The Roof Crop garden on the rooftop at Ace Hotel Chicago

Closer to the Clouds:
The Roof Crop

The Roof Crop has been growing crops on the Ace Hotel Chicago rooftop since doors opened four years ago. It’s an ingenious use of space that brings farm-fresh food directly into the urban landscape. Plus, it’s fun to watch things grow, sort of like a way to believe in the future.

In celebration of Earth Day, we’re re-sharing this 2018 interview with our friends upstairs at TRC — along with some updates on how the past year has affected their work in urban agriculture, plus what they have growing for Lovage and Asrai Garden.

What’s The Roof Crop origin story?

The Roof Crop planted its first production farm in 2015 on their Headquarters in West Town, just a few blocks away from the hotel. The Roof Crop builds farms, designs products, and develops experiences that engage communities in a shared mission of sustainability. TRC now farms thirteen properties across Chicago and Ace Hotel Chicago was its second farm.

The Roof Crop grown strawberries

AHC: What about Chicago makes it such a popular city for the green-roof movement?

TRC: Chicago’s former Mayor, Mayor Daley created a green roof mandate, making it a requirement for new construction projects. Though no longer mandated, it is an affordable option for developers and buildings to count towards LEED points and their own sustainability endeavors. The Roof Crop takes that one step further by making landscape and green roofs productive by growing food, flowers and natural dyes that can be sold and generate income. We also make our own line of apothecary products and have an in-house flower design studio — the results of which are sold to the city’s top chefs and floral designers. 

As a result of pandemic, TRC was forced to pivot to selling directly to consumers and local flower designers, but plans to continue supporting the hospitality industry in any way possible, as we all rebuild together.

AHC: How do you go about planning your crops? Anything new this year? What are you most looking forward to?

TRC: This has changed a bit over 2020. Before the pandemic, almost all of TRC’s crops were grown for Chef lists. We had planned to expand the cut flower program last year, and it was lucky we did — that market remained open, when the restaurants closed. We pulled back and shifted our crop plans in spring 2020. With a year of “winging it” under our belts, we’ve planned for a lot of flowers, crop growing and new products for 2021 — plus some exciting expansions of our own in 2022. We still aim to service the restaurants that built us and have almost a full acre of new roofs planned in the next year or two.

AHC: What would you like more people to know/understand about urban agriculture?

TRC: Urban Agriculture is an important way for city residents to learn about agriculture and sustainability in general. Productive landscapes (like those that we manage) help make that connection more quickly via engaging flowers, food and products. By making these connections, people make wiser choices for our planet. It’s a sneaky form of education and outreach on the behalf of all agricultural systems.

AHC: How can Chicagoans get involved with TRC and other urban agriculture initiatives in the city?

TRC: Plant your own gardens! Sure, they are hard work, so start small with some herbs in planters. Support foundations and non-profit endeavors that train future farmers. Consider a donation to organizations, such as our Foundation, that runs our apiary program. Bees are very important in the pollination cycle and Chicago is home to many hives.

Most importantly – SHOP LOCAL! Get to know your farmers. Avoid the carbon footprint of shipping food. Eat seasonally.

You can keep up with The Roof Crop
 by visiting their website or following on social media.