Grow Your Own Way · News

Whole Foods starts rooftop farm

I’ve written about rooftop farming before, but this really struck me as interesting: a national food chain jumping on the trend. The new Whole Foods in Lynnfield, MA is trying to become the first major grocery chain to sell produce from a field atop the store. And, unlike previous urban rooftop farming initiatives, this one is taking the idea to the suburbs.

Courtesy: Boston Globe

The food roof will be 17,000 square feet once complete, and will supply produce for the store, including its ready-made meals. It requires soil with a greater depth and a higher organic content than a regular rooftop garden, and also necessitates extensive waterproofing and drainage. And although this comes with a huge cost outlay it will actually allow the store to grow more produce per square foot than a ground farm would, so it sounds like they are banking on it paying off very quickly.

In general, I think it’s a really cool idea, as roofs go largely unused otherwise, and I’m sure patrons will respond well to being able to see exactly where their food is coming from.

My concern: If this really takes off, how will it affect the local farmers that formerly supplied fruits and veggies to Whole Foods locations? For some family-owned farms, Whole Foods has traditionally been a big buyer and a critical supplement to their distribution through farmer’s markets and CSAs. At least in this case the organic seeds are coming from Redfire Farm in Granby, Mass.

Read more about it in the Boston Globe.

What do you think? Is this good, or does the risk to local farmers outweigh the benefits of knowing where your mass market produce comes from? And are there equity-related issues here, since we are talking about a pricey natural/organic chain and not, say, Shaw’s or Market Basket growing their own produce?

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2 thoughts on “Whole Foods starts rooftop farm

  1. Interesting issues wrt sustainability – of the roof garden itself! The raised bed looks like untreated SPF (spruce-pine-fir), a softwood family that won’t weather well under constant pressure and moisture: maintenance could be a nightmare. And that’s if the roof (a standard rubber roof, from the photo) doesn’t collapse from the weight. Or maybe the roof was designed strong enough: it looks like new construction. Also, even occasional walking on a rubber roof is detrimental: they haven’t put down a walkway to protect the roof (as is usually done to access rooftop cooling units, for example), and one of the workmen is pushing the loam bags hard (notice the lateral-force wrinkles in the roofing material at his feet). Although the bag DOES says ‘lite’ on it: if they are using vermiculite based ‘lite’ potting soil, it will weigh a lot less, but it would then be very difficult (impossible?) to grow organically, given the fertilization needs from using a sterile ‘soil’.

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