10 Surprising Reasons Why Your Restaurant Should Start a Garden

Farm-to-table” is the buzz-phrase of the local food movement. And for good reasons, too.

Locally-grown food simply tastes better. More restaurants and chefs are turning to urban gardening as an affordable means to ensure their customers are served the healthiest, freshest, most sustainably-grown food possible. And with all the innovative urban gardening kits flooding the market, it’s now more possible than ever to grow food in small spaces.

Marlow and Sons, a neighborhood eatery in New York City, particularly likes the heirloom tomatoes and mesclun greens grown at a nearby rooftop farm. Sean Rembold, the restaurant’s Executive Chef, says:

“It is pretty amazing, when even though we can’t get the volume maybe from the rooftop farm, to know that we can get fresh excellent vegetables; I could call right now…call Ben…and he would bicycle over something within the hour.”

Below are the 10 top surprising reasons your food business (whether a restaurant, cafe, bar, even grocery store!) should start a garden on the roof, patio, nearby empty lot, or other available space in the neighborhood. (If we missed anything, please share additional benefits in a comment below!)

Top 10 Reasons Why Every Restauarant Should Start a Garden

1. Decrease Costs

It costs restaurants less to grow their own produce than to buy it elsewhere and have it shipped. While the upfront costs of garden supplies, building materials, and labor may seem daunting at first. Once you crunch the numbers, an in-house (or over-the-house) garden makes good economic sense in the long-term. The mere savings in terms of reduced spending on food sourcing alone will ensure a speedy return on your investment. Plus, you can reap the benefits of reduce spending — along with the multitude of other benefits that follow — for several years into the future.

Specifically in regard to rooftop gardens, the Environmental Protection Agency estimates that:

Estimated costs of installing a green roof start at $10 per square foot for simpler extensive roofing, and $25 per square foot for intensive roofs. Annual maintenance costs for either type of roof may range from $0.75–$1.50 per square foot.

While the initial costs of green roofs are higher than those of conventional materials, building owners can help offset the difference through reduced energy and stormwater management costs, and potentially by the longer lifespan of green roofs compared with conventional roofing materials.

2. Increase Profits

In addition to lowering costs spent on produce, restaurants will find that customers are willing to pay a premium for meals made with homegrown, organic food. It’s a tremendous benefit knowing the food you’re eating is grown 20 feet from the kitchen without pesticides or artificial fertilizers. Attract new customs and repeat business with an exciting urban garden at the top of your restaurant. Build your local homegrown brand and watch your profits grow through the roof!

Lowering costs and increasing profits should be the mantra of any business. All the reasons that follow these are just icing on, what we hope, is your organic, gmo-free, made-with-love, delicious cake!

3. Green Marketing

This is also linked to branding and contributes to increased profits. As more and more consumers become enlightened about their food choices — going green and serving local, organic produce is becoming a key driver in attracting and retaining loyal customers. Having an on-site organic garden will help you standout and attract positive PR for your business.

4. Quality Control

Gardens also give chefs more control over food quality, especially when the entire garden is started from seed. Planting your own on-site garden gives customers visual certainty that they are actually buying what they bargained for — local, organic, fresh, and noGMO food. Nowadays, more people crave knowing where the food comes from.

5. Menu Flexibility

Chefs have an easy and affordable way to grow rare, expensive, or otherwise hard-to-find crops. This is especially true for chefs making ethnic and culturally-specific dishes that require crops not usually grown or sold by the average food producer or wholesalers. Having tremendous flexibility in the choice of veggies or fruits grown in your restaurant’s garden allows your business to offer truly unique, authentic meals. Since you can usually find the rarest of seeds on the Internet, the possibilities of your garden are only limited by your imagination (and of course, nature!).

Bardessono Hotel in Yountville, Lucy Restaurant and Bar’s eco-friendly spirit includes field-to-fork cuisine that’s sourced from Lucy’s Garden, located onsite
Lucy Restaurant and Bar’s eco-friendly spirit includes field-to-fork cuisine that’s sourced from Lucy’s onsite garden

…The primary reason independent restaurants tend to be the ones with gardens is because they have the flexibility to adjust their menus with what’s in season and ripe for picking.

6. Protects Buildings and Roofs

Developers and building owners often incorrectly assume rooftop gardens will damage roofs or compromise the integrity of buildings. In reality, if installed and designed with proper waterproofing and attention to load bearing capacity — rooftop gardens can actually protect the roof membrane from the damaging effects of the sun and other erosive natural elements.

Green walls and living walls also insulate buildings so they stay cooler on hot summer days and warmer on chilly winter nights — helping to reduce overall energy spent on heating and cooling. As the EPA explains:

Green roofs can be installed on a wide range of buildings, from industrial facilities to private residences. They can be as simple as a 2-inch covering of hardy groundcover or as complex as a fully accessible park complete with trees…Green roofs absorb heat and act as insulators for buildings, reducing energy needed to provide cooling and heating…Green roofs, by reducing heat transfer through the building roof, can improve indoor comfort and lower heat stress associated with heat waves.

Chef John Mooney harvests veggies on his restaurant’s rooftop garden in Manhattan
Chef John Mooney harvests veggies on his restaurant’s rooftop garden in Manhattan

Rooftop gardens can increase your roof’s useful life, save on the cost of electricity, and maybe even qualify you for additional tax breaks!

7. Reduce Urban Pollution

The proliferation of urban gardens and “green buildings” has the power to significantly reduce many negative effects of growing urbanization. The rise of green buildings, living walls, and other urban gardens would help alleviate so-called “urban heat traps,” reduce and slow stormwater runoff, and filter pollutants from rainfall — all seemingly insurmountable issues facing urban metropolises, particularly in the West.

8. Lower Carbon Footprint

On a similar note, in-house farms reduce the amount of carbon expended from shipping the food long distances from rural or even foreign farms. The food served by restaurants and sold in groceries often travels several miles, often with energy-intensive refrigerated vehicles and exchanging hands several times, before making it to the endpoint: bellies. With a rooftop or backyard garden, restaurants (and even grocers) can cut out the middlemen by selling food that has literally traveled less than 20 feet from the farm. Hard to beat that!

In addition, urban gardens also act as an atmospheric scrubber right where it is needed the most — polluted cities! The mere act of growing a garden in your neighborhood will, by itself, actually remove carbon dioxide emissions from the congested air you and your customers breathe. As the EPA notes:

By lowering air conditioning demand, green roofs can decrease the production of associated air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. Vegetation can also remove air pollutants and greenhouse gas emissions through dry deposition and carbon sequestration and storage.

urban farming rooftop gardens NYC sustainability
This proposed plan for NYC — created by Terreform, Inc. — illustrates how urban farms on every roof and empty lot would help the city become self-sufficient (source: inhabitat.com)

Climate change and global warming are no joke. The rise of urban gardening may be our only hope to reverse the terrifying effects of our “conventional” agriculture practices over the past century or so, but which does not require us to give up our highly-valued urban lifestyles.

9. Increase Property Values

Urban farms augment the value of not only your restaurant’s property, but also of all neighboring properties in your community. By increasing your neighborhood’s swag, local residents will surely show their gratitude and take part in the movement by frequenting your classy establishment.

10. Beautify Dining Areas

Garden Restaurant Kiev images / information from 4a Architekten
Garden Restaurant in Kiev, Ukraine designed by 4a Architekten

Speaking of classy, on-site gardens add color and unique dimensions to bland spaces, freshen the air, and create calming ambiances — especially aquaponics gardens that utilize trickling water features and fish ponds. Situate your restaurant’s garden in easy-to-see places like patios, courtyards, rooftops, even indoors. Gardens also make for nice views from restaurant windows and the street.

~~~Happy, Healthy, Safe Farming, Eating, Living~~~

External Resources

6 Napa Valley Restaurants With Edible Gardens, Renee Macalino (June 22, 2012).

Design and Development of a Roof Garden, McCaren Designs (pdf).

Reducing Urban Heat Islands: Compendium of Strategies (Draft), Environmental Protection Agency (Details on how green roofs help to reduce heat islands, Green roof types, The benefits and costs of green roofs, Factors to consider in using green roofs, Green roof initiatives, and Tools and resources to further explore this technology).

Whole Foods Market will grow produce on roof, Erin Ailworth for Boston Globe (June 3, 2013).

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