He is a capeless crusader — an unsung hero whose ubiquitous influence can be felt globally — in Mumbai, New York, Singapore, Havana, Beijing, Tokyo and Paris. He spars with pricey, pesticide-poisoned food, confronts pollution with sky gardens, and protects an increasing global population in the Gotham of our times.

01-Greenman over the city, a new beginning - cover pix
A new breed of crusaders has taken over cities in an attempt to bring people closer to nature.

The Green Knight dons many avatars. He is Chicago’s Gotham Greens, Tokyo’s Pasona Group, New York’s Annie Novak’s Eagle Street Rooftop farm and Ajoy John’s apartment’s rooftop garden in Kolkata.

Rooftop and city farming is beneficial but a barely noticed concept. The approach is innovative and is a much-needed urban socio-cultural trend.

Rooftop gardening could be seen as a green guerrilla street war against increasingly lethal city pollution, urban stress, and unsafe yet expensive food.From Asia to Americas, the rooftop revolution continues to grow. Chicago has the world’s largest rooftop garden: 75,000 sqft atop Method, a soap factory in the Pullman neighborhood. Viraj Puri, Eric Haley and Jennifer Nelkin Frymark’s four-month-old Gotham Greens’ two-acre rooftop garden not only yields as much fresh food as a 50-acre farm, but also reduces the building temperature by over 40 degrees F.

Cooler buildings and less air-conditioning during an Indian summer demands less from the country’s 49 hydro-electric dams, and less risks of climate change with deadly results like cloud bursts and river flooding that have cost thousands of lives in northern Uttarakhand in the past two years.

This Green Knight is a humble crusader fighting for the urban farming movement. He could be anyone: The boy or girl next door, a banker, a software engineer or it could even be you.

“We are farmers that live in apartments,” goes the Gotham Greens’ anthem from their 9th Avenue headquarters in New York. “We see green fields where others see rooftops. We fuel blooming communities where others fear urban decay. And we purvey the freshest produce grown on earth”.

Rooftop gardens are multiplying in Jaipur, Hong Kong, Bangalore, Tokyo, Rotterdam to Montreal, and US cities with governmental ordinances (*1), such as Minneapolis, Milwaukee, Boston, Austin, Detroit, Portland, Cleveland, Seattle and Baltimore.

03-Lunch break at Tokyo's Pasona Group office
At Tokyo’s Pasona Group, executives, during their lunch break, tend to vegetables, fruits and rice grown inside the office.

These urban farmers bring back healthy food, pure air, and the lost world of the idyllic village pastures, green meadows and peaceful orchards under an unhurried sun.

“Garden plots can help people reconnect with earth and gain greater appreciation for where our food comes from (Hint: Not from plastic packages). Rooftop and patio gardens create peaceful places for relaxation or contemplation, attract tourists — as New York City’s lush High Line Park— and bring new jobs,” reported The National Geographic.

This agri-architectural marvel of our times is visibly evident in a 5,000 sq ft apartment terrace garden in Rajarhat, near Kolkata’s Subhash Chandra Bose Airport. Residents every get fresh, pesticide-free vegetables and fruits daily from a rooftop garden created by ex-newspaper editor Ajoy John, bio-tech expert Arun Ram, and social activist Kunal Deb.

02-Rooftop garden in Kolkata
An apartment terrace in Kolkata, India, grows fresh fruits and vegetables.

In rooftop city farms, the trio is all set to resurrect forgotten cereals like the black rice, which is more popular than the much sought-after Basmati variety. “India was once home to over 250,000 varieties of rice. We barely have 22,000 varieties that have survived,” said John.

The rooftop green house has bamboo baskets that seasonally produce 35 types of vegetables, fruits, and herbs. This single rooftop hydroponic farm (using mineral nutrients and water, instead of conventional soil) produces 1,200 kg of fresh food every year.

Multiply 1,200 of food into hundreds of millions of buildings across the world— this is potential of the rooftop gardens to feed a global population of 7 billion, which is expected to increase to 8.3 billion in two decades, with shrinking agricultural land.

China, for instance, has 20% of the world’s population but only 8% cultivable land. With agricultural land shrinking by nine million hectares from 1996 to 2008, China has taken to urban farming and vertical gardens, apart from the more controversial option of buying farmland in countries like Argentina, Congo, Bulgaria and Ukraine.

The credit for the rooftop revolution, which has come to the world’s rescue, goes to Cuba. The Cubans suffered acute food shortages since the 1990s following the fall of the Soviet Union and the discontinuation of subsidies and other aid. Havana residents grew food crops on rooftops, empty parking lots, even atop abandoned cars.

Within five years, Havana’s 8,000 urban food gardens produced over 50% of Cuba’s vegetables and fruits. London’s Architectural Review called it ‘Cuban urban farming revolution: how to create self-sufficient cities.’ (*2)

This urban farming revolution includes cleaner and more beautiful cities. Paris recently announced plans to fit urban farming and greenery in its Boulevard Périphérique Ring Road – a network of gardens to clean the air, beautify the city and bring its residents closer to nature,.

The multi-layered city plan was a winning idea from Jacques Ferrier Architecture, Chartier Dalix Architectes, and SLA Landskab in the ‘Reinventer Paris’ design competition, and serves as an inspiration for other cities.

The Boulevard Périphérique buildings, connected through a landscaped skywalk, will have structures topped by publicly accessible urban farms, gardens growing Parisian tea, and buildings with garden balconies on each floor.

Likewise, Japan’s Fukuoka City and its ‘Asian Crossroads over the Sea’ (ACROS) Fukuoka Prefectural International Hall with the ecological architecture masterpiece of Emilio Ambasz — a 100,000sqm park in a building— has 15-step vegetated terraces, waterfalls, gardens for meditation, relaxation, and offers a spectacular view of Fukuoka Bay and distant mountains.

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A view of ACROS Fukuoka Prefectural International Hall

“Green roofs, green walls, and urban forests can help mitigate greenhouse gas emissions by reducing the energy consumption directly in buildings and indirectly by reducing the urban heat island effect,” said Steven Peck, founder-president of the Toronto-based Green Roofs for Healthy Cities.

Toronto will host the fourth Annual Grey to Green Conference from June 1 to June 4, 2016. The conference will shed light on living green infrastructure to provide cost-effective, scientific solutions to climate change — particularly in cities.

According to the World Health Organization, 54% of the global population lives in cities, up from 34% in 1960. By 2017, a greater majority of people worldwide will reside in urban homes.

The ease of rooftop or house farming mixed with the joy of gardening finds more takers in cities. Rooftop farming is another dimension in the path to greater self-dependence, and is a universal necessity to maximize the available resources to creatively cope with multiple living challenges.

Experts too help to create something like Jaipur’s Living Greens (*3). After preparatory work, growing organic vegetables and fruits at home is no longer complicated. It is as inexpensive as tending to flower pots in a balcony. Containers can be artistically designed baskets, trays, empty bottles, or discarded buckets (*4). Watering can be done with automated drip irrigation, or remotely managed through Internet of all Things, popularly known as IoT.

Across centuries, villagers have been leaving farm work for the big city, but now town dwellers are becoming part-time farmers — the reverse green revolution in the happily balancing equations of Mother Nature.

Raja Murthy is an independent journalist who shuttles between Mumbai and the Himalayas.


1. Ten American Cities Lead the Way with Urban Agriculture Ordinances, Seedstock

2. Cuba’s Urban Farming Revolution: How to Create Self-Sufficient Cities, Architectural Review

3. Living Greens, Jaipur, Rajasthan, India

4. How to grow organic food at home,YouTube video. Different types of containers can be used to grow vegetables and tree saplings at home…trays, flower pots, cups, crates, storage cabinets, sacks, bottles, tetra pots, in different forms and sizes, all can be used to grow your own fresh food

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