Kakaako's FarmRoof update

Photo courtesy of Alan Wong's

Alan Wong and Alan Joaquin at the Castle Medical Center FarmRoof.

It's been over a year since Alan Joaquin of FarmRoof installed a rooftop farm in Kakaako. It was to be Honolulu's first urban rooftop farm and its grand plans included a CSA for the neighborhood. Though I pass by it almost everyday, I can't see it from street level (one of the drawbacks of a rooftop farm), so I checked in with Joaquin to see how that farm in the sky was doing.

Joaquin, serial entrepreneur and recent Hawaii Business Magazine 20 for the Next 20 honoree, currently has lots of plants in the ground (or is it rooftops?). He helped draft legislation for HB1365, which would put a rooftop farm on the fifth floor of the Capitol. The House passed it, and it's now in the Senate. He's implemented a rooftop farm at Castle Medical Center, from which the cafe harvests and utilizes greens. On Wednesday, he's collaborating with Alan Wong for a Farmer Series Dinner, which will highlight FarmRoof microherbs and greens. 

FarmRoof on top of AutoMart in Kakaako.

In comparison, then, when I see the FarmRoof on top of AutoMart in Kakaako, it appears to be languishing … or maybe, more accurately, fighting to survive. I expect to see a lush roof like in photos of Castle Medical Center's rooftop farm; instead, there are weather-worn kale plants battling heat and wind. The AutoMart rooftop microclimate, it turns out, is not kind. Also, just like traditional farms, a rooftop farm faces similar labor problems, and Joaquin is trying to figure out how to pay for and maintain this farm as well as future community farms.

His solution was Kale Tea—tea brewed from kale, kale from the AutoMart FarmRoof, in fact—and he launched an IndieGoGo campaign to help launch this new product, the proceeds of which would help fund rooftop farms. It, however, only raised $405 of its $10,000 goal. Undeterred, Joaquin is moving ahead with the project and drink, now renamed FarmRoof's Kale Brew. He's hoping to have bottles on shelves by June as well as restaurants around town. It's a way to raise money and awareness for rooftop farms.

In the end, though, I see rooftop farms as demonstration gardens—a place for urbanites to reconnect with dirt. A good idea for restaurants, hospitals, and state buildings to make a statement, but not as a viable commercial farm. But maybe it was never intended as such; the conceptual letdown may just be a hazard of placing one's expectations through the roof.

FarmRoof, farmroof.com
Alan Wong's Farmer Series Dinner, Wednesday, March 20, $85/$115 with wine, 949-2526 for reservations