On a perfect spring day this week, South Carolina’s first rooftop farm was dedicated.
With a slight breeze in the air, a cloudless sky and the sun shining down, the farm was given official status as a living, working asset to the city.
“It’s been said that one of the greatest visions for a city is not so much a city with a park, but a park with a city,” said Mayor Knox White, speaking at the dedication.
“And I think that’s been one of the hallmarks of downtown Greenville for a long time. The fact that when people come into our downtown area they sense that this is a place not like anywhere else.”
“It’s only natural that the farm come to the city too,” White added.
The farm, on top of the building at North Main and East Washington streets, is a collaboration between several entities.
Hughes Development Corp., which owns the building – and is the master developer of the 165-acre Bull Street complex in downtown Columbia – donated space for the farm. The city has helped back the idea and several other local businesses like Larkin’s Restaurants, Tupelo Honey Café and ScanSource have helped with funding and support.
The idea though, comes from Greenville foodie and entrepreneur Will Morin, who was joined by Mill Village Farms, an organization that provides fresh food to food desert areas, and provides job and entrepreneurship training to local youth.
The goal is to make use of downtown’s extensive rooftop space. Roofs get lots of sun, perfect for growing produce, and they are vastly underused.
The farm bridges the gap so to speak by making rooftops useful and by cutting down on the energy required to cool buildings, thanks to plants that absorb the heat.
“The goal is to eventually expand it here or to other rooftops across the city,” said Daniel Weidenbenner, executive director of Mill Village Farms. “I mean, how many roofs are there in downtown Greenville that are not being utilized?”
Instead of rolling acres of land, the rooftop farm implements vertical growing towers to produce large quantities of produce in a short amount of time.
The specially designed towers provide a more efficient growing system that can produce vegetables in a matter of weeks. They are aeroponic, meaning plants are grown in air. The method of growing uses less than 10 percent of the water required for standard farming.
The farm made its debut last year with just eight growing towers, but today, it now has 50. The towers today are sprout a variety of what Weidenbenner says are spring crops.
Romaine and red leaf lettuces, curly kale leaves and tasty-looking bok choy all peak out of the sides of the towers in a rainbow of greens. Those crops, along with future ones, will be funneled to local downtown restaurants, as well as to Mill Village Farms’ mobile market, Good to Go, which will restart operations in June.
Weidenbenner anticipates being able to produce about 600 plants a week, which he anticipates will one day translate to around 15,000 pounds worth of food.
The rooftop farm also will serve to further Mill Village Farms’ mission of employing and developing at-risk and high-potential youth in the community.
Youth partners help work and run the farms, learning professional skills development, and gaining experience in sustainable agriculture, personal finance and entrepreneurship.
“At the end of the day, we are all working really hard to help sustain our natural resources, our city and to help support the next generation,” Weidenbenner said.