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By Debra R. Messick

Restaurants raise the roof with on-site gardens

Fans of farm-to-table dining are digging into a whole new level of freshness unearthed at hyper-local restaurants. These eateries, which cultivate their own food from on-site gardens, are growing at a phenomenally successful rate across the country and around the world.

To be sure, hyper-local restaurants are found in climate-friendly cities down South and on the West Coast. But a surprising number have also thrived in the Midwest, New York, and New England. Cooler climate countries like England, the Netherlands and Denmark are also home to some of the hottest hyper-local dining destinations (for example, Petersham Nurseries Cafe, De KasKas, and Henne Kirkeby Kro, respectively).

Other unexpected locations include midtown Manhattan’s iconic Waldorf Astoria Hotel, hosting the 20th-floor open-air growing emporium designed with the New York Horticultural Society. The enterprising venue is comprised of nine raised garden beds, fruit trees, and hives housing over 360,000 European honeybees.

The chic Fountain at the Four Seasons Hotel in Philadelphia features a similar number of raised garden beds on its 8th-floor rooftop plot.

Chicago’s expansive O’Hare Airport accommodates a groundbreaking “aeroponic” Urban Garden, with produce propagated on eight-foot-tall towers in a water/mineral solution instead of soil. Developed by the HMSHost Corporation and the Chicago Department of Aviation, the veggies and herbs supply the hub’s restaurants, while the garden itself offers serene solace to weary travelers.

Aeroponics is also the growing method of choice in the smaller but no less impressive rooftop operation featuring 60 such cultivation stations producing an array of vegetables and herbs at the Bell, Book, and Candle eatery in New York’s West Village.

Another Village destination, Rosemary’s, staked its claim to a standout reputation in part through its rooftop growing area. Interest runs so high that not only is diner access encouraged, but virtual visitors are welcome to visually tiptoe through the trattoria’s garden via web cam.

At Riverpark in Kips Bay, Manhattan, the growing takes place more firmly on the ground, but in a less than permanent growing medium consisting of milk crates. The portable containers, originally placed across the street from the restaurant at an inactive construction site, were seamlessly relocated to an area bordering the front door. Now not only a boon to diners, the garden also offers food for thought as a community resource with tours and workshops.

Seattle’s Bastille Café and Bar has a rooftop farm regarded as a model multi-seasonal growing operation. The aptly named Colin McCrate of Seattle Urban Farm Company crafted and installed numerous raised bed containers featuring panels covered with shade cloth and hinged to facilitate harvesting. In cooler weather they can be easily interchanged with plastic-covered panels to function as mini greenhouses.

The Noble Rot in Portland, Oregon, also provides fresh garden offerings for much of the year, courtesy of an underground aquifer to irrigate its 3,000-square-foot mini farm.

Even the watchful eyes of Lady Liberty ultimately can’t prevent the weather from taking a toll on the 1,000-square-foot acreage 17 stories atop New York’s North End Grill. But long-time gardener Chef Floyd Cardoz is a practiced harvest preservationist virtuoso, ensuring that diners can enjoy the bounty all year long.

As hyper-local restaurants continue to emerge across the culinary landscape, the future looks bright for fresh, creative dining at its peak.

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