Finding the only rooftop hydroponic farming company in the heart of Tel Aviv won’t be easy from the street. It’s hiding on top a mountain of concrete known as the Dizengof Center, a massive shopping mall surrounded by high rises, busy streets, and pedestrians. But it’s up there, and churning out 10,000 heads of lettuce a month, among other crops.
Green In The City (Yarok Bair in Hebrew) occupies the roof of the four-level parking garage. It’s started as a collaborative partnership between the mall and local LivinGreen, an urban gardening equipment and training company. Dizengof Center may very well be the greenest bastion of consumerism in the world. The winner of the 2015 Green Globe for Green Business, it’s definitely stands apart from all other shopping centers in Israel.
They didn’t earn an “environmental Oscar,” however, simply by reducing their waste or cutting energy use. There’s more than just rooftop hydroponic farming going on above the multi-storied shopping extravaganza. The roof is also home to a tree nursery, nesting spots for birds, and an urban beekeeping operation. Sustainability is very important to the brothers who own this mall. When was the last time you walked into the main entrance of a high-end shopping center, and found a self-service farm stand offering freshly harvested produce? It sells so fast, the urban farm on the roof has to restock the crates four times a day. It looks like they also have a fresh vegetable kiosk in a major concourse too, which could be a very recent development.
The collaboration began with about 1,100 square feet (100m2) of urban gardening space equipped with a variety of hydroponic and aquaponic systems. Having the plants on the roof was part of Dizengof Center’s commitment to being an eco-friendly, sustainable complex. The garden’s harvests supplied restaurants in the mall from the start, and it doubled as an educational facility. Workshops held here teach attendees the art of urban gardening, and cooking garden fresh foods.
Over the course of about a year, the rooftop hydroponic farming project has expanded to cover about 8,000 square feet. It includes 2 greenhouses, and still makes use of several different types of growing systems. Recently they acquired an off-grid HomeBiogas digester to start showing people how organic waste can generate energy. The gas they produce runs their coffee pot, and fuels a small stove during cooking classes.
Along the way, it was decided that it was time to form an actual business, taking this rooftop hydroponic farming collaborative commercial. Something that no doubt makes managing director Mandy Falk tickled pink. After suffering career burnout as a professional computer programmer, Falk dreamed of driving a tractor. Farming was the future for him. And he’s loving being a farmer, even though it doesn’t involve big, macho machines. At one point last year he expressed sadness that his crop space was so small. He couldn’t grow enough lettuce without a lot more square meters to work with.
Fellow team member Mohti Cohen is an FAO Marine Environmental Consultant in the field of aquaponics. He is also with LivinGreen, and operates a suburban aquaponic farm known as Green In The Village. There are five other team members, each with a unique set of skills to strengthens and enrich the operation.
They have tried growing many different crops, but most just can’t deal with the wind that far above the ground. So, Green In The City concentrates on producing mainly lettuces and herbs, though there are rumors of a banana tree in residence up there. That eggplant shown above must be tucked in a protected corner! While all fruit trees are perfectly at home in hydroponics and their climate, unfortunately the windy conditions doesn’t allow such crops. And growing year around, the wind in winter is really difficult to deal with. That explains why some Facebook photos show grow cups actually tied in place.
You’ll find they’re making use of deep water culture and ebb and flow growing methods in tables and vertical setups. It’s all part of the educational facet of the facility, which is ongoing today with workshops every Friday, year around. They also extend an invitation to groups like schools and foreign visitors to schedule a private tour of the farm.
Going forward, the team has plans for opening more farming locations in the Tel Aviv area. Expanding the farm’s production will supply more local restaurants with the freshest ingredients possible. Each new urban farming site will likely have no shortage of customers, because the lettuce harvested atop Dizengof Center beats everything else available. Diners quickly notice that this salad is strange – distinctly different from what they expected. People haven’t eaten lettuce this fresh in Tel Aviv in a long time. They are all used to well-traveled, long shelf life greens.
From the beginning to its present day programs and goals, their story is interesting. One that each of the various sources I’ve found has something different to share. Rather than try to compress them all into another couple hundred words, you can learn more on the links below.
- Green In The City
- Dizengof Center
- The Secret Garden
- Times of Israel
- Green In The City on Facebook
- Green In The Village