Rooftop Farm

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What Is It?

Rooftop farm sketchup.jpg

It's a working rooftop farm ... demonstrating how urban agriculture can be done sustainably (triple bottom-line) on Detroit's rooftops. It is located on the front flat roof of the Green Garage.

How Is It Set Up?

Rooftop farm containers.jpg

We are using plastic containers we obtained from GM that were parts shipping containers in their former lives. For the soil, we use a mixture of compost, pine bark, rice hulls and peat moss. Because the roof has a western exposure, we are not lacking for sunlight. To water the plants, we gather rainwater in metal troughs that is gathered from the roof and scoop it out with watering cans.

What Are We Growing?

October 2013

September 2013

August 2013

June, July 2013

  • red and green lettuces
    • Simpson lettuce
    • Claremont lettuce
    • Outredgous romaine
    • Jericho lettuce
    • Adriana lettuce
    • Skyphos lettuce
    • Calendula lettuce
    • red romaine
    • red oakleaf
  • borage
  • chervil
  • mint
  • savoy spinach
  • Bull's blood
  • Christmas basil

April, May 2013

  • red and green lettuces
    • red romaine
    • red oakleaf
    • spinach
  • Littlefinger carrots
  • beets (Bulls Blood)
  • radishes
  • borage (edible flower)
  • herbs
    • mint
    • chervil

Who does it serve?

We are working with Motor City Brewing Works in this project. MCBW requested the above items for their salads and pizzas.

Design Work

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Possible Living 3D Goals


The rooftop farm provides

  • affordable produce for local restaurant(s)
  • income for an urban farmer that makes this career a possibility.
  • income for Green Garage for rooftop space.
Triple Bottom Line


  • Creates a "hyper" local food supply
    • Walk the food to the restaurant
    • Year-round source of local food
  • Source for food
  • Sustainable water practices
  • Part of good food movement in Detroit ..
    • Food Justice?


  • Demonstrates next generation of "farm-to-plate" relationship. Special recipes.
  • Conduct demonstration tours..showing sustainable urban agriculture
  • Allow sitting area for Green Garage ... Businesses in Residence...and ways they can participate
  • Next generation partnering with MCBW...symbiotic interdependence...compost cycle...spent grain?
  • Next generation works on the farm...students

Possible Scope

  • Front area of historic
  • Front 5' - 7' of annex
  • Calculate sf



Open Issues

  • Capital Costs...who pays for them?

GG Rooftop Crops--Initial design ideas and questions July 2012

Soap bubble greenhouse

  • Design and engineering are well-documented, seem reliable
  • Need to hear grower's perspective
  • Shades the interior in summer
  • Insulates interior in winter
  • Still need a heat source? (Depends on what is grown)
  • Doesn't sound complicated or expensive
  • Need to know what is to be grown/produced first, in order to determine size, heating/cooling needs
  • How tall is it and how might that impact both historic appearance and crop production needs?
  • How much weight does the soap reservoir entail?
  • How much space does the reservoir require, and can that be used for anything else? (Plantings hanging above it, for instance)
  • How is a soap bubble greenhouse ventilated?
Water Collection


  • Need to harvest more rainwater from roof
  • Could catch in livestock troughs arranged along parapet wall
  • Set growing "benches" on top of the troughs to retain production space and make it convenient for watering
  • How to address watering in the winter?
  • Can we keep the water clean enough for food crop production?

Growing media

  • This is really a large container garden, not a farm
  • Soil-less mixes are better for this situation because they are not as heavy and offer a better root environment in containers
  • Soil-less mixes are very light (as little as 35 lbs. per cubic foot or even less after fully wetting and draining of free water)
  • Should include at least 30% compost for microbial activity, disease resistance, and nutrient content
  • Can mix your own or purchase pre-mixed, I have done both

Food Crops

  • No matter how intensive you grow, it's still a very small production area
  • Choose crops that are very high value for the amount of production space and time they require
  • Edible flowers, specialty greens and herbs could be grown in this small of a space
  • Could be sold to MCBW (Dan likes this idea)

Ornamental Crops

  • Cut flowers may be possible, further research needed
  • Ground covers are small plants with high yields and high values, and we have some "free" starter stock in alley
  • We also have a "free" source of native plant seeds and divisions
  • Transplants could be grown from these and sold
  • I have been unable to find anyone in the city, for that matter in metro Detroit, focused on producing urban native plants, ground covers, or cut flowers
  • We (the Green Garage) are quickly gaining the knowledge and experience to fill this need
  • Ornamental crops are some of the most profitable, but have been largely ignored by the urban ag movement
  • This could be because ornamental crops do not address food justice issues (nor would edible flowers and herbs, probably)
  • Ornamental crops can sometimes be grown on land that is not suitable for food crops
  • Could these sorts of crops be grown at El Moore?
  • Could growing natives for cut flowers help educate people about Michigan native plants?


  • You have to pick one customer and go for it
  • Make one idea profitable
  • Use what is learned to start or expand other profitable ventures
  • Profit goals and crops should determine how growing operations are designed
  • SPIN farming may provide some insights but is structured around growing and selling a diversity of vegetable crops in the ground, without greenhouses


  • Growing up on a roof offers control, sanitation and security advantages
  • Growing up on a roof also physically separates the operation from the building and street-level communities
  • Tours offer one way of re-connecting the growing operation with the community
  • Involve building occupants in the growing operations? Are they even interested? Do they have time?
  • Attract others to the GG because we are growing things here
  • It may be difficult to incorporate or address food justice issues


  • Environmental goals are in our DNA, these may be the easiest for us to incorporate

Permaculture on the Farm

Documenting our Tuesday lunch meetings at which we discuss the application of the principles of permaculture on the Rooftop Farm.


  • Artful Beekeeping Metro Times, Sept 2008. Developing apiaries and beekeeping on vacant lots in Detroit.

Rooftop Farm Google Docs