Videos

How Boston Fit a Giant New Farm Into the City ... Seamlessly

Higher Ground, the world's second largest rooftop farm, contributes fresh food but doesn't interfere with density and walkability.

Image
Higher Ground

The aptly-named Higher Ground Farm will open this spring on the roof of the Boston Design Center. It will cultivate an amazing 55,000 square feet, or a little over an acre, on top of the Design Center’s renovated old warehouse, just across Boston Harbor from Logan Airport and only a mile and a half from the heart of downtown. It will be the city’s first rooftop farm and, according to an article written by Steve Annear for BostInno, the world’s second-largest.

Founded by Courtney Hennessey and John Stoddard, former classmates at the University of Vermont, Higher Ground will use organic methods to grow a diverse array of fruits and vegetables for the Boston community, to be sold through community-supported agriculture shares and an on-site farm stand, and to restaurants. According to Stoddard, the farm "is also working on a partnership with a non-profit to distribute vegetables to corner stores in places where fresh produce isn’t readily available." Operations will begin this spring. 

Courtesy of Higher Ground  

As discussed in my recent article on Peaceful Belly, the community-serving organic farm outside of Boise, I’m a fan of city gardens and farms that contribute fresh food and benefits to the urban environment but do not interfere with important urban attributes such as density and walkability. Cities still need to be cities, for a host of environmental and other reasons. Higher Ground’s approach, which does not occupy any street-level urban space, only enhances the city fabric without displacing it.

In addition, because it also is a green roof, Higher Ground helps cool the heat island effect that otherwise raises city temperatures and air conditioning needs. Green roofs also absorb stormwater, a huge benefit especially so close to the harbor. (I previously wrote about a rooftop garden in downtown Washington, created by the non-profit food provider Bread for the City, here.)

In an article posted on the website of the Massachusetts Sustainable Business Leader Program, Stoddard notes that a recent zoning update has made it easier to engage in city gardening, and urges that more of the right types of urban spaces be devoted to the growing of food:

In re-imagining our food system as a key component of an environmentally sustainable human society, let’s draw from our agricultural past while placing it in a modern context. Localized organic food production on rooftops, in empty warehouses, in freight containers, and in vacant lots has great potential to increase the availability of fresh healthy food, while benefitting the ecosystem and reconnecting urban populations to where food comes from. So while we probably will not see a ruminant resurgence in the Boston Common, we might begin to hear chickens clucking and bees buzzing from our rooftops. Let’s plant the seeds now for our food future by investing in roof agriculture.

Higher Ground’s rooftop farming infrastructure is being installed by Recover Green Roofs, a Massachusetts-based company that also created the rendering accompanying this article.  For more, let Hennessey and Stoddard tell you in this on-location video:

This post originally on the NRDC's Switchboard blog, an Atlantic partner site.

About the Author

  • Kaid Benfield is the director of the Sustainable Communities and Smart Growth program at the Natural Resources Defense Council, co-founder of the LEED for Neighborhood Development rating system, and co-founder of Smart Growth America. More
    Kaid Benfield is the director of the Sustainable Communities and Smart Growth program at the Natural Resources Defense Council, co-founder of the LEED for Neighborhood Development rating system, and co-founder of Smart Growth America. He is the author or co-author of Once There Were Greenfields (NRDC 1999), Solving Sprawl (Island Press 2001), Smart Growth In a Changing World (APA Planners Press 2007), and Green Community (APA Planners Press 2009). In 2009, Kaid was voted one of the "top urban thinkers" on Planetizen.com, and he was named one of "the most influential people in sustainable planning and development" in 2010 by the Partnership for Sustainable Communities. He blogs at NRDC's Switchboard.