An amazing farm has sprouted in an unlikely place—the rooftop of Israel’s oldest mall in the heart of Tel Aviv. Hidden between high-rises, “Green in the City” is a rooftop farm that produces 10,000 heads of leafy greens a month year-round using organic and hydroponic methods—no dirt required. This thriving example of urban agriculture is one of many surprising sustainable initiatives at the Dizengoff Center shopping mall, which includes bird habitats, a tree nursery, a rooftop apiary, and even a bat cave for native fruit bats to call home.
According to the United Nations, over 54 percent of the world’s population lives in cities, a proportion that is expected to grow to 66 percent by 2050. The challenge of producing enough food to feed the increasingly urbanized and growing population is one of the impetuses behind Green in the City, a rooftop farm launched in 2015 by the hydroponics company LivinGreen and the Dizengoff Center’s sustainability department. The urban agriculture project was created to raise public awareness about the food crisis, provide affordable organic produce to Tel Avivians, and to give city dwellers the tools they need to start hydroponic gardens at home.
Today the farm grows 10,000 heads of leafy greens a month year-round, with 17 different kinds of vegetables and herbs on rotation at a time, inside two greenhouses that total 750 square meters of growing space. The vegetables, which are grown from seedlings, are primarily cultivated using a Deep Water Culture foam raft system. The plant’s roots grow through holes in the floating foam rafts, which insulates the water and blocks sunlight. The water is oxygenated with an air pump and the pH and nutrient levels are carefully monitored. Thanks to these soil-less hydroponic farming methods, the vegetables are grown twice as fast with less spoilage, water usage, and land as compared to traditional agricultural practices.
The vegetables are also grown without pesticides or synthetic fertilizers, however, aren’t certified organic due to Israel’s agriculture laws that require organic foods to be grown in soil. However, organic certification isn’t the goal behind the project. Green in the City’s primary aim is to promote urban farming in Israel and beyond through educational workshops and community outreach programs. Workshops led by Lavi Kushelevich, a lecturer who works with the project, teach visitors how to build and use hydroponic systems at home; other workshops teach participants how to cook the fresh greens, like bok choy. The educational area includes demonstrations of Deep Water Culture systems, Nutrient Film Technique vertical and horizontal PVC pipe systems, an aquaponics system, home biogas unit, a compact Living Box greenhouse, as well as smaller hydroponic home starter kits. The hydroponic systems are developed by LivinGreen for both home and commercial use and are sold by Green in the City to help fund the initiative.
Green in the City sells everything that they grow and the majority of the produce is sold to Tel Aviv restaurants and homes, with orders made online and shipments delivered by bicycle. A portion of the vegetables are also sold downstairs in the shopping mall through the Honesty Stand, the first model of its kind in the city, where produce and their price tags are displayed in a timber kiosk. The high-quality organically grown produce—such as chives, lettuce, basil, and celery—are sold at affordable prices thanks to the Honesty Stand’s lack of staff and reliance on an honor system and collection box. Lavi says that 80 percent of people who take produce do pay, and its high success rate has inspired him to install more Honesty Stands in the future.
The Green in the City rooftop farm is still young but has already sown seeds for great success. The initiative not only provides city dwellers the means to grow their own food simply and affordably, but has also found a way to become economically sustainable with income generated through sales of vegetables, hydroponic systems, and educational workshops. The initiative also has plans for expansion, with sights set for another Tel Aviv location soon.
Tour courtesy of Vibe Israel
Images © Lucy Wang