Nov 292010
 
Green roof planted with native species at L'Hi...
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THIS summer, Tony Tomelden hopes to be making bloody marys at the Pug in Washington, D.C., with tomatoes and chilies grown above the bar, thanks to the city’s incentives for green roofs.

Mr. Tomelden, the Pug’s principal owner, says he’s planting a garden to take advantage of tax subsidies the city offers in his neighborhood if he covers his roof with plants.

“If I can do something in my corner for the environment, that seemed a reasonable thing to do,” he said. “Plus I can save money on the tomatoes.”

There won’t be bloody marys at P.S. 6 on New York’s Upper East Side, but one-third of its roof will be planted with vegetables and herbs next spring for the cafeteria. The school is using about $950,000 in city funds that it has put aside, and parents and alumni are providing almost a half-million dollars more.

“For the children, it’s exciting when you grow something edible,” said the school’s principal, Lauren Fontana.

Aeries are cropping up on America’s skylines, filled with the promise of juicy tomatoes, tiny Alpine strawberries and the heady perfume of basil and lavender. High above the noise and grime of urban streets, gardeners are raising fruits and vegetables. Some are simply finding the joys of backyard gardens several stories up, others are doing it for the environment and some because they know local food sells well.

City dwellers have long cultivated pots of tomatoes on top of their buildings. But farming in the sky is a fairly recent development in the green roof movement, in which owners have been encouraged to replace blacktop with plants, often just carpets of succulents, to cut down on storm runoff, insulate buildings and moderate urban heat.

A survey by Green Roofs for Healthy Cities, which represents companies that create green roofs, found the number of projects its members had worked on in the United States grew by more than 35 percent last year. In total, the green roofs installed last year cover 6 million to 10 million square feet, the group said.

Steven Peck, its president, said he had no figures for how many of the projects involved fruits and vegetables, but interest is growing. “When we had a session on urban agriculture,” he said of a meeting of the group in Atlanta last month, “it was standing room only.” Mr. Peck said the association is forming a committee on rooftop agriculture.

Tax incentives have accelerated the plantings of green roofs, particularly in Chicago, which has encouraged green roofs for almost a decade. The Chicago chef Rick Bayless uses tomatoes and chilies he grows atop his restaurant Frontera Grill to make Rooftop Salsa.

New York State has subsidies both for roofs with succulents spread out over a thin layer of soil and for edible plants covering a smaller area. A proposed amendment to New York City’s tax abatement for some roof projects would include green roofs. Most roof gardeners aren’t in it for the money, though.

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