The Ministry of Rooftop Farming

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Rania Campbell-Cobb is the founding Director of Cloud 9 Rooftop Farm. Cloud 9 offers hands on education about rooftop agriculture and volunteer opportunities, in addition to producing for sale in local markets. She writes the below article describing her work, some of its intellectual underpinnings, and the ministry she hopes to forward with it. Cloud 9 is also steeped in Quaker foundations through a spiritual support group that helps ground the ministry. 

As the world becomes increasingly urbanized, it is imperative that we learn to live as members of our cities’ ecosystems. We must work together to feed, power, care for, and live within our neighborhoods in ways that are supportive and collaborative so that both the process and the results strengthen our communities.

Urban areas, as they are designed today, eat up astronomical amounts of resources. Cities make up merely 2% of global land area.[1] By 2030, it is expected that 70% of people will city dwellers.[2] As cities grow in population and density, urban pollution, consumption, stormwater management, and waste management are increasingly critical issues to address.

The average American eats ½ ton of food annually. In 2002, 17 million tons of food moved into New York City from outside the region (enough to feed a population 4 times the size of New York City).[3] This extra food uses fossil fuels and releases greenhouse gasses during production, transportation, trucking to the landfill, and decomposition. The ensuing air pollution has global, as well as local ramifications.[4] The abundance of food and resources wasted stand in stark contrast to hunger and local food deserts.

Cloud 9 Rooftop Farm fosters stewardship of urban ecosystems and communities through rooftop farming, education, and community programming. Cloud 9 was born out of a dream to not only farm in urban spaces, but to create a more resilient culture around food access and environmental stewardship in Philadelphia. We believe that increasing the city’s green acres through rooftop agriculture will improve the well-being of individuals, communities, and the environment. The intent of Cloud 9’s community engagement programs is to foster a long-term process that engages everyone in the collective transformation of our food system.

Disconnection with the local ecosystem fuels inequitable food access, unsustainable urban infrastructure, and issues of individual and community health. To combat these issues and inspire creative use of urban space, it is imperative that we work together to grow and share food in ways that are open to all members of our communities. Urban agriculture allows a stepping stone back into an energetic system that is greater than us and sustains us physically and spiritually. If we do not tap back in, we will be wiped out and the world will go on without us.

As creatures on this planet, we physically depend on its continued health. In communing with the natural world and trusting in its resilience, we tap into a force that is greater than us, and practice faith in the world’s ability to care for us. It is imperative that we humbly learn from, interact with, and trust our local environment. By observing our ecosystem and trusting in its resilience, we reduce stress and deepen spiritual connections. By communing with the world around us, we allow ourselves to care and be cared for.

Shifts in our food system made urbanization and industrialization possible, food can bring us back into right relationship with the earth. With each square foot of food production in the city, we place urban resilience back in the hands of the local community and investment back into the local ecosystem. Every tomato grown in a city lot or rooftop garden is a tomato that is not shipped from Mexico. Every pound of compost made from city food waste is a pound not sent to the landfill, and is a pound of resources recaptured by the local ecosystem. Each crop grown in the city captures rainwater, reducing the spread of pollution, the erosion of local waterways, and regulating urban temperatures. Each urban crop filters air and captures greenhouse gasses.

Cloud 9 will foster community dialogues in order to establish long-term solutions and networks of innovation to support the development of vibrant rooftop farms and resilient local food systems.  Cloud 9 will develop replicable models of community-driven and sustainable rooftop agriculture that support equitable access to delicious and life-sustaining food, diverse and empowered influences on the food system, and community cohesion. I believe that such models will help us move into a healthier, more equitable, and vibrant future.

[1] Hall, T. Urban Geography (3rd ed.) (New York, NY: Routledge, 2006), 153

[2] World Health Organization, Urban population growth (2014), Retrieved from http://www.who.int/gho/urban_health/situation_trends/urban_population_growth_text/en/

[3] Barron, M., Goldblatt, B., Hudson, R., Kaplan, D., Keberle, E., Naumoff, C., Perlmutter, C., Suttile, Z., Thorsteinson, C., Tsien, D., Wild, L., and Wilson, M. Understanding New York City’s Food Supply. (New York, NY: Columbia University, 2010), Retrieved from http://mpaenvironment.ei.columbia.edu/news/documents/4_NYCFoodSystem_2010.pdf

[4] Hall, Urban Geography, 154