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Uncommon Ground Rooftop Farm Boasts Biggest Year Yet As Season Closes

By Benjamin Woodard | October 4, 2013 8:24am
 Farmer Jen Rosenthal said the restaurant has pulled in 1,100 pounds of food in 2013.
Uncommon Ground Roof-Top Farm
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EDGEWATER — Uncommon Ground's rooftop farm has produced more food this year than it ever has, farm director Jen Rosenthal said.

Since 2008, the organic farm perched atop Uncommon Ground's Devon Avenue location has been growing crops for its restaurant below.

And although the raised beds on the roof add up to only one-hundredth of an acre, Rosenthal is able to grow three pounds of produce per square foot.

It all starts in the basement grow room, where seeds are germinated before being moved to the roof in the spring.

"Everything you see here, we started downstairs," she said. This year, she and her interns have harvested 1,100 pounds of food, including some crops from the restaurant's Wrigleyville location, she said.

Only a small portion of all of the food the restaurants serve come from its growing operations, Rosenthal said, but many dishes incorporate at least some of the crops, such as fennel, garlic, shallots, potatoes, lettuce, kale, cascade hops and grapes.

She tried growing corn this year, but squirrels made a meal of the harvest before she could.

The rooftop farm also sports five solar-thermal panels that heat the restaurant's water, off-setting 10 percent of energy usage. This year, car-sharing service iGo installed solar panels over the parking lot, where it has a Nissan Leaf electric car parked, she said.

Rosenthal, of Avondale, said Uncommon Ground's rooftop was the "gold-standard" of urban farming.

In recent years, the restaurant installed two bee hives on the roof, which contain 140,000 bees that pollinate the crops. It has also harvested more than 37 pounds of honey this year from the biggest hive in two harvests.

The first harvest, from earlier in the summer, produced a light and herbal honey, Rosenthal said. The second harvest was richer and thicker with a deep golden color.

"Without the bees," she said, "we'd lose 30 percent of our crops."

Uncommon Ground, at 1401 W. Devon Ave. and 3800 N. Clark St., was also named the 2013 World's Greenest Restaurant by the Green Restaurant Association.