Archive for ‘Tips and Ideas’

April 13, 2009

Feedback Wanted for Beginner Farmers Market

temescalmarketbigI have started and am the Market Manager of a Farmers Market in the Miller section of Gary, Indiana.  I would like to share some of my experience here regarding starting a market in a food desert and industrial wasteland.  If you come to Gary, it is like visiting a third world country.  There are no major grocery chains in the city.  Many, many buildings and homes are abandoned and deserted. There are six Superfund sites that need attention.  Several brownfields and contaminated groundwater sources have been identified along the shoreline.  The state environmental agency has been crippled by a Republican governor and former Bush appointee.

Yet there is hope and a great response for the Market from this small beachfront community, which is set apart from the main part of the city.  I have partnered with a church and we are developing the Market as a ministry that focuses on fruits and vegetables, healthy prepared foods and food products, nutrition, fitness and preventative healthcare and holistic healing.  We are listed on Local Harvest as the Miller Beach Farmers Market.

I am reaching out to organic farmers in Illinois and Michigan as I am having a very difficult time finding any here in Northwest Indiana.

Here is a radio interview I did for the Miller Beach Farmers Market with  a new local African-American progressive radio station. Because of recent flooding, the radio tower is submerged so you can’t get it on the radio, but you can get it on the Internet. Here is the link.

The host talks about food deserts and other topics before I come on at about 22 minutes in. And we talk for a nice long time, probably more than a half hour!  We try to touch on why Gary is a food desert, how cool farmers markets are, what Gary and Northwest Indiana have to do to support the local food movement and small family farms, and how we made the Miller Beach Farmers Market a reality, our wonderful vendors, and how we’re struggling to keep it going.  We also talk about peak oil, sustainability, home gardening, soil testing, brownfields in Gary, agri-business.

I am looking for feedback and networking opportunities with other urban markets that may be experiencing the same obstacles.  There is little support or awareness here in Northwest Indiana regarding the local food movement and small family and organic farms and producers.  Much of the support is geared toward agri-business.

Please contact Sandra Rodriguez at socheckchick at if you have any advice or resources.
(photo from provokare)
April 3, 2009

Advice for Beginning Rooftop Growers

portlandroofThe topic of rooftop farming recently came up on the AUA Google Group. AUA member Breanne Heath had some great advice for the novice farmers. Will permission, we would like to reprint that advice here.

First, you want to get a structural assessment to figure out how much load your roof can handle.  That will determine your design and substrate depth, and may also guide a decision whether or not to reinforce the roof beams.

All of our beds are on the sides of the building, rather than spanning the entire roof.  This was because we wanted our beds to be as deep as possible, so we concentrated the load on the two exterior walls.  This was also to accommodate all of the skylights.  Our planting depth is about 12″, and our growing area is approximately 525 square feet.

The green roof insulates and prevents water runoff quite well.  This winter, only the top 2″ of the beds ever froze.  We think the rest of growing medium absorbed heat escaping from the apartment below.  Since we have very little water runoff, we have an agreement with our neighbor to collect his rainwater.  We really wanted to avoid using city water for irrigation.  We recently won a judge’s choice award for the design of the watering system.  You can see complete instructions (and also a picture of the roof) here.

The rainwater is pumped via a well pump to an irrigation system on the rooftop.  This was necessary because we couldn’t generate enough pressure to reach the roof with a regular garden hose.  Each bed is individually irrigated with a drip line that can be programmed individually.

For the drainage layer, root barrier, and filter fabric, we chose Henry brand products.  The walls of the planters are built of cedar and the south side of each box is raised about an inch to allow drainage.  The roof has a 2% grade and drains very well.  Also to note is that nothing is actually attached on the roof.

Our growing medium is a mixture of perlite, compost, and peat.  I know coir is supposed to be more sustainable, but we couldn’t find large quantities locally.  The compost and peat is readily available at Home Depot, and we found horticultural grade perlite at Silbrico Corp., in Hodgkins, Illinois for a good price.  We have leftover materials if you would like to check them out.  We supplement everything with organic amendments and homemade vermicompost.

Originally, we only used perlite and compost for the growing medium.  We found that it dried out much too quickly, and experienced a lot of moisture/nutrient loss.  The peat helps with this a lot, while keeping everything lightweight.

This winter we had two hoophouses on top of the planters.  We made ours from plastic sheeting and leftover conduit.  This winter we grew a ton of carrots, kale, and other hardy greens.  We will also be using them to get a head start on spring planting.

It does get very windy on the roof, but we have not had any plant or trellis damage so far.

So far I have seen many food-producing roofs in Chicago.  They are all very different and this is just one way of going about it.

It might also be worth nothing that we did the entire project, including reinforcing the roof, all labor and materials, and installing the irrigation system, for around $10,000.  I think this might be one of the less-expensive food-producing rooftops in the city.  All of our plants are started by seed and grown under re-used fluorescent shop lights except the hops, kiwi, strawberries, and grapes.

AUA member Bill Morrissett chimed in as well, and added several helpful links for novice rooftop farmers:

Volunteer at the Gary Comer Youth Center – Rooftop Garden, 7200 S. INGLESIDE  (950 East)
(also find information on Gary Comer Youth Center here and here)

Creating your Own Rooftop Garden

Pointers from City Farmer

Guide to Rooftop Gardening from the City of Chicago

(Photo Courtesy of Sprouts in the Sidewalk.)