The Blog

Summer Growing

Farmers will tell you there's a weird quiet time in the summer. Between the manic planting schedule of the spring and the busy harvest time lies a pacific period in the early summer.
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Farmers will tell you there's a weird quiet time in the summer. Between the manic planting schedule of the spring and the busy harvest time lies a pacific period in the early summer. Harvests are moderate but encouraging and most everything is already in the ground. The first week in July falls squarely in that time. This farmer took advantage of the break, left the farm in the ever-capable hands of his interns, and visited his parents in Vancouver, British Columbia.

It was a wonderful few days of family time -- which in mine mostly means eating boatloads of seafood and cracking jokes -- but it was also inspirational. Vancouver is a dense, vertical city and many developers have begun to engage this verticality in a horticultural way. Throughout the city center you see trees and arbors poking their way up from rooftops. Furthermore, in a primary location on Vancouver Harbor you can see the Vancouver Convention Center with what I believe to be the largest greenroof in Canada. The northwest coast is so verdant that I even spied grass and a small tree growing out of the gutter of a warehouse.

But any vacation of course implies a homecoming, and getting back to Chicago was great. The thrill of travel is replaced by the comfort of home and all the excitement for vertical growing that the Vancouver skyline had inspired in me was matched by a new project here at the office.

It turns out that just down the street from us, a couple of neighbors named Ross and Halen have been working on a vertical growing system of their own. They call themselves the City Craftsmen, signing and building vertical gardens of their own. It's pretty sweet stuff. Rainwater is collected off the roof and a solar-powered water pump sends it up to a multi-tiered system that affords several areas for growing. In the spirit of neighborliness they've decided to give Uncommon Ground a system for a south facing wall in our parking lot. They did it up real nice too, with custom wood work and everything. Ross and Halen will be at our farmer's market this Friday showing it off. You should come by, see their work, and check out the rooftop too.

And the rooftop! I got back from vacation (keep in mind, my vacation wasn't even a full week) to find the rooftop practically unrecognizable! While Vancouver delivered 70 degree days and much cooler evenings, Chicago was quite a bit warmer. Quite a bit. And those hot days, periodic thundershowers, and proportionally hot nights worked their Midwestern magic on our roof's crops. Kale, which we'd aggressively harvested a week earlier, had bounced back; beans had been harvested periodically in my absence, yet still kept producing; basil and parsley were thick and full; and even the chard, which I'd almost given up on during our fertility panic a few weeks ago, is looking gorgeous.

I coordinated with our sous-chef Chris Spear as to what he'd need in the next couple days. In addition to the beans (who doesn't love a bean?) he's opting for herbs and herbs in quantity. We decided my interns would harvest a bunch of the woody herbs tomorrow, but just as I was taking my lunch, he stopped by to see if I could deliver the sage ahead of time. I dropped my sandwich, grabbed some shears, and hit the farm. Twenty minutes later, a half pound of sage was in the walk in refrigerator.

That transaction -- the chef asking the grower for a product and the product being available within the hour -- is truly exciting to me. Not only can the chef depend on me for high quality, organic produce, but I can harvest it on-demand. And if he'd run short? I'd just have clipped some more.

Tomorrow we'll finish the harvest: beans, kale, basil, oregano, thyme, arugula, along side a couple onions and garlic. The motion is one of the oldest ones we're familiar with: from farm to plate by way of the kitchen. It's just neat to see it happen all at once. If I haven't offered already, let me extend the invite to show it to you. The farm is open to the public every Friday from 4-8pm. Come by and I'll show you around.