Sustainability, Farm-to-Table and Urban Farming

The Grey Plume has only been open for six months, but it has already earned a name for itself as the greenest restaurant in America. Even before the Grey Plume opened its doors in December 2010, it had already been rated the greenest restaurant in America by the Green Restaurant Association, based on a green rating system that the Grey Plume passed with flying colors. From local and sustainably-farmed seasonal food to upcycled wood floors and energy efficient appliances, Grey Plume has gone above and beyond in its quest to become environmentally friendly without sacrificing quality. 

Note: The Grey Plume was originally a three-star certified restaurant, but has since become the only four-star certified restaurant in the country. 

For more information visit the Grey Plume press page, particularly  ”12.09.2010 | OWH | A Big Helping of Sustainability”

Dickson Despommier’s website,, extols the virtues and benefits of urban vertical farming. Here you can see Despommier’s ideal conception of vertical farming in his home town of NYC.

Vertical Gardening

In urban areas, finding sufficient green space to have a garden, particularly for a space like a restaurant, is incredibly difficult. Green roofs and roof gardens are one fix to that problem, as is vertical gardening. There are large edible vertical gardens throughout the country, such as at Atlanta’s Botanical Garden. The Botanical Garden’s vertical farm is notable not only for its scale, but also because it is growing produce on those walls as part of its efforts to raise awareness of the farm-to-table movement.

Tournesol Siteworks’ profile of the Atlanta garden led me to their main website, which features all of the technologies required for a green roof, roof garden, or even vertical/wall garden.

DC Greenworks

DC Greenworks is a local environmental organization that is notable for its work promoting green initiatives such as limiting rainwater runoff with green roofs, rain gardens, and other measures; aiding in the growth of urban agriculture, including backyard and rooftop gardens; public education; and “green collar” job training.

Recently, DC Greenworks has been aiding not only in the research and construction of green roofs, but also of roof gardens.

DC Greenworks/green roofs in the news:

H Street green roofs

Subsidized green roofing — and examples of projects built using the subsidy

Green roof primer

And, finally: the pitfalls of (poorly installed) rooftop gardens

Bell Book & Candle is famous for having one of the largest rooftop gardens in the country, and according to reviews, for being the restaurant with the largest rooftop garden in the United States. To maintain a garden light enough to cover the roof without weighing it down, BB&C employs hydroponics, which is soil-free, water-only gardening.

Neighborhood Restaurant Group

The Neighborhood Restaurant Group, founded just over a decade ago, began a farm-to-table initiative in 2010. The farm, located on the historic Woodlawn Plantation, is used for public education about produce and as a local produce supplier. The farm will be managed by the Arcadia Center, a nonprofit started by one of the cofounders of the NRG. More information about the Neighborhood Restaurant Group can be found at the NRG website, which is currently under construction, and in a Washington Post ‘Going Out Gurus’ article.

DC Urban Gardeners is a local, loosely-organized network of individuals dedicated to growing urban and sustainable agriculture, and “greening” DC. The website includes information on composting, community gardens and urban ecology, as well as other topics of interest to DC-area green restaurants, particularly those interested in becoming more green and working with green organizations.

Arcadia Food is a DC-based project founded to create a local and sustainable food culture in DC. Arcadia’s Foodshed Project acts as an interface between Arcadia’s sustainable growers and producers and consumers/intermediates such as restaurants and schools.

"Farm-to-Table Revolution."


MONTROSE — When Montrose resident Lee Bartlett eats at the Montrose Memorial Hospital once a week, he usually enjoys a crisp, green salad. Not only is he satisfied with the flavor of the lettuce, but in knowing the “spring mix” is locally grown.

“It’s definitely important to me to know where this is coming from,” Bartlett said.

A food partnership was created to increase community wellness and connect the farmlands of the Uncompahgre Valley with its residents. The Valley Food Partnership was founded in March and already has secured sponsorship from the Montrose Community Foundation, according to partnership coordinator Carol Parker.

“This is a return to more scratch cooking and get more locally grown products into the schools and cafeterias of Montrose,” Parker said.

Parker said the nonprofit partnership aims to create a sustainable resource within the area, educate the population about the nutritional values of fresh food and create new agricultural markets and jobs.

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The effort is designed to organize growers into a network, which would create infrastructure that includes delivery, storage and space where locally grown food can be bought throughout the year.

This process is aimed to get as much local food into homes, restaurants, nursing homes and schools as possible, according to Parker.

Similar organizations in Delta, Gunnison and La Plata counties are working to network themselves with efforts on the Front Range to make these programs better known.

Parker said fresh local food is more nutritious than food trucked in from other places and promotes a philosophy of self-sustainability.

“Fruits and vegetables lose 50 percent of their nutritional values after just three to five days,” according to Parker.

Parker admits much more planning is needed to get the partnership off the ground.

Olathe farmer Kerry Mattics says he has mixed emotions about the program’s longevity.

Mattics Orchards currently supplies vegetables and lettuce to the Montrose Memorial Hospital and to schools within the Montrose County school district.

“It’s a good idea. How feasible it is, sometimes I don’t know,” Mattics said.

Mattics said farmland in Montrose and Olathe is not the best to sustain a yearlong program because of a short growing season and narrow harvesting window.

Although he supports the plan, he said details about storage and logistics, including deliveries, still need to be addressed. He also fears small growers in the area won’t be able to compete with prices offered by larger companies.

“Everything out here is done by hand. I don’t have the labor that larger companies have. When you increase the labor, you increase the price,” Mattics said.

Jim Dyer of the Sustainability Alliance of Southwest Colorado in Durango said the efforts in Montrose are another example that a food revolution, or “farm-to-plate,” mentality is on the rise.

“We see it growing with people disenchanted with the way the food companies are controlling the food supply,” Dyer said.

Dyer said local community programs like the Valley Food Partnership, along with increased awareness, can help people reduce their consumption of unhealthy processed foods, and in the process lower obesity rates and other health risks.

Dyer, Mattics and Parker all agreed communities need to turn to more local food sources as they did decades ago when large grocery chains did not dominate the market.

“I try to buy as much locally grown food as possible whether it’s at the farmer’s market or grocery store. I appreciate the local effort, it’s so important,” Bartlett.

Parker said the partnership is looking to work with grocery stores to carry more local products.

This sort of farm-to-table initiative, which connects growers and eco-friendly agricultural producers with consumers (in this case cafeterias and schools) is significant because of the precedent it sets for other consumers such as restaurants.

Urban Agriculture: Vertical Farming

from Vertical Farming:

The Problem

By the year 2050, nearly 80% of the earth’s population will reside in urban centers. Applying the most conservative estimates to current demographic trends, the human population will increase by about 3 billion people during the interim. An estimated 109 hectares of new land (about 20% more land than is represented by the country of Brazil) will be needed to grow enough food to feed them, if traditional farming practices continue as they are practiced today. At present, throughout the world, over 80% of the land that is suitable for raising crops is in use (sources: FAO and NASA). Historically, some 15% of that has been laid waste by poor management practices. What can be done to avoid this impending disaster?

A Potential Solution: Farm Vertically

The concept of indoor farming is not new, since hothouse production of tomatoes, a wide variety of herbs, and other produce has been in vogue for some time. What is new is the urgent need to scale up this technology to accommodate another 3 billion people. An entirely new approach to indoor farming must be invented, employing cutting edge technologies. The Vertical Farm must be efficient (cheap to construct and safe to operate). Vertical farms, many stories high, will be situated in the heart of the world’s urban centers. If successfully implemented, they offer the promise of urban renewal, sustainable production of a safe and varied food supply (year-round crop production), and the eventual repair of ecosystems that have been sacrificed for horizontal farming.

It took humans 10,000 years to learn how to grow most of the crops we now take for granted. Along the way, we despoiled most of the land we worked, often turning verdant, natural ecozones into semi-arid deserts. Within that same time frame, we evolved into an urban species, in which 60% of the human population now lives vertically in cities. This means that, for the majority, we humans are protected against the elements, yet we subject our food-bearing plants to the rigors of the great outdoors and can do no more than hope for a good weather year. However, more often than not now, due to a rapidly changing climate regime, that is not what follows. Massive floods, protracted droughts, class 4-5 hurricanes, and severe monsoons take their toll each year, destroying millions of tons of valuable crops. Don’t our harvestable plants deserve the same level of comfort and protection that we now enjoy? The time is at hand for us to learn how to safely grow our food inside environmentally controlled multistory buildings within urban centers. If we do not, then in just another 50 years, the next 3 billion people will surely go hungry, and the world will become a much more unpleasant place in which to live.       


Advantages of Vertical Farming

  • Year-round crop production; 1 indoor acre is equivalent to 4-6 outdoor acres or more, depending upon the crop (e.g., strawberries: 1 indoor acre = 30 outdoor acres)
  • No weather-related crop failures due to droughts, floods, pests
  • All VF food is grown organically: no herbicides, pesticides, or fertilizers
  • VF virtually eliminates agricultural runoff by recycling black water
  • VF returns farmland to nature, restoring ecosystem functions and services
  • VF greatly reduces the incidence of many infectious diseases that are acquired at the agricultural interface
  • VF converts black and gray water into potable water by collecting the water of
  • VF adds energy back to the grid via methane generation from composting non-edible
    parts of plants and animals
  • VF dramatically reduces fossil fuel use (no tractors, plows, shipping.)
  • VF converts abandoned urban properties into food production centers
  • VF creates sustainable environments for urban centers
  • VF creates new employment opportunities
  • We cannot go to the moon, Mars, or beyond without first learning to farm indoors on
  • VF may prove to be useful for integrating into refugee camps
  • VF offers the promise of measurable economic improvement for tropical and subtropical
    LDCs. If this should prove to be the case, then VF may be a catalyst in helping to reduce or even reverse the population growth of LDCs as they adopt urban agriculture as a strategy for sustainable food production.
  • VF could reduce the incidence of armed conflict over natural resources, such as water
    and land for agriculture

Vertical farming has been practiced with some success in various locations, including the Atlanta Botanical Garden (see more recent post), although it remains more common for restaurants to choose rooftop farming/rooftop gardens.