An ‘uncommon’ farm blooms on restaurant’s rooftop

There’s a pervasive perception that water and energy conservation don’t pay – that you sometimes spend more to use less.  However, more and more businesses are discovering that going green and blue are good for the cash register and the environment.

“I won’t do a green thing here unless I feel it will benefit my business,” said Uncommon Ground owner Helen Cameron. “I am not doing green just to be green; I am doing green to run a business.”

Green is a theme at both of Uncommon Ground’s two Chicago locations, which serve some 25,000 customers each month. For instance, wood for the tables at the Devon location, located in Edgewater near Loyola University’s main campus, came from downed trees in Jackson Park. Scraps leftover from that process became the restaurant’s host stand, fireplace and doors.

Chicago has worked hard to develop a reputation as the city with green roofs, and, in 2008 the restaurant added a new notch to Chicago’s green belt, making the city home to the nation’s first certified organic rooftop farm. The garden grows tomatoes, peppers, peas, beans, parsley, mint and basil, among other edible produce, herbs and flowers – and all of the harvest is put to good use in Uncommon Ground’s kitchens.

The rooftop garden employs numerous water-saving techniques, including earth boxes, solar/thermal heated water, and rain barrels. Drip irrigation, timed watering, and water monitoring significantly reduce the amount of water used to keep the plants growing. These water savings result in energy and cost savings too; and by harvesting rain to use later for irrigation, the restaurant is doing its part to reduce stormwater runoff. 

Uncommon Ground’s organic farm and sustainable operations aren’t just environmentally friendly – they are a smart business decision. “I won’t do a green thing here unless I feel it will benefit my business,” said owner Helen Cameron. “I am not doing green just to be green; I am doing green to run a business.” For instance, Cameron said, “Generally when the sun is shining, I am not paying to heat my water,” thanks to the solar water heater.

The restaurant also makes purchasing and operations decisions that indirectly lead to water and energy conservation. Because locally grown produce – including what’s grown on the rooftop – drives the menu, Uncommon Ground’s dishes “can be measured in food steps instead of food miles,” said Cameron. The garden and other practices keep the building cool, curbing the restaurant’s energy consumption, and since energy production requires lots of water (and vice versa), this is a win-win for Mother Nature and Uncommon Ground’s bottom line.

Indeed, customers have reacted positively to Uncommon Ground’s green innovations. “New customers seek us out, and we are starting to get international recognition for what we are doing,” said Cameron.

WOWW factors

$100 million in energy savings

If all buildings in Chicago had green roofs, the total energy savings would be monumental.

6 to 10-degree heat island effect

Large cities are much hotter than they should be naturally – the heat absorption from our buildings causes much of this temperature increase.

25 to 50% savings 

Your heating and cooling costs could be greatly reduced with the installation of a green roof.

Conservation tips

Support businesses such as Uncommon Ground that have adopted green and “blue” practices to conserve resources, including water.
Install a green roof on your home, garage or business. Check our “tips” section for great green roof resources.
Encourage your leaders to support green roofs by offering municipal and state incentives and leading by example.

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2 Responses to An ‘uncommon’ farm blooms on restaurant’s rooftop

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