Honolulu's first urban rooftop farm




Left: FarmRoof on AutoMart (photo by Martha Cheng); right: FarmRoof on Sweet Home Waimanalo (photo by FarmRoof)

In Brooklyn, I visited a rooftop farm that overlooked the Manhattan skyline. Honolulu's first urban rooftop farm is on top of an auto dealership in Kakaako.

It's the juxtaposition of urban and rural that makes farm roofs so exciting. The reality is, we're not all cut out for rural life, but with rooftop farming, we can bring a little bit of the agrarian into town. At a glance, rooftop farms make sense: utilize unused space to grow food. But there are challenges: irrigation, heat (10 minutes on top of AutoMart, and everyone was sweating), the weight of plants and soil and maintenance. Alan Joaquin, founder of FarmRoof, the certified-organic system on top of AutoMart, thinks he has it figured out. He's also the founder of Wiki Garden and has adapted the modular, lightweight garden-in-a-sock system for roofs. From his test plot on top of Sweet Home Waimanalo, he sells produce to Whole Foods. On top of AutoMart, he has 38,000 square feet of rooftop to grow kale, arugula, Asian mustard and other rooftop-hardy plants, which he plans to offer to the neighborhood via a CSA.

Construction of 680 Ala Moana, an affordable housing development, also began last week (the day after the FarmRoof blessing), and rumor is it will also boast a rooftop farm. Kamehameha Schools, as part of its 15-year Kakaako master plan, is currently developing the neighborhood with an eye toward arts and culture and sustainability. (It's a sign of the times when Kamehameha Schools, which previously sought a 28-fold rent hike on ag lands, is now carving out a bit of urban land for farming).

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