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Rooftop farming with Indira Naidoo

Rooftop farms are thriving in cities like New York and Milan. TV Broadcaster and author Indira Naidoo speaks to us about this green initiative.

Rooftop farming with Indira Naidoo

Rooftop farms are allowing cities such as New York and Milan to convert unused urban spaces into thriving farming areas.

“I lived the usual inner city lifestyle,” tells Naidoo from her Sydney home. “Living in a tony apartment with everyone living on top of each other. Getting onto a train, rushing to the office, getting hoe late and having to throw dinner together without much thought or time. I realised I had completely disconnected.” Attending a climate change training forum with former US Vice President Al Gore sparked a curiosity in Naidoo about where her food was coming from, leading to her best-selling book/ gardening experiment, The Edible Balcony. 

“I’ve never been much of a gardener, but in a year, I grew 70kg of produce on my 20 square metre balcony.”

Offering advice to fellow time poor city dwellers, Naidoo says it comes down to routine.

“Get into the habit of remembering that if you need water, then so do your plants. So when you’re having your first glass of water for the day, or a cup of tea, get into the habit of watering them too.”

Realising that you can’t grow everything you need yourself, and still reliant on farmers markets for bulk produce, Naidoo begun researching cities that had adopted rooftop farming practices across the world. It led her to Brooklyn, New York, where hectares of unused shipping containers and warehouse rooftops had been converted into thriving farming communities complete with beehives and chicken coups.

“You need 2.5 acres for it to be a workable space – you can almost bring a tractor on there,” says Naidoo.

One such initiative, called Gotham Greens, is hoping to create a model where a supermarket will actually grow all its greens on its own rooftop.

“They have farmers stalls downstairs and the workers in the building can pick up produce for their dinners upstairs. Again, it’s seasonal; at the moment they’ll have put in all their broccoli and leafy greens, root vegetables – you know, radish, beetroots, carrots, potatoes…

“When Sandy hit New York, millions of people nearly ran out of food and suddenly, policy makers started realising how insecure their food set up was. And with climate change predicting more extreme weather conditions – locally too – it begins raising more of these questions.”

Naidoo hosts tours of New York’s rooftop farms, and hopes to help introduce similar measures locally too, with help from some specialised organisations and the University of Technology, Sydney.

“One is being run with UTS and they’re quite actively working with council to find a good location to start a rooftop farm experiment. Then there’s another group, a former Greens magazine working with Parramatta council to find a suitable warehouse. The interest is starting to build in Australia, but we’re about 10 years behind because we’ve always had such a big food supply. But obviously, with the increasing food cost over the last couple of years, people are starting to ask ‘why am I going to pay $5 for parsley that’s only going to go off in my fridge?’.

I’m taking 4 Australians and 10 New Yorkers for the tour. It’s funny, but even New Yorkers don’t know these rooftop farms are there – they spend so much time underground in subways.”

As for what keeps her inspired, Naidoo claims that it’s a sense of green job satisfaction.

“That sense of self sufficiency that comes with growing your own food rather than only eating what’s on the shelf. That’s been the biggest thrill for me. It is more possible than people realise. We are the food we eat after all.”

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