One Milwaukee gardener takes it to the roof
Erik Lindberg has undertaken an ambitious one man show. Owner of Community Building and Restoration LLC, Lindberg added farmer, gardener and inventor to his list of trades.
"I was dealing with a cognitive dissonance between what I knew about food production and the life I was actually living. I mean -- I recycled and what-not, but I knew I should be doing more," Lindberg says.
He is certainly doing more now.
Last year, Lindberg created Milwaukee's first rooftop based Community Sustainable Agriculture (CSA) after converting the roof of a woodshop near Capitol Drive and 6th Street. With a local cabinetmaker still utilizing the downstairs shop, Lindberg built six raised soil beds plus a large composting pile up top.
Lettuce, garlic, kale and escarole endive are just a few of the first vegetables ready for this season's harvesting. Lindberg also planted plenty of herbs, tomato plants, peppers and carrots, which should fill CSA baskets in the coming months.
Lindberg started growing 11 months ago, continuing crops straight through the Wisconsin winter. Using plastic tarps to create a makeshift greenhouse, Lindberg kept plants and crops alive regardless of record-low temperatures.
"Things definitely froze for the coldest part of January but other than that, plants have been growing all year," Lindberg says.
Last summer, expecting the trial and error of first-time planting, Lindberg did not take on any CSA clients; rather, he simply gave produce to friends and family and sold any abundance at Outpost Natural Foods. This summer, his garden is part of a CSA and assumes food production for six clients.
To control and manipulate the growing conditions, Lindberg traps and releases heat under various plastic coverings to craft cold, warm and hot weather beds.
A native of Madison, Lindberg earned a degree in English before changing career directions to become a carpenter and eventually found and own Community Building Restoration, LLC. Rooftop gardening is his latest adventure and another step towards self-sufficiency and community sustainability.
"I hope somewhere down the line, this becomes part of a larger CSA. I hope several rooftops and yards in the area combine as kind of a patchwork of gardens in the area," Lindberg says.
Lindberg humbly denies initiating any sort of movement or creating a fresh approach for gardeners in Milwaukee.
Regardless, he is the first to follow in the footsteps of farmers in Chicago, New York and Portland to renovate rooftop space for fruits and vegetables.
"Will Allen deservedly gets a lot of attention but there are others too. I probably fall into the category of a Will Allen disciple but there are those who should be thought of right alongside him -- like Walnut Way," Lindberg says.
Like Lindberg, Milwaukee's Walnut Way is looking to shorten the distance between urban living and locally grown produce. Instilling garden plots near 17th Street and North Avenue, Walnut Way grows produce for the Fondy Farmers Market as well as farming the only bee hives in the city of Milwaukee.
Regardless of his humility, Lindberg's drive to improve the community is blatant and his ambition inspiring. You can find his garden on Milwaukee's Northeast side and hopefully soon find his produce in local farmers markets.
There is far more urban gardening happening in Milwaukee than most people would think could happen. Whether it's a spot on the corner of a lawn or an empty lot, or a full-scale operation like Growing Power, it's rapidly spreading all across town. Take a look at where the Victory Garden Initiative is setting up gardens on the 23rd of May -- it's north, south, and west -- east side, not just yet.
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