Celebrating Independence Day On A Green Roof

Celebrating Independence Day usually means huge crowds and heavy car traffic in NYC. I’ve tried to stay away from these two things even if it meant not seeing the fireworks. And I can’t remember the last time I went to a fireworks party.

It also means indulging in a classic American meal, drinking lots of beer and enjoying our bright freedoms lit up in the sky. And doing it in the company of strangers who enjoy the same. This year, my wife and I decided to do just that.

The venue was Brooklyn Grange (BG), a farm on top of the Brooklyn Navy Yards. BG consists of two rooftop locations in the city, totaling 2.5 acres. The farms produce over 50,000 lbs. of organically grown vegetables. They manage 30 honey bee hives.

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Spending the Fourth of July on a 65,000 sq. ft. farm was intriguing. The fireworks were on the East River this year. The vantage point was incredible.

It wasn’t quite the summer evening we expected. It was stormy the past couple of days. Eventually, the clouds began to disperse. Winds were gusty. The evening – a bit chilly in the 60s.

We got ourselves above the 12-story building and immediately looked for our brisket sandwiches. The sandwich came with cooked beans, a side of leafy greens and your grandma’s corn bread. We cracked open two cans of Brooklyn Lager and found ourselves talking to Texans at our table.

The evening was calm and relaxing in spite of the winds. The work week was far gone with our mental stress reduced. We saw great views of glass, concrete and steel that made up the city’s skyline. Walking along the parapet around the farm, we past others enjoying the open, clean air. The urban jungle was a stone’s throw away. Far enough, we relished.

Turning my attention to the rooftop farm, I thought about the reduced pollution we would have if the entire city had vegetables growing on its head.

Air quality improves tremendously with a green roof. Plants reduce carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. The produce sit so safely above us city dwellers. Heavy metals, such as lead and automotive break pad particulates, are heavier than air and do not contaminate them.

Our city’s urban heat island effect would dramatically be reduced. NYC has large, hard surface areas that absorb heat. Rooftop farms absorb heat, reducing urban temperatures down to levels of the countryside. The temperature difference between NYC and the rural areas of Westchester County can be as great as 9 degrees Fahrenheit for example.

The rooftop farm stores rainwater in the plants and the growing medium. BG manages over 1 million gallons of stormwater each year, reducing the amount of run-off that overflows into the city’s open waterways. Green roofs on average retain 70-80% of the rainfall in the summer. Portland, Oregon is one of the leading US cities to install green roofs, based on concerns of water quality in the rivers due to run-off. Our salmon depends on the health of our rivers.

At this point I was a bit restless waiting for the fireworks. The food long gone, it was windy and cold. Despite the music beating in the summer night, I had to warm up.

I walked around and down to the lower floor and found it to be quite warm.

The soil provides a thick layer of insulation. The insulation absorbs heat from the sun during the hot summer, making it easier to cool the building. During the winter, it prevents heat from leaving, making it easier to keep the building warm. As a consequence, green roofs help reduce heating and cooling bills.

Studies have shown that with a mean daily temperature of 65 degrees F in the summer, the temperature beneath a normal roof is 90 degrees. The temperature beneath a green roof turns out to be 63 degrees F. A green roof leads to cooler temperatures beneath the surface.

With a mean daily temperature of 32 degrees F in the winter, the mean temperature beneath a normal roof is 32.36. The temperature beneath a green roof yields 40.46. This shows that a green roof provides thermal insulation to reduce heat loss from buildings.

Coming back up to the roof, I saw again the farm visually softening the built environment around us. The changing colors of the night sky added to the pleasantry. The city falling back on its own shadow.

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The rooftop garden provides a great place to entertain. It brings a communal focus against the backdrop of a busy city. A sense of place is established here. The direct contact with the green space made us feel that we were doing something good for ourselves.

A roof by itself is just plain ugly and has no life. It is often under-used and idle space. The farm makes the roof appealing and fruitful. Roofs provide us with more space to have visual and physical access to the natural environment. Access to green space is important for our health.

A study has shown that hospital patients recover quicker when they look out onto a green space. There is also some evidence that workers are less absent in a building where a green roof provides thermal insulation over them. People become less sick.

The rooftop farm is a refreshing place to be.

It provides us with a productive change in scenery. I can only imagine tending to the gardens. How that activity would put my worries aside. How my hands digging into the soil would allow me to let go of myself. Be a part of something bigger.

It’s a place where you can remove yourself from the busy streets of the city. And transport yourself away from the groans of trucks. To listen to bird song instead.

Noise is softened to sounds in the building.

The combination of plants and soil can act as a sound barrier to noise. The amount of sound absorbed and reflected depends on the thickness of the green roofing system. We live in an area of high noise pollution. The approach to the airport actually goes over the rooftop farm. BG provides noise insulation against airplanes flying their path every day.

A study suggests that sound can be reduced by 8dB compared to a no-man’s land of a regular roof.

The fireworks suddenly erupted. The shower of lights splashed onto the dark buildings from the night sky. The glass shimmering in their reflection. It was worth the wait. We were very fortunate to be on top of the world’s largest rooftop soil farm.

While increasing the building’s property value, BG encourages local urban food production. It helps the city reduce loads of transported foods from distant farms. We can save time on the road. Save land space. Save energy.

So go to your local rooftop farm and get your produce freshly picked that day.

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