Wave Self Storage in downtown St. Louis has found a new way to cultivate extra revenue.
The climate-controlled facility recently signed a new tenant that has transformed the rooftop on the two-story building into an urban farm.
Five years ago, Wave Self Storage owner Beau Reinberg was living with his wife and children in downtown St. Louis. His wife was involved in community garden program where she rented a plot from Urban Harvest to grow fresh produce for their family. Reinberg was helping out with the watering one day and happened to meet Urban Harvest Director Mary Ostafi and her husband Joe.
“They mentioned that they were happy to have the community garden going, but their ultimate goal was to establish a rooftop farm as a pilot to show the benefits of rooftop and urban agriculture and how it can work well in cities,” Reinberg said.
One of the big stumbling blocks for expansion for the non-profit has been finding available land for long-term lease. Most of the property downtown was either already in use by buildings or parking lots, or was very expensive.
Reinberg pointed to his nearby building and asked, “Would that work?”
From roof to garden
In fact, it did work. It took about four years of planning and extensive fundraising for it to get off the ground. But, Urban Harvest opened its Food Roof Farm on the roughly 9,000-square-foot roof of the storage facility this past summer.
Urban Harvest installed a green roof system on the entire roof of the self-storage facility. They are using part of the roof for rooftop soil farming. They also are using raised beds for a community garden, hydroponic towers, container gardening and a greenhouse.
Taking an unused space and transforming it into space that a community can use is a growing trend nationally, especially in urban centers where green space is in short supply. At the same time, property owners are increasingly recognizing the rooftop as an underutilized building amenity that can add value to a property. Building owners are converting those rooftops to community gardens, rooftop restaurants or other event space as a way to add value.
“Part of our purpose is to use this as a pilot and demonstration project and to learn from it and put together best practices so that we can scale up to be most efficient,” Ostafi said.
Farm with benefits
Wave Self Storage is cashing in on a number of benefits from its new tenant. Urban Harvest pays rent for its rooftop space at Wave Self Storage—close to $10,000 per year.
Another financial incentive is savings on utility costs created by added insulation. The “green roof” keeps the building cooler during the summer and warmer during the winter. The 17,000-square-foot-facility has 250 climate controlled storage units on three levels including the basement. The expectation is that the Food Roof Farm will generate utility savings of 20 to 30 percent during the summer and up to 40 percent during the winter, Reinberg said.
Adding the rooftop garden made further sense for Wave Self Storage because Urban Harvest paid to put a brand new roof on the building that would be able to accommodate the farm over the long-term.
Creating a green roof also has broader sustainability benefits for a community in that it helps to reduce the heat island effect, mitigate storm water run-off, increase biodiversity and clean the air, Ostafi said.
“Doing something good for the community and leveraging the market value of that for their business is another reason for building owners to get excited about putting rooftop farms on their buildings,” Ostafi said.
Making it work
Roof farms will not work in every situation.
The biggest determining factor is structural capacity to support the added weight of a rooftop farm or garden. It also is important to look at the quality of the roof. The roof needs to be sound in order to act as a waterproofing membrane and a root barrier for the plants. It also has to be a flat roof with good sun exposure, which is not always easy in cities where there are a lot of tall buildings.
One of the things that really made the Food Roof Farm work is the caliber of people behind the project, Reinberg said.
Ostafi has a background in architecture, and the group also did its homework. They visited other rooftop farms, such as the Brooklyn Grange Farm in New York, and talked with farmers to get an idea of what worked and what didn’t.
Urban Harvest is a very professional organization that has done a good job of keeping their operation clean and well maintained, Reinberg said. The positive publicity for the project has increased traffic to the storage facility.
“In fact, we have already gotten a few new tenants from that,” Reinberg said.