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Green City Growers – Urban Rooftop Farmers

It’s a sight to make those of us without feathers jealous: a flotilla of bright blue kiddy pools brimming with tomato plants, so many vibrant red polka dots in a sea of greens and blues.

Of course, those sightseers would have to be pigeons or gulls, because the whole set-up sprawls across the top level of a parking garage located on a busy Boston street. While cars wrestle for spots on the lower levels, a gigantic garden suns itself on the roof.

This upper lot oasis is the result of a collaboration between Green City Growers, a group of passionate and experienced urban organic farmers in Boston, and the Washington Street location of b.good restaurant. Tomatoes grown up on the roof get transported directly down to b.good, where they are then sliced up and served in the establishment’s seasonal tomato and mozzarella salad.

Because hey, why buy your tomatoes from somewhere else, when you can grow them right on your roof?

… or in your driveway, the backyard, or on your deck. GCG has spent the last two years working with families, schools, businesses, and restaurants to build, maintain, and harvest raised-bed year-round produce gardens.

“We’re a resource for people who are interested in producing food for themselves but that don’t necessarily have the background in it … or the time,” says Jessie Banhazl, founder of Green City Growers. “We can take urban areas that aren’t traditionally used for food production, and turn them into productive sites—like taking the top of a parking garage and turning it into a mini-farm.”

For b.good, this fruitful planting means more than 360 lbs of fresh tomatoes, and bragging rights for the most literal definition of “locally grown.”

GCG originally started working with b.good in 2009 at the chain’s Brookline location, but when that site closed down, b.good co-owner Jon Olinto made it clear that he wanted to continue to grow rooftop vegetables, no matter what it took. With traffic low on the top level of a parking garage neighboring b.good’s downtown location, an agreement was reached and the tomato plants starting arriving. This summer, CGC has nearly doubled its number of kiddy pools, and Banhazl says that an even greater expansion is in the works.

However, bulk vegetable production isn’t the only benefit that CGC wants to bring to its partners.

“Our mission has really grown from being solely about food production into an idea of deeper engagement, and an education about where food comes from, that expands beyond just the experience of growing food,” Banhazl says.

Whether you’re living in an apartment dreaming of homegrown kale, or working for a company that wants to install a vegetable garden in the back parking lot, the brains behind Green City Growers can help you raise your desired harvest as well as your awareness of the many benefits of growing your own food, from increased micro-nutrients to the satisfaction of messing around in soil.

“It can really change the way that you look at what you eat.”

So, next time you’re walking through the city, instead of gluing your eyes to your cell phone/iPod/whatever, try raising your gaze a bit higher, and seeking out splashes of green among the typical urban grays. You never know where you might spot a secret garden.