Customers 'eat up' store's rooftop garden

CHICAGO For Michael Repkin, it's a treasure hunt. His bounty isn't buried though, it's on the roof.

"We're actually growing plants that can be used for food, fuel and fiber," said Michael Repkin, Urban Habitat Chicago .

Repkin and his friends have taken rooftop gardening to a whole different level. They converted the roof a health-food store in Edgewater into a food-producing 'mini-farm,' where they grow everything from peas to cabbage and kale. In the small space, they've created an entire ecosystem.

"…Similar to the Indiana Sand Dunes where you start out with sand and you wind up with this forest. Well, we're doing that on a much smaller scale with much smaller plants," said Repkin.

The mini-farm started as an experiment to see what would grow on the roof of True Nature Foods. The results are surprising.

"We've tested out things that we never thought would work. We never thought we could grow real potatoes. We thought we'd get those knobby little things, but we've actually gotten full-size Russet potatoes in three inches of media," said Repkin.

The vegetables just kept coming, which got Repkin thinking, "Why do we truck lettuce from one or two thousand miles away when we can produce it locally? And, this is about as locally as you can get it."

They grown the crops on the roof and then take the produce downstairs into the store, where it is sold. Their customers are eating it up.

"People are always eager to grab it because they know it's freshly cut as if it was in their backyards," said Paula Companio, owner, True Nature Foods.

Roof-top gardening isn't for everybody. Before you try it, you should check with an architect or engineer to see if your roof can sustain it. If not, here's another idea for urban gardening-- 'seed balls.' They are compost and seeds rolled up in clay and then dried out. It's so hardy you can grow plants virtually anywhere.

"You just go ahead and throw them, toss them on some land that nobody's using and when the rain comes, it wets the clay, keeps it moist long enough for the seeds to germinate and the seeds take hold. Anybody can just roll them out and you don't have to dig them in or anything like that and it protects them from the birds," said Repkin.

The city of Chicago is encouraging people and companies here to look into green roof-tops. Learn more by dialing 311.

"This is really in its infancy, the green roof industry. I think if we check back in a hundred years there won't be a building without a green roof."

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