By Jim Hagerty
Although education funding for a rooftop garden has ceased, a sprawling spread of vegetables, herbs and flowers still thrives atop a downtown building.
The garden on the roof of Comprehensive Community Solutions (CCS), Rockford’s YouthBuild parent, was planted and is maintained by volunteers. It was planted in 2013 as part of an experimental outreach program.
The garden serves dual purposes. It is not only a space-saver and a convenient way to grow produce, the plot at 917 S. Main St. reduces rainwater run-off, provides a home for several pollinators, and adds a layer of insulation that helps conserve heat and reduce electricity. Those are just some of the garden’s benefits CCS Executive Director Kerry Knodle says are appealing. His goal remains to use the garden as an educational tool and example of local urban agriculture.
“Even though funding has been cut, we can promote the overall effect of agriculture education,” Knodle said. “As long as we maintain it, we will be able to explore other avenues.”
Last year, CCS garden produce was sold at Rockford City Market. Students helped sell beans, peppers, tomatoes, carrots and a variety of herbs and flowers, introducing them to the business end of urban agriculture and community gardening.
Donated by Wayne’s Feed Store of Rockford, each seed was grown organically, without chemicals or pesticides. While challenging for volunteers, growing organic produce is rewarding at the end of the day, Knodle said.
And while it looks simple, maintaining a rooftop garden is quite the chore. The roof’s bearing capacity was carefully measured, soil depth tested and retested, and an irrigation system carefully installed. Each aspect includes facets of engineering as well as gardening.
The plants and vegetables are potted in special planter boxes filled with peat moss, dirt and special rocks to keep contents in place, and require daily attention. That means when volunteers aren’t available, Knodle and his staff tend to the delicate produce themselves.
Since grant funding was cut after last year’s gardening season, efforts are still under way to supply area restaurants with herbs and other vegetables and distribute produce to various Rockford agencies.
“We are going to continue,” Kerry said. “It is important to back the work and vision that started the project.”
CCS has been assisted by Angelic Organics of Rockford.
From the Aug. 27-Sept. 2, 2014, issue