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Rouses Markets' rooftop garden catches air

Rouses Markets puts a new spin on the local produce trend with an aeroponic rooftop garden to supply its customers with herbs.

The local movement doesn’t get any closer than the rooftop. That’s where a New Orleans grocer has planted herbs for the market below.

Rouses Markets officially launches its aeroponic urban farm today (May 31, 2012).

The vertical Tower Garden uses air and a timed mist rather than soil, with “plots” growing up rather than out. A former Disney greenhouse manager developed the system used at the amusement parks as well as the Chicago O'Hare Airport Eco-Farm and Manhattan’s Bell Book & Candle restaurant.

The market calls the project Roots on the Rooftop.

Chef Louis “Jack” Treuting, Rouses culinary director, foresaw future-looking farm as a way to provide fresh herbs for the food the market’s chefs prepare. But he quickly saw potential to expand the program to package and sell herbs as well.

"I knew if our chefs wanted it, so would our customers," he said in a press release.

Managing partner Donny Rouse envisions many possibilities for the farm.

"The flat rooftop on this store is perfect for urban farming," Rouse said. "And the view of downtown is postcard-perfect. I imagine we will do a lot of dinners up here on the farm."

A focus on local has been the way of Rouses Markets since the family started in the produce business. Anthony J. Rouse grew up working for his father’s produce shipping company, City Produce, before opening his first grocery store in 1960. The company, operated by the second and third generation of the Rouse family, now has 38 locations in two states.

“My grandfather was a farmer at heart,” says Rouse. “He would have loved everything about this."

New York-based BrightFarm, too, envisions a future when grocers grow produce in their own greenhouses-elevated or otherwise.

Rooftop gardens and farming, in particular, are rising trends. They have been sprouting for years but now are propagating faster than ever. Green Roofs for Healthy Cities, a trade association, earlier this month announced that the industry grew by 115 percent in 2011. Washington, D.C., led the way with more than 800,000 square feet of gardens installed in 2011. Chicago has the greenest skyline, with 5 million square feet of planted plots.

Integrating the parcels into urban farms of the future will raise the industry to great heights, especially as technology and techniques evolve.

Do you know about other local efforts like this? Natural Foods Merchandiser magazine would love to report more about the grocers growing their own. Comment below or email me.

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