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Bell, Book & Candle’s Sky High Farming


Chef John Mooney was on a mission. As an eco-conscious restauranteur, Chef Mooney believed in the importance of locally sourced food. He wanted to reduce the journey of his restaurant’s produce from hundreds, even thousands of miles to just a few feet. To do this, his built his own personal farm six stories in the air.

Bell, Book & Candle’s hydroponic garden occupies the roof of a 100-year-old building in Manhattan’s West Village. Chef Mooney extols the virtues of using the “dead space” in cities, like empty rooftops, to grow vegetables. Not only is it efficient, so-called “green roofs” can lower city temperatures and pollution levels. Hydroponic systems are lighter than soil gardens and are feasible even for the delicate structure of historic buildings.

A battalion of 60 towers hold Mooney’s crop of lettuce, tomatoes, herbs, heirloom squash and more. Mooney prefers the ergonomics, space and energy efficiency of vertical gardening. He uses a “rain system” to pump running water up through the center of a tall planting tube. It drips down the sides of the tube and back into a reservoir for recycling. Because his system is heated, Chef Mooney’s garden thrives for a full 10 months out of the year despite New York’s bitter cold seasons.

To save even more on energy costs, Chef Mooney’s system uses solar powered pumps filter dosages of nutrients into a raised water tank. Gravity trickles treated water from the tank into each hydroponic tower. There is not a fleck of soil in sight. Grow sponges support the base of the plant, and the enriched tap water provides everything the plants need. Chef Mooney says that while the initial investment is high, hydroponics pays for itself in the blink of an eye.

The biggest benefit, according to Chef Mooney, is in the harvest itself. Hydroponic systems allow vegetables to soak up nutrients more efficiently. The result is a larger harvest in as little as half the time compared to traditional farming. He can let his vegetables ripen naturally for richer flavor, and everything stays fresher longer. He only harvests what he needs and lower it with a hoist right to their kitchen door. Patrons get a true “fresh from the garden” meal.

Chef Mooney hopes that vertical gardening will be the future for cities worldwide. In the next decade, the world could be eating greener, tastier crops from farms without soil.

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