Roof Gardens, Wine, and Urban Agriculture

(repromoted – promoted by On The Bus)

In the past few days, two news stories have captured my imagination. The first story came from the Sydney Morning Herald, Sydney’s skyline turning green. The second story was in the Washington Post, Iraqi Past Ferments in An Unlikely N.Y. Winery. Both stories deal with urban agriculture – the potential for it and one man’s reality of it. From the SMH story:

Rice paddies and orchards on city rooftops could become reality with a plan to green Sydney’s roofs… “It’d mean an enormous increase in parkland in the city,” [architect Tone Wheeler] said.

The rooftop gardens could also have commercial potential. “There could be organically grown food grown on the roof and sold in the cafe below,” Mr Wheeler said…

Garden designer Jamie Durie’s company, Patio, has worked on several Sydney rooftop gardens and is working on projects in Chicago and New York, where the concept is more advanced.

Wherever the sun falls there’s an opportunity to grow a garden,” he said.

The idea of rooftop gardens isn’t a new one, but I think it has untapped potential for growing food in the urban environment. I love the idea of inviting you to a cozy corner restaurant in a favorite part of the city. We’d sit down at a table and, perhaps, order a fresh salad made from tossed greens grown on the restaurant’s own roof garden. Throw in a few slices of cucumber and wedges of tomatoes from the garden and a dash of a light vinaigrette dressing and we’re dining in urban agricultural style.

But, there’s more… our young server suggests that we order a bottle of wine made by the neighborhood winery. She can see by our dubiously raised eyebrows that we were unaware that there was a vineyard nearby. After a couple, gentle but leading questions, she begins to tell us about Latif Jiji, a 79-year-old “engineering professor originally from Iraq, [who] has made his townhouse into a vertical winery…”

NYC Grape Harvest

Latif Jiji stood on his Manhattan bedroom balcony and leaned out into a great, green vine. Facing the gray buildings of midtown, he grasped a handful of grapes and snipped, leaned farther, grasped another, snipped again, until he had filled two plastic bags with the fruit of his bedroom view…

He coaxed a vine he planted in 1977 to grow up four stories along the back of his home and cover almost all the roof — more than 100 feet of gnarled wood and green grapes. He built his own air-conditioned wine cellar and stored 20 of his vintages in the basement. And each year he manages the picking of hundreds of pounds of grapes and sets up a crushing, pressing and chemistry operation outside in his narrow back yard…

Overhead, dangling from a rooftop trellis, were bundles upon bundles of grapes, pale green, thin-skinned, with a translucent, fatty, sugary quality, already giving off the scent of ferment and wine…

“The Greeks, the Romans, the Arabs, they had short vines — my vine is tall,” Jiji will note. His vertical vine can cause problems. It’s hard to pick grapes overhead. They’re hard to see, grapes get crushed, juice streams down.

Of course after the fascinating story about Jiji and his “vertical winery” we agree we must try a bottle to taste the efforts of this eccentric, urban winemaker. Our server does warn us, however, that each bottle is an adventure onto itself.

The taste and quality of the wine varies from year to year, but also from bottle to bottle. It mostly has a mild, sweet flavor, and tastes much like the grapes on the roof. Some bottles develop a spiked grape juice taste.

She recommends the 2001 vintage, because it is “very well balanced, but it still has the Latif character, its crispness”. We agree and she goes off to get a bottle from the restaurant’s cellar. While we wait, we begin to discuss urban gardening.

So, what do you think?

12 comments

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    • pfiore8 on August 28, 2007 at 2:57 pm

    finally a place where we don’t beat each other up with bad news and what people are NOT doing

    but here… i find all kinds of things we CAN do, reasons, as i said to Turkana, to get through another day or maybe even two.

    Great… f’ckin… ideas!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! rooftop gardens… grape vines clinging to the wall outside your bedroom window… fabulous!

  1. but youve got to love someone who doesnt let their circumstance stop them from doing/having what they love. 

    salud!

  2. A great first post and VERY much in character for the blog!

    Thanks for coming!

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