Pondering Economics during week 1 of my rooftop CSA




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.




2 Responses to “Pondering Economics during week 1 of my rooftop CSA”

  1. Edith Says:

    HI !
    I’m working on gathering information to support a rooftop farm project.
    We need to know how to determine the weight-bearing capacity of the building’s beams. Can you suggest how to assess the roof’s ability to hold planters, and where on the roof they can be placed? It seems that putting them around the edges they are partially supported by the walls.

    Also, do you have any ideas on how to convert dryer vent heat to heat for a greenhouse? Part of the roof is over a laundromat and has hot air venting from it out of small smoke-stacks on the roof.

    The roof is 2,400 ft sq. and it’s in Boston

    • rooffarmer Says:

      Hi Edith,

      What a great project. Can you send pictures?

      I would definately consult with a structural engineer, but you’re right that if you go over the exterior walls, you can put a tremendous amount of weight on a roof–much more than a garden would have. Even a few feet in, the joists or trusses are awfully strong. But I’d still get a consultation to make sure there is nothing unique or tricky going on.

      I love the idea of using the dryer vent to heat the greenhouse. These projects can become works of working art as we learn how to trap, conserve, store, and reuse so many different sorts of energy. Assuming that there are no toxins coming from the dryer, a standard dryer vent pipeshould work. But you might want to consult with an HVAC contractor, as there are, for instance, a restriction on the number of elbows and the total run of duct on these (especially commercial dryers, I imagine), mainly for safety reasons. It may also be possible that if the dryers are heated by natural gas, there could be some fumes. Probably not, but let’s not get publicity for roof-top farms through stories of tragedy 🙂

      Keep us up to date on your project!


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