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Extra Sauce: Urban Harvest STL talks sustainable rooftop farming downtown

April 6th 10:04am, 2015



In 2011, a band of urban agriculture enthusiasts formed Urban Harvest STL and created a downtown community garden to grow food closer to where they work and live. But when their lease expired two years later, they needed a new plot of land. Finding no space available on the ground, they decided to look up.

Urban Harvest recently began construction on a new Food Roof Farm on top of a two-story building at the corner of 14th Street and Convention Plaza. Mary Ostafi, founding director of Urban Harvest STL, shared how the rooftop farm went from vision to reality.

What inspired you to start Urban Harvest when you moved to St. Louis five years ago?
I have always lived in very suburban or urban environments and I’ve always been very interested in growing food and having even more control of my health through that method. It just kind of happened when I got to St. Louis.

We were yearning for more green space and somewhere to enjoy the outdoors in the middle of the city. We had a desire to grow our own food, and we took it upon ourselves to create that opportunity.

How will the Food Roof Farm operate?
We are going to hire a part-time farm manager to run the farm. It will primarily be a CSA model. On a weekly basis, members come to farm and pick up a box of fresh produce that is in season. We’ll donate a portion of the harvest to the St. Patrick Center teaching kitchen. We’ll be integrating a community garden into the roof, so some gardeners will be growing food for themselves. And we’ll have a partnership with a local school a few blocks away – Lafayette Preparatory Academy – interested in having space to teach students. It will be a demonstration farm for everyone in the community to plug into in different ways.

What will you grow?
We’ll be growing all kind of vegetables and flowers and herbs and a pollinator garden. The primary focus is really on food: everything from tomatoes and lettuces to kale and root vegetables, like carrots, onions and garlic … We have been and will continue to grow organically without any pesticides or herbicides.

Will space constraints affect the farm?
We need to be more efficient with how we grow food, so we’re looking at different growing methods besides typical farm rows. We’re trying to grow vertical and leverage that space as much as possible.

What are the benefits of urban farming?
Conventional means of agriculture and the transportation associated with the shipping of food can be very environmentally intensive. There’s a growing need to cultivate and provide access to food and reduce the environmental impact of food system, and also to foster a connection between people and the local food system.

You raised $33,000 through crowdfunding organization Rally St. Louis to kick-start this project. What’s the fundraising plan going forward?
We will continue to rely on local businesses and local foundations beyond the Rally Saint Louis campaign. So far the local community has been pretty supportive. We have enough money for the build-out but not all the necessary projects, like the beehive, chicken coop and hydroponic towers.

The plan is for the CSA to pay for the garden, definitely sustain the farm manager position, rent and utilities. We would love to be able to scale up and create more jobs, like a greenhouse manager and youth education director.

What do you hope for the Food Roof Farm in the next five years?
I think five years from now we would really like to see the Food Roof Farm thriving as a demonstration and outreach and education arm of urban agriculture. By that point we will learn what growing methods work best on a rooftop and scale it up on more rooftops downtown. This is really our pilot. We hope people will learn from this project and take it back to their living situation and figure out how to grow food.

Learn more about Urban Harvest STL and sustainable urban agriculture in St. Louis at Central Conversations: Urban Farming on Wednesday, April 8 at 6:30 p.m. at the Central Library downtown. Click here for more information about this free event. (Sauce Magazine is a sponsor of Central Conversations.)

Editor’s note: This post was updated at April 8 at 10 a.m. It. originally stated that the Food Roof Farm is located on top of a three-story parking garage. It also stated that the Food Roof Farm would have hydroponic power.





By Rebecca Koenig

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