The sky’s the limit for Higher Ground, Boston’s first rooftop farm

Higher Ground Farm co-founder John Stoddard works with tomato plants atop the Boston Design Center. Photo by Nicolaus Czarnecki/Metro
Higher Ground Farm co-founder John Stoddard works with tomato plants atop the Boston Design Center. Photo by Nicolaus Czarnecki/Metro

It took a lot of planning, lifting and fundraising, but Boston officially has its first rooftop farm.

Higher Ground Farm opened this week atop the Boston Design Center in the Seaport District after volunteers helped heft and set up thousands of pounds of soil and planting materials.

“You have to drink a lot of water, but you get used to it,” John Stoddard, the farm’s co-founder, said of working through a heat wave. “I’m used to working outdoors; I love it.”

He spent today hunched over hundreds of tomato plants, with his hands in the soil, the scorching sun on his shoulders and a hazy Boston skyline behind him.

Needless to say, he was covered with dirt, but his farmer’s tan was fabulous.

“It feels great now that it’s happening, but it was so much work getting here,” said Stoddard.

The Jamaica Plain resident literally got the farm off the ground with his business partner and long-time friend Courtney Hennessey.

Last week, dozens of volunteers helped load materials onto a crane at the base of the famous Seaport District structure so they could be unloaded nine stories above. Nearly 100 volunteers had reached out to the pair to offer help getting the farm up and running.

“People just want to come and hangout and help out. It’s really been sweet,” said Stoddard.

Now it’s a matter of “learning as you go,” said Stoddard, who finished installing the farm’s much-needed irrigation system Tuesday.

Stoddard and Hennessey partially funded the project by raising $24,000 on Kickstarter and hosting fundraisers. The pair now split their time caring for the farm, which is in the first of two phases.

The Boston Design Center’s roof spans 55,000 square feet, but for now, Higher Ground covers roughly half of the space. Over the next year, plants will be grown in individual milk crate planters. Stoddard said phase two will likely roll out next March, and will include the installation of green roof beds.

Once that happens, Higher Ground will be the second largest open-air commercial roof farm in the world, behind the 65,000-square foot Brooklyn Grange urban farm in New York.

The pair not only got help from local urban agriculture proponents, but also local businesses.

Recover Green Roofs designed and laid-out the farm, while Simpson, Gumpertz, and Heger did the structural engineering. Hunter Industries supplied the irrigation, and Stephen Iacovino of the Boston Design Center helped manage the installation process.

The planters are expected to yield organically grown herbs within a few weeks, with tomatoes are due in September. Stoddard and Hennessey plan to sell the produce to local restaurants who have already signed on to support the venture.

There is also talk of a farm stand, a CSA program, and bike deliveries, but much like the farm, that is all up in the air.

Despite the massive amount of work it’s taken to get the farm going, Stoddard said they are eager to reap what they’ve sown: “I think this is a project that Courtney and I really believe in, and we’re excited that a lot of other people believe in it too.”

Follow Morgan Rousseau on Twitter: @MetroMorgan
Follow Metro Boston on Twitter: @MetroBOS


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