Sustainability of Urban Agriculture: Vegetable Production on Green Roofs

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The practice of producing vegetables on green roofs has been gaining momentum in recent years as a method to facilitate agricultural sustainability in urban areas. Rooftop gardens are becoming an important part of the recent rejuvenation of urban agriculture, and offers alternative spaces to grow vegetable products for urban markets. Green roofs create spaces for the production of vegetable crops, which then generate opportunities for integrating agriculture into urban communities. However, vegetable production activities on rooftops are currently minimal due to multiple challenges that must be overcome before widespread implementation will occur, and these are presented and discussed herein in great detail. Although intensive green roof systems (>15 cm medium depths) are thought to be most suited for vegetable production, the greatest potential for sustained productivity is probably through extensive systems (<15 cm depths) due to weight load restrictions for most buildings. Thus, shallow-rooted vegetables that include important salad greens crops are thought to be the most suited for extensive systems as they can have high productivity with minimal inputs. Research presented herein agree that crops such as lettuce, kale and radish can be produced effectively in an extensive green roof medium with sufficient nutrient and moisture inputs. Other research has indicated that deeper-root crops like tomato can be produced but they will require constant monitoring of fertility and moisture levels. Vegetable production is a definite possibility in urban areas on retrofitted green roofs using minimal growing substrate depths with intensive seasonal maintenance. Rooftop agriculture can improve various ecosystem services, enrich urban biodiversity and reduce food insecurity. Food production provided by green roofs can help support and sustain food for urban communities, as well as provide a unique opportunity to effectively grow food in spaces that are typically unused. The utilization of alternative agricultural production systems, such as green roof technologies, will increase in importance as human populations become more urbanized and urban consumers become more interested in local foods for their families. Although cultivation of food on buildings is a key component to making cities more sustainable and habitable, green roofs are not the total solution to provide food security to cities. They should be viewed more as a supplement to other sources of food production in urban areas.

Stuart Alan Walters
Karen Stoelzle Midden