Archive for April, 2009

Cognitive Dissonance (Why Did I Do It?)

April 30, 2009

When a seemingly normal fellow hauls 20 yards of soil to the roof of his commercial building and starts to grow vegetables, the questions emerges—why did he do it?


Things aren’t done for one reason, so I won’t try to address this question with one installment.  Rather, we’ll have an ongoing series where I provide reasons (and explanations) for this somewhat eccentric and obsessive project.


The first reason is cognitive dissonance.  I knew about global warming and had been alerted to and had thought through some of its likely consequences long before I started to take any action.  I knew that “unsustainable” means, “we can’t keep doing it like this,” but I kept on doing what I was doing.  I think I even realized, or had begun to, that my generation will have to initiate one of the greatest and far reaching changes in recent history, or at the very least will have it forced upon us.  But for many years, these realizations didn’t create any drastic differences in my daily life.


But the dissonance eventually grew too loud, and at a time when I was able to learn new things and receive a tremendous opportunity all in a short time.  Together they conspired.  The cognitive dissonance was only one part, but still important.  I still have plenty of dissonance—and I’m sure, plenty of denial to boot.  Compared to the changes we are all going to have to make to nearly every aspect of our lives, I’ve barely scratched the surface.  However, starting is hard; but once you get up and start walking, its easier to keep going, and that’s how I feel right now.


This was all started before I was taught about the concept of Peak Oil, which is far more immediate and promises far more economic, social, and political disruption than climate change.  If you are not familiar with the concept of Peak Oil, or if it doesn’t make your blood run cold, I beg of you: read about it, think about it, talk about it.  Please.  Very briefly, Peak Oil is the moment when global production of oil reaches its peak.  Why is this important?  Because up until that point, supply will have always been able to meet demand.  Excepting for small fluctuations in the market, the cost of oil, as well as the demand for it, is determined the cost it takes to extract it.  Imagine what happens when it becomes a precious commodity, when there is not as much oil as the world needs to maintain its current and basic functions.  It may seem innocuous, but let this concept soak in a bit.  Peak Oil will shake our every foundation.


So the rooftop farm feels like a step towards a sustainable future.  Except for all the oil it took to get the soil and haul it to the roof, my vegetables have largely broken their addiction to oil.  Having taken that step, having addressed my cognitive dissonance—taken it in, befriended it, invited it to all my private conversations as well as some public—my outlook on everything has changed.  Most significantly is the way I now am compelled to evaluate so many of my behaviors, routines, and expectations in terms of their dependence on fossil fuels.  It’s difficult to name any aspect of our lives whose particularities don’t depend on cheap and abundant liquid fossil fuel.  I cannot think of anything that would remain the same were the price of crude oil to reach the prices we can expect within the next 10 – 20 years, if not sooner (some geologists believe we may be at Peak Oil right now).  Look how defenseless we were in the face of $4.00/gallon gas and diesel (it should be noteworthy how little discussion there is tying our current economic “downturn” to the spike in fuel prices last year).  These low prices will, I promise you, soon be as quaint as a dime-store.


Let’s not fool ourselves: compact fluorescent lightbulbs and the Toyota Prius are also not   sustainable, at least as we now use them and generally expect to in the future.  Separating our tons of trash into neat, color-coded containers once a week is not a bad thing, but will some day look like bailing water on the Titanic with a drinking glass.  Close your eyes and imagine your life in 20 or 30 years?  Does it look more or less like your current life–or maybe like the life of people who are now 20 or 30 years older than you?  Well here’s the hard news: it won’t because it can’t.  It’s just not possible, any more than it is possible to burn your house down and then crawl into your bed.


So what do you do with this knowledge?  Well here’s where I get a bit preachy.  If you know and understand these impending changes, how can you not make obsessive changes yourself?  How can you not excoriate your every expectation?  How can the end of life as we have come to expect it not be the focus of your life today?  How can you keep on going as though everything is fine and dandy?   What’s the plan here, gang?  How are we going to deal with this?


These aren’t only rhetorical questions.  It’s pretty easy to avoid change and very difficult to make it.  Think of the awful resistance there would be if we were told that our cars could only have 50 h.p. instead of our ridiculously expected 100, 200, even 300?  Think of the riots that would ignite if our governments imposed a realistic tax on fuel (I’m sure we would see some well-meaning progressives within that wild throng)!   Think how we hoity-toity liberals would react if we were told, no more trips to Europe, no more road-trips to the mountains?  Can you imagine the chaos that would ensue if such laws were declared, or if such plans became prohibitively expensive?  And big picture, this sort of change doesn’t even scratch the surface.


Personally, I did nothing for a long, long time after I knew something needed to be done, and in most aspects of my life still live entirely unsustainably—I drive, most of my food is still shipped from far away, I aspire to travel to far away places, my wife and I have a 1200 sq. ft. house, we work to make money to buy things rather than work to make things: what here doesn’t depend on cheap and abundant fossil fuels?   If we hope as a culture, a nation, and a planet, to have a soft landing (or rather, one that doesn’t end in a fiery wreck), we’re going to have to initiate perhaps the greatest self-imposed revolution of expectations in the history of our species.   This is not easy.  Who wants to give up, sacrifice, or alter every dream they’ve had, every vision of the future they enjoy?  Cognitive maps are etched.  They can’t just be redrawn.  Only an awesome amount of focused cartography can even get us started.


On the roof, though, as my plants absorb the sunlight, I have good opportunity to absorb some of this—take it in and cushion its impact.  Both are important.  From that vantage point—I’ll infuse some hope here—new expectations can begin to take shape, and they’re not bad, not bad at all.  And if I appear to be muttering to myself up there, I’m really just talking to my cognitive dissonance.


Join us in our Memorial Day Victory Garden Blitz

April 25, 2009

A group of us in Milwaukee are planning a Victory Garden installation blitz in Milwaukee.  We are assembling a mighty team of volunteers to install food-producing gardens throughout the city.   As the founder of Milwaukee’s Victory Garden Initiative, the tireless Gretchen Mead explains, “on this Memorial Day in effect we are battling a broken food system, an oil dependent world, climate change, and an economy broken by government supported corporate greed.”  


In addition to the focus gardens that we’re installing, we’re inviting, encouraging, and helping anyone in our area who wants to work on their own food-gardening project that weekend, which will end with a grand celebration for all gardeners and volunteers.

I would also like to encourage readers (all 3 of you, plus my Mother 🙂 from across the country to do some Victory Gardening this Memorial Day and tell us about it.  See if you can get other people or groups you’re involved with to join in and make this a national movement!  I know there are some tech-savvy people in our group who, with their newfangled contraptions,  may be able to link us in some way.   I know we’re doing something with google maps. 

Please join us in this grand struggle and celebration!

A Lovely Spring Surprise

April 24, 2009
Hi CSA’s
Part of the pleasure of my rooftop farm is the moments of surprise and wonder I get to experience, especially at this early stage in my learning process. 
As those of you who have visited the farm know, it is divided into two sections, the  half that is covered by the greenhouse, and  the half that isn’t.   Each half has 6 of the main raised beds,each of which has its own hoop house.  Those two sections are also divided into three sections, or really categories, based on the required and desired temperature of the veggies:  I have two boxes each of cold, medium, and warm.  I can adjust the temperature by venting and pulling back the hoop house covering based on the daily temperature and the amount of sun.  The covered section is almost completely planted.  The uncovered half, though is about half planted.  All the colds are in, and the mediums are about half in.  The warms are a few weeks from being ready, but I need to start thinking about getting their boxes cleaned of weeds and about adding some compost.
All my beds were covered with hoop houses over the winter so that more worms would survive and more decomposition of straw and leaves could take place to fortify the soil.  From beneath the plastic covering the warm beds I could see lots of green.  The beds seemed to have been taken over by weeds and grass.  I’ve been avoiding uncovering them because I thought the task would be rather involved.  The deeper the roots of these weeds and grass, the more soil I’d lose when I pulled them and the more I’d have to carry up the ladder to refill the box.  I kept putting it off,avoiding even looking under the plastic.  Today, however, I pulled back the plastic covering to the hoop houses to take a look.  There were some weeds, but also a surprise crop of kale and spinach. 
I had planted these last fall as an experiment to see how far into the winter or fall I could get with them.  Things froze pretty quickly and I didn’t think too much about them after that.  But this spring, the soil thawed and the plants revived themselves and began growing again.  They are going to provide us all with a nice bonus.
Those of you who know me have heard me wax poetically (or wax something) about kale.  We love it.  It can be boiled, sautéed, even baked or made into soup, but we love it best fresh in our salads.  It’s a bit stronger than lettuce or spinach, but the broccoli-like flavor adds character to our salads throughout the year.  Kale is very frost hardy and tolerates the heat.  Its nutritional qualities are similar to, though may exceed, broccoli.  I also like the way it tastes.  Kale is the roof-top farmer’s best friend.  There are lots of good Kale recipes available on that Google thingy that just made it to farm country 🙂
Other happenings on the roof: you may see some new color in your box with the addition, this week of a few radishes, as well as one or two other surprises.  Other stuff is coming along, though we’ve been battling both heat and cold for the past week.  Tomorrow the big greenhouse structure comes down.  It looks like we’re beyond the major frost events, and the hoop houses should be able to handle any minor ones.  At least that’s the hope.
In the meantime, enjoy this week’s box,

Rooffarmer muses on the concept of Economic Growth

April 20, 2009

to most of us the health of the economy seems far more palpable, far more real, than the health of the planet”  (Bill McKibben, Deep Economy, 29).


And as Bill McKibben points out in this must-read book, economic health is indicated entirely by the growth of the GDP.  Realize this: this economic “slump” is not a matter of us producing and consuming less this year than we did last year.  It is a matter of our rate of increase slowing.  I don’t follow the numbers closely, but I do not thing we’ve reached the territory of real contraction—just slowed growth.  We’re still accelerating, just not as fast as before.  And this is the cause of our economic “woes.”  From the tenor of the discussion, though, it sounds like the bottom has dropped out.  Why does a slowing in our rate of growth cause so much economic disruption, not to mention consternation?  Why can’t we sit tight where we are, keeping the GDP where it is now, living in the same sized house with the same sized TV, and the same cellphone as before.  I certainly don’t need more than I did last year.  And our economic growth is not being used to spread our wealth more equitably.  Quite the opposite.


What does this have to do with roof top farming?  I’ll get to that.  Just hear me out.  Part o f the reason why we need constant growth, it seems to me, is that so much of our economic activity is initiated with borrowed money.  In order to pay the interest, we need to expand business.  I’m also guessing that the promise of future economic growth is why other countries, like China (to cite the one we most frequently hear about) are willing to lend us so much money, money that allows us to continually and perpetually live beyond our means, both nationally and–because the national debt subsidizes and externalizes so many other expenses–in all our households.  It’s not that anyone is actually expecting us to pay back our staggering national debt.  But as long as we continue to make our “monthly payments” the repo-man is not going to take back our stuff.  The only thing that allows us to pay our increasingly high interest payments, and take out additional loans, is the promise of continued growth.  We have to keep running and keep running more breathlessly and furiously, only to feel like we’re standing still.  The growth paradigm is economic quicksand.


Which is why nearly all public discourse on economics never strays too far from the idea and ideal of growth.  There is no viable political position in our nation that does not promise it, praise it, worship it, expect it, and depend wholly on it.  Not even Cusinich would dare.   I think this also explains the rhetoric with which our current economic situation is almost always explained: as a slump, a temporary slow-down, a deviation from a reasonable norm of 5% annual growth (or whatever that norm is).  It might be a long deviation, we are warned, but things should be cooking again by 2010 according to some recent reports.


But just what does this mean?  What does a return to economic growth entail?  Does it include increasing consumer spending using borrowed funds? Our economy is supported largely by consumer spending, so does a return to economic health mean that we’re going to have to buy more stuff, whether we really need it or not, that we’ll have to landfill our i-phones because something oh-so much better and suddenly necessary has taken its place, that granite counter-tops will be out and we’ll have to update again, that the laptop I’m writing at will suddenly be ungainly large and heavy (and unable to run all the new necessary software)?  


Maybe, just maybe, this isn’t a slump, but a correction.  Perhaps, whether if only by some ham-handed economic mis-calculations by the Wall Street wizards, we are being shown what things look like behind the curtain, what things may look like with decreased economic growth?  What if we are getting a glimpse, just a small measure, a soupcon of the sort of personal adjustments we might have to make if we begin to live more fully within our means and within the capacities of our planet?  Are we going to listen and ponder the meaning of this vision?  Or are we going to rush headlong back to the easiness of economic growth, the way it forestalls so many necessary and difficult questions about distribution, sharing, doing with less, trading in our dreams for new, uncertain and untested ones?



It is not precisely these questions, but a more vague wariness, a small but undeniable foreboding, a skepticism at this wizardry—it was something like that,  that convinced me to start growing vegetables on my roof.  Having our collective well-being and relative stability balanced precariously on the promise of perpetual growth made me wonder: what if this growth isn’t good, what if it isn’t sustainable, what happens if growth becomes impossible?  What then?


Given the almost entirely parallel relationship of economic growth and consumption of fossil fuels, it seems clear that perpetual growth is not possible.  How can it be?  Find me any vision of continued, far-reaching future economic growth that does not also contain within it a technological fantasy.


Here’s an example: the only proposed way, probably the only possible way, to get the ailing auto industry back on its feet is to get people buying again.  In other words, we need to get rid of our old cars more quickly and make sure more people have cars.  An increase in bus riding will not save the auto-industry; light rail is its death knell.  But can our planet sustain more cars?  What will happen to the health of our planet if the auto industry rebounds and finds a way to see that there is a new chevy or ford in every driveway and that people across the globe who have no driveway to put one in, also get that?  One could argue that the new cars will be more efficient, but I’m guessing the carbon footprint of manufacturing a new car and of disposing an old one take a while to pay back with a bit of fuel efficiency.  And if the rest of the world aspires automobile travel the way we do (and who can blame them), what then?


Has anyone heard this sort of objection raised on any national media?  I listen to a lot of NPR and haven’t heard a whisper of it there, so I’m guessing that you’re not going to hear about it on NBC, let alone Fox.  And what about the New York Times: does it have lead stories about the impossibility of sustained economic growth given the limits of our oil reserves and our planet’s dwindling natural resources and capacity to absorb pollution?  The truth of it is that in terms of any sort of national conversation, “the health of the economy is far more palpable, more real, than the health of the planet.”  And most importantly the two are never, ever, juxtaposed.


If  I could accomplish one thing with the roof-top farm, one thing at all, it would be to help in even the smallest way,  this conversation–a conversation about economics that does not maintain as an unquestioned benchmark the promise of perpetual growth, a conversation that begins to figure out how we are going to make a transition, how we’re going to cushion all the falls, soothe the wounds, and maintain some peace and generosity amongst all the likely chaos.


What I hope is that every time the news turns to the Dow Jones, we cluck disapprovingly as we note that it can’t keep on going up forever; that every time we hear talk of this current economic disaster, we remember our unprecedented national wealth, the comparative and wasteful luxury that almost all Americans live in; that the words “economic growth” bring to mind its accompanying ecological havoc; that when we someone talks about the bad economy or economic hardship, someone else brings up our dwindling oil reserves and imminent threats from global warming; that everyone knows what “peak oil” is and that those of us who already do realize what it might mean to us in real and difficult ways; that we consider that this “downturn” might just be a course-correction and that we certainly need to correct course, if not now, then soon, and far more drastically and significantly.



Easy for you to say, rooffarmer!  You probably aren’t affected by economic downturn, what with your little roof-top paradise.  You’re hopes and plans aren’t really going to be affected, are they?  You’re not losing your job!


I admit that simply by being an educated middle-class American, I’m relatively cushioned from many economic disruptions.  My supportive family provides something of an additional safety net, at least for the sorts of recessions and “downturns” that we are familiar with as we review recent economic history.  At the very least, I can maintain the expectation that I can land on my feet.


But these thoughts and reflections have come to me as I face the consequences both of a temporary economic downturn and, alternatively, a permanent course-correction.  I am also deeply conflicted about my hopes and aspirations vis-à-vis these possibilities.  As a small-business owner in the construction industry, I am used to being a “leading economic indicator” and the severity of the current ones have put into much greater relief, the planet’s leading ecological indicators.  The gravity of the one has in fact increased the poignancy of the other. 


For the first time in 10 years, I have been forced to make real layoffs.  I believe they will be temporary, but I can’t guarantee that.  Do I want the housing industry to rebound as the Dow begins to creep up?  Of course I do.  Five of us in my company have been together for almost 8 years now.  My company is more than a job.  I don’t take these things lightly.  Like the hundreds of thousands of auto-workers whose lives and plans hang in the balance, like so many others around our country and the world who have begun to reckon with the possibility that their expectations for the future may not be achieved, I wait expectantly for good economic news, for the phone to ring with a message of new work, for the laid-off carpenters who are now competing with me for our mainstay repair and restoration work to be called back to their work in new-construction.  Of course I do.


But I can’t ignore the ecologically consequences of an economic “upturn”.  More real and palpable than ever is the health of the economy for me; but also more real and palpable, now, is the health of the planet.   This is an uncomfortable place to sit.  The roof top farm provides just a small, small measure of relief.

A typical day in the life of a typical roof-top farmer

April 19, 2009

A typical Saturday in the life of your typical roof-top-farmer:


I didn’t think it would be easy.  But I did think that once I got things rolling, there would be a little planting, a little weeding, occasional watering, and lots of harvesting.  Unfortunately, there is a never-ending list of tasks.  I could spend half a day just doing minor maintenance and cleaning.  But no time for that, as I have to keep up with the planting.  Things remain messy and one notch above “broken-down.”  This is not a complaint.  This is wonderful work—a privilege to do.


Anyways, here’s what I did today:


1)      Vent the greenhouse to keep it from overheating


2)      Transplant 16 tomato plants.


3)      Cover the tomatoes with shade cloth to keep them from getting torched (they’re not used to direct sun, yet).


4)      Plant 80 potatoes


5)      Carry 12 cubic feet of soil up the stairs to cover the newly planted potatoes


6)      Stumble back and forth wondering what to do next


7)      Transplant 8 lettuce plants


8)      Plant additional lettuce seeds where recently harvested plants have provided a little space.


9)      Plant 8 rows of beans


10)  Worry about the germination rates of recently planted seeds.


11)  Water everything because it was hot


12)  Water everything some more (it got to 103 degrees inside the greenhouse, and everyone was thirsty).


13)   Worry about how hot it was in the greenhouse and try to figure out when I should pull it down for the season.


14)  Drink coffee brought to me by the fearless Victory Garden Initiative leader, Gretchen—thank Gretchen!


15)  Keep Chinook (my dog) from walking in the raised beds.  CSA subscribers: if you see a paw-print on your lettuce, this is why.   However, she does like to eat grass, so she helps keep things clean.  Why she prefers grass to lettuce (not to mention sweet, sweet kale), I don’t know.


16)  Cover up the tomatoes when it got cloudy so I could keep the heat in their beds.


17)  Stumble back and forth wondering what to do next.


18)  Worry about how to keep a consistent and evenly-paced supply of vegetables coming, 3 weeks from now, 5 weeks from now, 8 weeks from now, and 10 weeks from now, and so on.


19)  Close up the greenhouse for the night.


20)  Plant 6 rows of carrots


21)  Plant some additional Swiss Chard (this is such a versatile plant and good in both the heat and the cold).


22)  Water everything more


23)  Curse the people who recommended that I make sure the raised beds have great drainage (it would be better if they held their moisture a little bit more).


24)  Plant strawberry plants.  These were previously in my raised beds, but they spread too much, so now they have their own place (a recycled plastic wading pool).


25)  Start some new seedlings in flats (Jericho romaine, baby romaine, red-sails lettuce—thinking ahead to warm-weather greens).

Week 2 Boxes

April 18, 2009

Roof top Farmer is tired and terse:  But here’s what was in our week 2 box:  two small heads of some combination of  buttercrunch, royal red, or simpson  lettuce; one bag of spinach, and one bag of spring salad mix (composed of swiss chard, kale, arugula, and a variety of baby lettuces).  I’m a kale evangelist.  It’s the best in all its stages, but I especially like the earthy taste of fresh kale mixed into the salad.


Other things are coming along but are not quite ready, including radishes and some green onions.  However, the broccoli has little buds, about the size of a dime.  I think it might be ready in 2-3 weeks.  Until then, more lettuce and other greens.  Next year I need to find a way to increase the variety of the early boxes.  How early can you start carrots?  Peas?  Beets?  We’ll find out.



1st CSA box Note

April 18, 2009

Here’s the email that previewed the 1st roof top CSA weekly box in the history of the universe (maybe):


Dear CSA Subscribers,


Welcome to the 2009 Growing Season!  I hope to share with you some top-quality, ultra-fresh produce this season, while learning a lot from your feedback and input.  As far as I can determine, you are part of our nation’s first roof-top CSA and hopefully at the forefront of a large movement.


The good news is that we have been growing greens and lettuce for two months now, and some of it is ready for harvest.  I’d like to have our first weekly food-box ready for the end of  this week.  I’d like to think of this box as an optional one (although they are all optional when it comes down to it) because we are starting slowly.  I think it will be worth your while to come pick it up, but I also want you to realize that we are just getting going, now.


But that’s what I like about growing my own vegetables and is what I have learned the most about: the obvious but obscured fact that food grows outside, in the weather.  Since a bite of food has traveled 1500 miles, on average, before it reaches the mouth of an American eater, it’s easy to forget this (within 1500 miles there is almost any kind of weather at any time of year).  But your food will travel only 12’ down a ladder before you are able to pick it up, so we are subject to the mercies and blessings of our own weather.


During the winter months, only a few things will grow (and they grow slowly) so a local harvest in early spring will have a limited selection (hopefully the freshness and taste will make up for that).   The problem isn’t just the temperature (though that is important), but also the amount of sunlight available during short days.  It was recently pointed out by a friend that when we eat vegetables and fruits, we are really eating energy from the sun that has been converted into edible bio-mass.  Foods high in calories need a lot of light over a relatively long period of time.  That’s why among the many shade-tolerant plants out there, very few of them are food-producing.  That’s also why vegetables high in sugars (like tomatoes and peppers) or in protein or starch (peanuts or potatoes) come later in the growing season.


So here’s what we have this week.  Enough lettuce, arugula, baby kale, and spinach for several good salads.  At our house at this time of the year, we sometimes mix them with “contraband” imported California tomatoes, cukes, and peppers; sometimes we eat them alone with a bit of oil and vinegar, savoring their freshness and strength of flavors.  Either way, the nutritional value is much higher than food that has spent a week or two in shipping.


One more “what to expect and when you’re expecting” sort of issue.  I select seeds and varieties based on their taste, their suitability for our climate, and their nutritional value.  Most commercially available food has been modified with a few particular goals in mind, including uniformity of size and shape, and ability to withstand shipping and storage.  An organic, locally grown vegetable won’t look like the stuff you see at the grocery store, or even like a lot of the stuff you see at farmer’s markets.  You may even see some evidence that someone has been nibbling at your lettuce (if an insect won’t eat your food, are you sure you want to?).   But it will look like “real food”!


Looking ahead, while it may be a couple more weeks of greens, just about everything else is either in the ground or on the window sill as a seedling.  The radishes are well on their way and a few green onions are almost ready.  We’ll start pulling some baby carrots as soon as they are ready and then we’ll be on to the peas, broccoli, beans, and beats—just about the time that conventional, terrestrial CSA farms are getting their first deliveries ready.

Butter Crunch is the “Krispy Kream” of the Vegetable World

April 18, 2009


I always thought that the best part of Krispy Kream donuts was the name, not that the donuts are bad—yes, fellow green revolutionaries, the roof top farmer has imbibed of factory made donuts during his wild days!


Butter crunch lettuce is fast becoming my favorite.  While delicious in its early stages, it is a wonder as its head develop.  Yes, it is buttery.  Yes, it is crunchy.  But unlike the donuts, this is more of a descriptive name than one thought up amidst cubicles,  nerf basketball, and powerpoints run wild.

April 13

April 14, 2009

So.   I have big flat roof on my commercial building in Milwaukee, which I turned into a vegetable “farm” using raised beds.    Last summer was my first season, and the results were good enough that I decided to start a CSA, with the goal of selling 10 shares.  One of the advantages of a raised bed garden (the roof helps but mainly it’s the raised beds) is the ease of season extending.

While most CSAs aroound these parts prepare their first market baskets sometime in late May, last week was my first.   I expect go keep them coming well into December.   The varieties right now are limited to lettuce and greens, but fresh whole heads of buttercrunch ready in early April? Are you kidding me?

Starting lettuce and greens in Febrary in zone 5 the easy part.   More difficult will be making a blog about it interesting!  The answer (not to making things interesting) is hoop houses.   I took 3/4″ pvc pipes and arched them from one side of the box to the other, drilling holes in the top of the box in which I could seat the pipe.  This  is covered with 6 mil plastic, and, voila, instant heat whenever there is sun.   I have also built some ones with clear corrugated polycarbonate sheets.  These reflect less light and are useful inside the “greenhouse.”

The single hoop house does not really cut it around here.  Afterall, I started transplanting lettuce, arugula, broccoli, spinach, kohlrabi, broccoli raab, and planted radishes and onions on February 11th.  As of April 1st I has transplanted about 10 tomatoes and now am up to about 20.  Beans, peppers, and cukes are all starting to go in.   The trick is a double hoop house–really a makeshift greenhouse made with steel tubing and plastic, covering  half of my raised beds with their hoop houses.  When I figure out how to do it, I’ll add some pictures to the blog.  But starting more seeds and weeding, watering, and transplanting is a more pressing concern for me these days.   A hungry mob of angry CSA subscribers is all I need!

The “greenhouse” and the hoophouses get very warm during the day.  Even in February, I was recording temperatures over 100 degrees, at which point I started venting the greenhouse.  Night is a bigger problem, as the air temperature drops suprising close to the outside temperature, at least with my “system.”   But the soil warms and the seedlings are hunkered down close to it, and almost all survived some nights with single-digit temperatures.

This is all experimental to me.  I had no idea what would survive and what wouldn’t.  I have no training in this.  I’m just some  nut who planted a garden on his flat roof.   Last fall I planted a lot of stuff that I thought would provide some winter snacks.  Most of that didn’t work.  My early plantings have, however worked pretty well.  Next year, mini cows.

Btw, I just tried to upload a picture, but I don’t know where it went.

More soon

Pondering Economics during week 1 of my rooftop CSA

April 12, 2009




I have started what may be the first roof-top CSA farm in the country.  But never-mind “firsts.”  The importance is more local food production. Let’s hope that gardens and farms spring up all over our urban landscapes.  Or rather, let’s work so that that they spring up in advance of the disruptive forces of peak oil and climate change.  Today was an exciting day for the farm.  I prepared the roof top farm’s first CSA boxes, the first weekly pick-up of (urban)farm-fresh produce.  A day for celebration?  A triumph?



My enthusiasm was tempered by worry.  My “real” job is owning, running, and working in a small remodeling and restoration company.  This supports and subsidizes the roof-top farming efforts.   But in the remodeling world, things are bleak these days.  Winters are always difficult, but I’ve never seen a spring such as this.  The phone just doesn’t ring very much these days.  I may have to initiate my first lay-offs, ever.  We are out of money and “cleaning the shop,” or “fixing the tools,” instead of doing revenue-creating work is all well and good until we can’t pay for it.  Small jobs trickle in, but far too slowly.


I promise that in future posts there will be more talk of soil, worms, growing temperatures, and beautiful, lovely, roof-top veggies—more talk of all this than any one will be able to stand.  But today we think about economic issues (which should never be far from ecological issues in our minds).


I have been surprised by a strange omission in all the commentary about our macro-economics.  Is it not even disconcerting that my ability to retain highly skilled and dedicated carpenters is dependent on a financial system that seems a lot like institutionalized gambling?  This recent “slow-down” has nothing to do with our ability to produce, to provide services that people want.  Isn’t it instead a matter of the gamblers running amuck?   It seems like they put too much trust in their recent (or longer) winning streak, mistaking it for a permanent pattern, a representation of reality, a sign of their own great ability.  Then the streak ended, and we all had to correct course with great and disruptive alacrity.  It seems to be accepted with almost no protest that the economy is and should be run by “finance” rather than production,  that the possibility that one might get paid for making stuff is determined by forces whose connection to need and ability is entirely speculative and abstract.


Okay, but let’s take some responsibility, here.  The signs were there.  Like just about everyone else, I ignored them.  Whilst the gamblers were betting on us, we were given a lot of credit—all of us were.  We accepted this credit without much question.  I know I did.  All the additions and kitchen updates and master bath suites I’ve built were at least in part paid for not simply with the proceeds of produced goods, but with the “promise” of future production.  I build, add-on, remodel, and restore in a luxury economy, in which our nation spends more than it earns, year after year?  I get paid with money that is more likely borrowed than earned?  Well what did I expect? 


I know I simplify, I know.   But does this not capture an aspect of current economic realities?  It is against this backdrop, at any rate, that I hauled 20 yards of grade-A compost to the roof-top of my commercial building in Milwaukee and planted a raised-bed vegetable garden.  It is against this backdrop that I worry about the uncertain future.  It is against this backdrop, also, that I have experienced great joy and wonder at the most simple, natural, and elemental stuff of human civilization: the cultivation of edible vegetation–the miracle of photosynthesis. 


More soon.