Belated Happy Earth Day, All! Here’s a little thinking outside the box… Upside Down Kingdom is sponsoring a straw bale this summer! Söntés Restaurant in Rochester, Minnesota, where I work, write, and because my office is there, essentially live, is creating a rooftop garden this year.

A rooftop garden means that the Chef can literally pick fresh produce and serve it immediately. The Söntés summer menu will be created around the herbs and veggies that they grow. This coincides precisely with Söntés’ From Farm to Table motto. logoThey’ve talked about doing their own rooftop garden for years, and this year they’re marching forward with intrepidation.

Some of the challenges a rooftop garden presents have been eradicated with the Straw Bale Gardening technique, honed by Joel Karsten and overseen by Daniel Heublein and Söntés staff member Bekah. Söntés is the first in the nation to attempt the Straw Bale Garden on a rooftop—the results of which could be boundless for urban gardening. They plan to reduce water runoff from the building in order to irrigate the garden, and to use food waste as compost. At the end of the season, area farmers have already offered to take the straw bales to use for their fields. Recycling, Söntés style!

The Straw Bale Gardening technique is a really interesting concept. Essentially, straw bales are placed onto the roof, and plants are plugged into the bales allowing for a nearly dirt-free and thus weed-free garden. Here in Minnesota, the roof is already structurally sound enough to hold the weight of snow (actual analysis was done by a structural engineer to ensure the building’s health), so adding the straw bales won’t require structural upgrades to the century-old Söntés building.

Söntés will need to build the irrigation system, pay the structural engineer, and provide shade cloth and the bales, which is where Upside Down Kingdom comes in. skyline[1]Söntés is looking for donations to help cover these start-up costs, and is offering the public a chance to sponsor a straw bale or to write their company name on the shade cloth. As the restaurant is downtown, the rooftop garden will be visible from multiple hotels, parking ramps, and even from the Mayo Clinic.

Upside Down Kingdom will be named on my bale, and though it may not be visible to the public under the shade cloth, Söntés will feature whatever my bale grows as a UDK herb or veggie on its summer menu and Facebook page. I’m drawn to this not just because Söntés lets me keep a shelf of UDK books for sale in the restaurant, but because it’s different, it’s green, and it’s innovative. No one has attempted a project quite like this… Yet!

I’ll keep you posted and bring you updates about how little UDK Bale is doing throughout the summer!

For more information about this urban garden project, or to donate (donations start at $10!), check out this link: Söntés Uprooted.

The rooftop garden schematic was done by 9.Square architect Adam Ferrari.

Jody Brown is the author of Upside Down Kingdom, available on Amazon.

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