably won’t have to add water at all. We’re planning to work with rain barrel collection projects to also enable the planters to be able to use as much rainwater as possible.

— Q: Won’t the soil dry out?
— A: PROOF is using self-watering planters (more on those in another post) that have covers — the plants grow up through the covers. Being covered, the planters don’t dry out and also don’t allow for much evaporation. Hence, the soil stays moist.

— Q: What can be grown on a roof?
— A: Almost anything that grow in the ground. There are exceptions, of course, though on the other hand some things grow particularly well in containers. As for what you can grow on your particular roof, PROOF will work with roof hosts to tailor a planting scheme to the fruit and vegetables you like to eat.

— Q: Do I have to keep the farm permanently?
— A: Nope. PROOF would love you to keep the planters after 2010 so we don’t have to dismantle them haul them down, but we don’t require that kind of commitment.

— Q: How much work do I have to do on the farm?
— A: None, if you like. Your main responsibility is to let PROOF volunteers into your house at the agreed-upon times. Of course you can absolutely participate in the farming to the extent you want. (We may also ask you to spritz the plants with water on hot days, or let a PROOF staffer in to do it for you.)

— Q: How much produce will I get?
— A: PROOF will try to provide your house with the equivalent of 1/2 to 1 full CSA share of produce from your roof. We will distribute excess by selling it at farmstands or in some other way. This will be one way PROOF will support its future operations. (PROOF is a non-profit but still needs money for infrastructure).

— Q: Will the produce be organic?
— A: PROOF won’t have organic certification in 2010, but everything used from potting mix to fertilizer will be organic.

— Q: What if I don’t have access to my great flat roof?
— A: PROOF is working with green roofers who install roof hatches. We’re hoping to be able to help financially if you want to do that.

— Q: How much will this all cost me?
— A: If PROOF gets grants and donations this fall to support the project, zero. If we don’t….we’ll talk.

Please let us know if you have any other questions and we’ll try to make up answers.

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3 responses to “Want to host a rooftop farm in 2010?

  1. Pingback: Some rooftop farming background « the Philadelphia Rooftop Farm (PRooF)

  2. I want to build my own rooftop deck/garden, but I need a hatch to my roof that either includes the ladder built in or some extra mounting of a ladder to make access to the roof easier. The existing skylight is old and not designed for roof access, and is probably leaking heat. Do you have any advice ?

    • Hi Mark,

      Sorry for the delay in getting back to you. These are exactly the kind of roof access issues PROOF has been dealing with. At the moment (as of May 2010), L&I does not consider access through a hatch to be legal as a way to get up to your roof on a regular basis — you need to build a dedicated staircase and a pilot house (or have a dedicated legal staircase from an outside deck). This is a huge expense, cost-prohibitive for pretty much everyone. PROOF is talking about strategies for how to get that to change, but right now, that’s a big impediment to widespread residential rooftop agriculture in Philadelphia. We’re working on it….

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