Crowd-funded farm could rise from roof of South Philly High

From the roof of South Philadelphia High School, principal Otis Hackney has a clear view of the Philadelphia skyline.

In his mind’s eye, he sees a farm where he stands. Making that farm take root on the wide, flat roof would be an ambitious endeavor, he acknowledges.

Yet, “if they can see the vision and envision this having the potential that it has, I think this will be easy,” he said Tuesday, of the people he hopes will help fund the project.

Campaign launch

Hackney and the Lower Moyamensing Civic Association are launching a crowd-funding campaign this week for phase one. They want to raise $26,300 to create a formal plan for the roof and grounds and to hire a garden coordinator.

Hackney believes the school’s project could become one of the largest rooftop farms in the area.

“Any kind of vegetables you can grow in your garden, we can grow up here,” said Lauren Mandel, rooftop agriculture specialist with the Roofmeadow landscape architecture firm. “With the exception of maybe watermelons and corn — but lettuces, tomatoes, zucchini, all the good stuff. Then that food will be integrated into the culinary arts program of the school.”

Mandel says the huge space on top of the building also has room for outdoor classrooms and solar panels too. 

Hackney hopes students also take math and science lessons from the gardens, maybe inspiring them to get on a green technology career track.

“It could be one of those life-changing, career-altering trajectories for a young person and I want to make sure they have the opportunity to be exposed to it,” he said.

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