A Conversation with Annie Novak, Founder and Farmer at Eagle Street Rooftop Farm and Author of The Rooftop Growing Guide
Posted in Interview on March 3, 2016
We were so excited to catch up with Annie Novak, Founder and Farmer at Eagle Street Rooftop Farm, recently to hear more about her new book! It’s called The Rooftop Growing Guide: How to transform your rooftop into a vegetable garden or farm, and you can buy it now!
A two-year endeavor, the book grew out of Annie’s own experience as a novice green roof farmer in New York and covers a variety of topics important to rooftop farmers, from assessing a rooftop and ways to grow on rooftops to the growing media (our favorite topic!) and business aspects of a rooftop farm.
According to Annie, the book is very comprehensive “because when I first started doing this, I was an experienced ground level grower, but I felt a certain sense of trepidation about taking that information up to a roof.” Through her experience running her own rooftop farm in Brooklyn, she had a great sense of the questions and concerns people who are interested in rooftop farming have, and she hopes “it’s just about giving someone a book that can erase the hesitancy they have about getting growing.”
The book profiles a number of exciting rooftop farming projects throughout the world. It includes profiles about rooftop farms in Italy, Chicago, LA, and Annie’s own in Brooklyn as well as a number of different business models from farms that are on top of restaurants, on top of schools, and even private gardens. In speaking and visiting different farms, one of the things that Annie found so interesting about the people who run the farms are the “different philosophies for starting what they do, and then ways of committing to continuing to do it.”
No matter how a rooftop farm approaches farming – whether it’s providing food for its local community or having educational and outreach programs like Eagle Street Farm – it’s really about getting people involved in the food they eat. “One of the biggest pleasures of urban farming in general is just seeing people engage in a landscape that allows for conversation they never would have had before, which is just thinking about where food comes from – it’s a step richer and deeper than just going to a farmer’s market,” Annie says.
The book also features an entire chapter on soil. As Annie points out, she “prioritized [the section on growing media] because I don’t know that people really realize how deeply important it is to have a high-quality growing media to work with.” The media mix used on farms is critical to providing healthy vegetables and produce, and in her experience, many of the issues that rooftop farms have is related to the media and trying to grow plants in media that won’t support their growth.
And how do rooflite media fit in? “I remember coming on the [rooftop farming] project and saying ‘we need the whole roof to be compost’ – that’s how you start a farm. And it was a really big education for me about how green roof media are mixed,” Annie says. “And it was happening with [rooflite], a company that was really interested in trying to develop a high-quality mix to suit this purpose.”
And we did create a farming mix. rooflite actually developed our intensive ag media product based on our work with Annie and some other rooftop farmers several years ago. And the goal was to create a media that would hold up to rooftop farming and support the plants that need to grow in the media. “It’s a huge deal – you don’t see that often,” Annie says.
She also mentions that because many farms don’t have good media – an example is one in Chicago that was trying to grow vegetables in media that had sand mixed in, which doesn’t work – “you [can] invest a lot of time and money in the wrong thing.” At rooflite, that’s why we meticulously engineer all our media products to be high performing and high quality, to help farmers like Annie do what they love and avoid expensive media mistakes.
So now that the book is done and out, what is Annie hoping people will take away from it? “I’ve put a lot of time and effort into making the book useful and applicable because I really think we can make a big difference in the way we look at our landscape” through rooftop farming. It’s also gratifying for her that the urban farming trend has become a very powerful movement that helps people connect and engage with each other and their food. “I hope that everyone who reads the book ends up experiencing [this movement] – then my job has been done.”
We agree, Annie! Congratulations! Many thanks to Annie for taking time to talk with us. To find out more about Annie’s book, visit her web site at http://rooftopgrowingguide.com/. To learn more about rooflite growing media and how we can help you create a successful and sustainable farm, visit our web site at http://rooflitesoil.com.