Growing For The New Green Revolution

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1 - Spur Aerial Looking West

Phase 3 of the High Line Railyards in Manhattan will include the Spur, a pocket-style park in the middle of the city.

If you doubt the future of the floriculture industry, visit just about any metropolitan city center. You’ll see the outlook is good.

Green building is at an all-time high, and urban gardens are popping up quite literally everywhere. From rooftop farms and green roofs to building facades to bulldozed and abandoned home clusters, the city’s unused spaces are quickly being reclaimed to grow food and create green oases.

“The green/locavore culture is one of the fastest growing areas of interest in today’s marketplace, and it represents a new market for the floriculture industry,” says McRae Anderson, president of McCaren Designs and one of the founders of Green Plants For Green Buildings (GPGB). “It is full of opportunities to market new products and services to a new market.”

With such attention to and enthusiasm for green building, the floriculture industry is facing a new green revolution. So the question to ask is: how do growers supply this rapidly growing market?

Green Building Is Set To Go Off The Charts

The number of U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Environmental Engineering and Design (LEED) certified buildings is increasing, but green architecture is set to explode in the coming years, says Joe Zazzera, a LEED Accredited Professional, owner of Plant Solutions, Inc., and the incoming GPGB president.

“By 2030, 60 percent of the population will live in cities and that number will increase to 70 percent by 2050,” Zazzera says. “As space and resources become scarcer, small-space, urban gardening will become the norm. Sixty percent of city housing needed for 2030 is not yet built. The majority of these spaces will be built with green building techniques, including nature connections, as a matter of necessity and economics.”

But green building goes beyond the seemingly elite architectural LEED distinction — it’s all encompassing. This includes green roofs, rooftop farms, pocket parks, reclaiming unused urban land to build gardens, farms and greenhouses, and adding infrastructure like rain gardens to reduce environmental issues.

“Incorporating green space into cities is all part of a growing, health-conscious lifestyle,” says Claudia West, a landscape architect and sales manager for North Creek Nurseries. “Plants provide oxygen and have a calming influence — they have been proven to reduce crime, decrease stress, cool buildings and remove pollutants. Public parks and gardens are places people gather and these spaces become increasingly valuable in an urban environment. These same spaces also promote a space for community and education.”

Rooftops Are Prime Real Estate

Green roofs have increased in installations across the U.S. by 24 percent in 2012, which was small compared to the 115 percent growth in 2011, according to Steven Peck, the founder and president of the Toronto-based nonprofit group Green Roofs for Healthy Cities. In 2012, the Washington, D.C., metropolitan region installed the most green roofs in North America, with more than 1.3 million square feet. These numbers are continuing to climb, Peck says.

“Green roofs and living walls are being embraced around North America by policy makers, designers, building owners and developers because they deliver multiple proven public and private benefits,” he says.

Uses for rooftop space are expanding beyond green roofs and rooftop gardens. Five years ago, there were no rooftop farms producing food commercially in North America; today, there are more than 20 and in five years, expect to see more than 100, Peck said in a Grist.org article.

“This is just the tip of the iceberg,” Peck said. “Rooftop farming is under consideration in every major city in America.”

Berkeley, Calif., developer Nautilus Group just got plans approved to build student housing that will include a rooftop farm, the first of its kind in California.

“We’re viewing this as a prototype,” says Randy Miller, Nautilus Group principal, adding that the company is looking at creating similar farms on other projects in the pipeline.

The revolutionary student living complex, appropriately named Garden Village, will open in 2015.

Cause-Motivated Citizens Are Reclaiming Land

In Detroit, a private developer recently closed a deal to buy 150 acres of abandoned housing for $500,000. His plan: Turn it into a farm.

The program could transform some of the poorest Detroit neighborhoods into sustainable farming centers and help mitigate the city’s food desert. If successful, developer John Hantz will have the option to buy 180 more acres in two years.

The High Line is a reclaimed elevated railway that was turned into a park in Manhattan.

The High Line is a reclaimed elevated railway that was turned into a park in Manhattan.

New York City’s concerned community residents wanted to save the High Line, an historic elevated railway overlooking the city. So they organized Friends Of the High Line to fight for and reclaim the site from the threat of demolition.

The organization is now a nonprofit conservancy working with the New York City Department of Parks & Recreation to maintain and fund the High Line as an extraordinary public space.

As a result, the High Line has become a significant draw. Its third and final phase will include “the Spur,” a bowl-shaped park that will offer an oasis in the middle of the city, due to open in 2014.

“As we continue to build our cities, biohilic connections to the natural environment will become higher in demand,” Zazzera says. “Pocket parks will increase in frequency — mini public parks within a 10-minute walk of anywhere in the city.”

Serving Up Small Space Gardening And Micro-Agriculture

Urban residents are bringing the green movement home with them, as well. Peace Tree Farms’ Marketing Director Stephanie Whitehouse likens the small-space gardening trend to the houseplant craze of the ’70s and the ’90s fixation on interiorscaping, but reinvented and accessible for any age group, income and expertise level.

Forget about waiting until Gen Y is old enough to own homes and plant gardens, she says. They’re doing it now, in their apartments and on fire escapes.

“More Gen X/Yers are moving back to urban areas to escape suburbia and all that it represents,” Whitehouse says. “This move to urban areas results in different gardening habits due to the limitations on living space.”

It’s not just for the youngsters, though. As Boomers retire and move to smaller housing, they will still want to garden but on a smaller scale. This niche fits their needs, as well.

Trends include vertical planters and plants used to create artwork, repurposed spaces and containers for planting, miniature gardens and terrariums and collector houseplants, Whitehouse says.

Micro-agriculture is the new term for foodies growing their own in small spaces, including herbs, veggies and specialty fruits like figs, pomegranates and mangos.

“Growing your own vegetables is not just trendy; it’s a necessity in cities like Manhattan,” says Kristine Lonergan from Garden State Growers in New Jersey. “People are looking for more diverse produce that they may not find in their local grocery store, plus the cost is going up. It’s easier just to grow it.”

Lonergan says micro-agriculture is especially relevant to the Millennial generation because they are searching for meaning and want to make a difference. “In my opinion, that lends itself to growing vegetables and herbs,” she says.

Supply Plants For Urban Dwellers

The market is there and the opportunities abound. So for growers ready to add their plants to the supply list for urban oases, here’s how you can get started.

“Read and be involved in your local community,” West says. “Work with landscape architects and building architects to understand what they are designing and what plants will be specified.”

Potential projects could be new or renovating schools, universities, community centers, specialty retailers, malls and municipal buildings.

On a smaller scale, mainstream stores like IKEA and Willams-Sonoma are selling living wall planters and pots, and plants are used as design elements in retail stores and consumer publications (see “Growing The Home Décor Trend”).

“Take some time to explore Pinterest,” Lonergan says. “There are tons of inspirational ideas on how to incorporate plants in homes and offices.”

Ultimately, if growers are serious about supplying plants for green building projects and urban gardening, they need to commit to sustainable production practices, Zazzera says.

“Pay attention to sustainability in all growing practices — everything from the energy used, how the plants are moved, chemicals used, what the planters are made of, how far they have to travel and water use,” he says. “Transparency is a key factor. The end user will want to know and in some cases, the law will dictate. Green leaves and trees are the universal symbol of sustainability, yet many of our practces have not yet evolved with the movement. I would challenge us all in taking a good, hard inventory of our practices. We must evolve to survive.”

 

Laura Drotleff is editor of Greenhouse Grower.
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