As carbon emissions, agricultural land availability and global warming issues continue to escalate, farms may be rising to rooftops in the most literal sense as well.
Research on rooftop farming is being tested on the Science Barge, a sustainable urban farm powered by solar, wind and biofuels, and irrigated by rainwater and purified river water. New York Sun Works, a nonprofit organization primarily interested in sustainable urban farming and building-integrated agriculture, built the barge as a prototype.
“The principal purpose of the Science Barge was to demonstrate this set of technologies, supported by renewable energy, to produce vegetables in the middle of a city in an almost carbon-neutral fashion,” said Benjamin Linsley, spokesman for New York Sun Works.
Using hydroponic technology, the barge grows food in the city with no carbon emissions, no net water consumption and no waste stream. Vegetables grown on the Science Barge require seven times less land and four times less water than field crops.
“It's a very sophisticated form of food production which operates very well and keeps high profits,” Linsley said.
If there's one downside to hydroponics, it's that the farming method requires a warm environment. Linsley sees this as a potential benefit to supermarkets, however. The idea would be to transfer the farm elements to a structure capable of supporting operations — such as a supermarket's roof.
“The advantage with building on top of a building is that you can make use of the heat that comes off the top of buildings,” he said. “Most supermarkets have an awful lot of heat coming off the top of them.”
The organization is already working with European partners to build what would be the first supermarket rooftop farm there. Closer to home, plans for urban farming systems with three New York City schools are in development.