Rooftop gardens thrive atop Chicago's McCormick Place

August 19, 2013 (CHICAGO)

In June, the Chicago Botanic Garden transitioned what was already a green roof into an urban farm site by planting 20,000 square feet of vegetables and herbs.

"A lot of what we're doing this year is for trial," said Angela Mason of the Chicago Botanic Garden. "We're hoping next year that we'll have a good selection of what does well on the rooftop that we can double our production."

There has already been harvests of lettuce, tomatoes and peppers. The garden is expected to yield up to 4,000 pounds of fresh produce this year, which will go to Savor Chicago, the food-service provider for McCormick Place. Because food travels from the roof to the kitchen in minutes, Savor can reduce its impact on the environment.

"It doesn't get any more local than coming up to the rooftop and harvesting what we're going to be serving that afternoon or that evening," said Connie Chambers of Savor Chicago.

The rooftop garden is also a training ground in urban agriculture, which is something Stacey Kimmons discovered he has a passion for when he joined the Botanic Gardens' Windy City Harvest Program.

"I love the kale," said Kimmons. "It actually grows so big; it could be called dinosaur kale."

The project helped Kimmons discover his green thumb. He's currently pursuing a certificate in rooftop gardening.

"It's actually relaxing," Kimmons said. People say it's hard work, but I like the environment of it."

Over the next few years the Botanic Gardens hopes to add more space to the rooftop garden to triple the amount of produce grown.

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