Saturday, July 18, 2009

An Uncommon Rooftop

Last Saturday Mr.Brown Thumb, Gina, and I were privileged to be invited to the dedication and ribbon-cutting ceremony for the first certified organic rooftop farm in the country, located right here in Chicago at Uncommon Ground Restaurant in the Edgewater neighborhood.

It was an exciting and historic event, complete with speeches, local politicians, a security detail, and lots of press. Mayor Daley (in the blue shirt and baseball cap) cutting the ribbon.

In addition to all the veggies being grown, this section of the rooftop includes four beehives (the four rectangular boxes.) Besides pollinating the veggies, the bees produce honey used by the restaurant.

Natalie Pfister, the rooftop farm manager speaking during the ceremony.
The peas are just about finished producing.

In addition to the raised beds, Earth Boxes abound, planted with all manner of veggies including these tomatoes,

and peppers.

Back down at street level, flowers, veggies, fruits, and ornamentals are planted in every border and bed.

Here, Mayor Daley is talking to Michael and Helen Cameron, owners of Uncommon Ground.

Nasturtiums, herbs, sunflowers, and currants are planted in this bed.

Alfresco dining - sectioned off from the parking lot with more veggies planted in Earth Boxes.

For more detailed coverage of this historic event including videos, visit Mr.Brown Thumb @ Chicago Garden, Gina @ My Skinny Garden, and Beth Botts at Growing in Chicago.


  1. Hi Linda, wow that's really great... and reminds me yet again that I *still* need to blog about a local green roof I helped plant back in (gulp) May, 2008! BTW, I was all set to get you a postcard from the Denver Bot (with address and stamp in hand, no less!) only to find that due to construction, their gift shop was closed! I ask you! So, just go to and imagine a postcard of one of the vistas, OK? :)

  2. That pic of Natalie makes her look like militant farmer or something. LOL.

    You know that outdoor area is pretty interesting. It isn't certified organic and the first time I was there one of the interns told me they were having a hard time making clients think about where they dumped their butts. Since it wasn't planted previous to this year customers would just flick them wherever they wanted and now they have to make sure customers don't do that so they can use the stuff growing there for food.

  3. How fabulous is that rooftop garden.

  4. Isn't it cool Monica! Good to see you back - hope you had a great time in CO.

    MBT, Natalie seems like a very sweet girl - I hope she looks more passionate than militant. She does seem to be very passionate about what she's doing. I admire her and everyone who's responsible for this wonderful accomplishment.

    I didn't realize the street-level garden's aren't certified organic. I hope it doesn't take long for the customers to get with the program and keep their butts out of the garden. ;)

    Hi Keewee, it is very cool.

  5. That looks like an awesome place to hang out! I think I'm going to grow some herbs in planters on my deck rail next year. I wonder if my cousin Tara went to that, she lives in St charles. Isn't that a burb of Chi town?

  6. Linda, isn't this a great idea?! maybe they will start a trend in fine dining. I love that they included beehives. the more of these we have the better. Thanks for taking is along to this wonderful gathering.

  7. Hi Cinj, it's a great neighborhood place. They have a farmers' market on Fridays - I hope to get up there for that sometime this summer. It sounds like their market is a lot of fun. St. Charles is in the west suburbs - about 40 miles or so from Chicago's north side.

    Hi Beckie, yep, I think it's wonderful, and like you I hope it's the beginning of trend nationwide. I hope it also encourages more people in the area to start their own gardens in whatever space they have, including rooftops.

  8. What a treat to go to the ceremony! I love roof gardens and frequently think a;bout converting the one on my mosaic shed to a green roof. There are so many garden ideas and not enough time! Thank you for the tour! Have a good week~~gail

  9. Linda, this seems so different to see vegetables growing amidst the busy streets of Chicago, but after seeing the Organic Gingko Garden during Spring Fling I'm not completely surprised. This is a great idea, and I wish the owners success. How exciting that you were invited to the opening!

  10. So, there is opportunity for everyone to garden... even at rooftop. Good campaign!!
    ~ bangchik

  11. Hi Linda! This is so interesting and cool, too! I hope you got invited to lunch and sampled some of their 'home grown' :) Btw, I enjoyed your GBBD slide show. thanks!

  12. Hi Gail, it was a treat, and I was happy to be there. I feel the same - lots of great ideas, not enough time to implement them. I don't have a flat roof, and I'm scared of heights, so I'll keep my gardening on terra firma!

    Hope you have a great week too.

    Hi Rose, It's pretty amazing some of the things being done in Chicago to encourage and support urban agriculture. Just as an example, Uncommon Ground received a grant from the city which helped defray some of the cost of the structural changes needed to support the weight of the roof.

    Hi B&K, rooftop gardening is a great solution in an urban setting where there isn't much growing space at ground level.

    Hi Lynn, glad you enjoyed it! We could have stayed for lunch, but had another place we needed to be. Guess we'll have to go back there sometime! I'd love to go for the farmers' market they have every Friday afternoon.

    Glad you enjoyed the slide show!

  13. You did a great job of covering the event. Good shots. It is neat how they use the bees in the pollination and harvest the honey.

  14. This takes the saying "raising the roof" to another level! Love the idea of growing all the herbs and veggies
    on the roof top! Several local restaurant have their own garden behind where they gorw herbs and veggies used in their menus!
    Great Ideas!

  15. Thank you Tina!

    Especially with the stressed honey bee population, it's wonderful they're providing safe haven for four hives in an urban area.

    Hi Naturegirl, LOL! I love this idea too. The increase in organic, local urban agriculture in general is beneficial in so many ways, not the least is the way it brings communities together.

    Uncommon Ground isn't the only restaurant in the Chicago area with a rooftop garden, but it's the first certified organic. They are truly trailblazers and role models for others. I admire their commitment - it wasn't an easy or inexpensive endeavor.

  16. It's a bit like swimming pools on the roof - they make me nervous. I can't stop wondering if they are too heavy and the building will fall in.

    It's interesting to see how many people turned up for the opening. They must be doing a pretty good job of promoting their ideas.

    Esther's Boring Garden Blog

  17. Hi Esther, they spent a lot of money making the necessary structural changes to support all that weight. It was a huge investment, which makes this project all the more compelling. It will be years, if ever, before the produce they grow up there and use in the restaurant pays for the initial investment.

    Being up on a roof makes me nervous whether there's a garden on it or not! ;)


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