Rooftop garden first of its kind in nation

July 13, 2009 2:00:04 PM PDT
Chicago is one step closer to becoming the world's greenest city. It now can boast the nation's first certified organic garden on a roof.

The gardeners are making a statement as much about local food production as they are about urban agriculture and pesticide-free foods, and they are doing it all on Uncommon Ground.

Picking peas is all part of a day's work for interns who are spending their summer working on a farm. They don't have to travel outside the city limits, though. This farm is literally just above Devon Avenue.

"We really want to use this rooftop farm as a platform for education awareness for urban agriculture and for a healthier food chain," co-owner Helen Cameron said.

Cameron is co-owner of the Uncommon Ground restaurant in the Edgewater neighborhood and its 2,500 square foot farm. The Midwest Organic Services Association recently designated it the first certified organic farm in the United States that resides on a rooftop. The farm director says they are learning as they grow.

"Our biggest challenge is that we deal with a lot of wind and a lot of sun. Usually for a garden those things are good, but because we get so much of it, it's really intense up here," farm director Natalie Pfister said.

The harvest is served to diners in a variety of dishes. This adds to other eco-friendly initiatives -- including the signature drink known as the tree-tini. It's made with organic vodka and, for every drink purchased, the restaurant donates money to plant a tree. The tables and other woodwork in the restaurant are made from fallen trees that once lived in Chicago's own Jackson Park.

On Fridays, the restaurant's parking lot turns into a farmers' market. The owners believes all of these activities are helping to build community and to encourage people to live lighter on the land.

"We really try to be very connected into our communities and provide a place of happiness and comfort," Cameron said.

Saturday morning at 10:30, Mayor Richard M. Daley will be on hand to cut the ribbon for the official dedication of the rooftop farm. The event is open to the public. For more information, go to www.uncommonground.com


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