Rooftop garden could take root on Hunting Park Ave. building

Two young women are looking to take the roof of a Northwest Philadelphia building to cloud nine.

At Monday night’s East Falls Community Council meeting, Clare Hyre and Rania Campbell-Cobb from Cloud 9 briefed neighborhood residents on their plans to install a rooftop garden at 2901 W. Hunting Park Ave.

Their plan is to transform a quarter acre of the Hunting Park building’s roof into an urban farm that would provide some of their produce to SHARE, a non-profit organization founded in 1986 that serves a regional network of community organizations engaged in food distribution, education, and advocacy. The organization currently occupies the Hunting Park building. 

“This project grew out of a long-term passion for food access and best environmental practices in urban areas,” said Campbell-Cobb.

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Why this building?

Hyer and Campbell-Cobb are the founding members and farmers of Cloud 9, an organization whose sole purpose is to establish a rooftop garden at 2901 W. Hunting Park Ave. Both are relatively recent transplants to Philadelphia – 2010 and 2009 respectively – but are deeply involved with teaching and advocacy, and boast ten years of organic agriculture and farm education experience. 

In addition, Hyer is a familiar face in the Northwest – she is the Education Coordinator for Henry Got Crops! at W.B. Saul Agricultural High School in Roxborough. It was on her commute to Saul that she first became acquainted with SHARE’s building.

It has many attributes to it: in addition to being in close proximity to a food distribution network – one flight below –SHARE currently has a working garden in place on their property.

There are also environmental benefits to their proposal. By increasing permeable surface area, stormwater runoff problems would be eased. There are also improvements to local air quality to be had and reductions in what is known as the “urban heat island effect” – a term used by the EPA to describe developed areas that are significantly warmer than nearby rural areas.

Also, it has a really good roof.

“The roof was originally built to accommodate two more stories – it’s got eight inches of concrete,” noted Campbell-Cobb.

A community space built on partnerships 

Both members of Cloud 9 emphasized the importance of partnerships. They recently teamed up with the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society, which augments standing affiliations with Greener Partners and Urban Ecoforms, the latter of which will be tasked with the design and installation of the rooftop garden.

In addition, they’re looking to build community partnerships, and plan to have their garden open to the public.

“We want it to be a community space,” said Hyer, adding that she’s specifically looking to encourage youth involvement. By and large, those present at the EFCC meeting displayed curiosity and expressed enthusiasm for the project.

At present, Cloud 9 is waiting on the approval of a lease. They hope to have it in hand by the end of September, but if it is less timely than hoped, their plans will be implemented in the spring of 2013.

“Seasonality plays a big part of this,” explained Hyer. In the meantime, planting has begun, with portable planters lined up in SHARES’s parking lot.

Once the space is secured, they hope to expand to two full acres, making it one of the largest rooftop farms in the world.

“We’d love for you to know about it, get involved, and be a part of this process with us,” said Hyer.

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