Grace Kim, Urban Rooftop Farming


grace-kimGrace Kim is a founding principal of Schemata Workshop and has been practicing architecture in Chicago and Seattle for more than 20 years. Grace is a consensus builder, helping her clients and project stakeholders envision how a completed project will be experienced. She is a compassionate listener and sensitive designer, paying attention to both the present and future needs of her clients. Grace is the author of The Survival Guide to Architectural Internship and Career Development, and in 2008, she was recipient of the National AIA Young Architect Award. For four years, Grace served on the board of the Cohousing Association of the US. She is also a founding member of Capitol Hill Urban Cohousing. Grace is currently a commissioner of the Seattle Planning Commission and serves on the board for the Capitol Hill Chamber of Commerce. Grace is frequently asked to present at national conferences on the topics of mentorship, Cohousing, and alternative housing models for seniors and those with disabilities.


Caryn Hartglass: Hello everybody! I’m Caryn Hartglass, and you’re listening to It’s All About Food, Part 2! Okay. Were you meditating during that little break? Why not? You know what I like to do sometimes? When you’re standing in a line somewhere, and it’s a really, really long, aggravating line. You have lots of things to do and lots of places to go, but the line’s not moving, you’re not moving, and whatever it is, you have to get it done so you have to stay in that line. You’ve been there. I know we’ve all been there. Well that is a great moment for a standing meditation. Once you get into it, it really shifts your whole awareness, perception, and I promise you, you will be feeling fabulous because all of a sudden you get into this calm. What is a silent meditation? You just stand straight, good posture, do some low deep breaths, smile to yourself, and just don’t react to everything around you. All of a sudden you’ve made a choice, and it’s a positive choice for yourself where you’re not buying into all of the craziness. It’s really powerful, and it can be a really wonderful, joyful thing. I recommend that the next time you are standing in some ridiculous line. Okay? Just remember, Caryn told you. Standing meditation. All right, that was a little tip. Now let’s move onto second guest today, we have Grace Kim. She’s the founding principal of Schemata Workshop and has been practicing architecture in Chicago and Seattle for more than twenty years. She is a consensus builder, helping her clients and project stakeholders envision how a completed project will be experienced. She is a compassionate listener and sensitive designer, paying attention to both the present and future needs of her clients. She is the author of The Survival Guide to Architectural Internship and Career Development, and in 2008 was a recipient of the National AIA Young Architect Award. She served for four years on the board of the Cohousing Association of the U.S., and we’re going to be talking a little bit about cohousing and urban rooftop farming. Thank you for joining me today, Grace!

Grace Kim: Hello!

Caryn: Hi. I know you’re busy, so let’s just get right to the point, okay? Now, I wanted to talk about this urban rooftop-planning project that’s going on with this cohousing group. Can you explain what cohousing is?

Grace: Sure. Cohousing is an intentional neighborhood where people know each other and have the desire to share different aspects of their lives together. Everybody has his or her own private home. Privacy is very much valued in the community. But outside of the private home there are shared amenities like a common dining room and kitchen, places for the kids to play, generally some outdoor space, guestrooms, and then larger communities will have larger facilities. The idea is that you can have all the privacy you need inside your home, and as soon as you step out your community is at your doorstep, waiting for you to engage.

Caryn: Now I’ve heard of intentional communities before, but what I was surprised to hear about is it happening in urban environments.

Grace: Our community is very much in an urban environment. We’re in Capitol Hill, which is a very urban neighborhood just to the east of the central business district in Seattle. I think we are the most dense neighborhood in Seattle. It’s quite a vibrant street life. There are lots of restaurants and bars and shops nearby, lots of coffee shops. Our Walk Score, I think, is 97 or 98. It’s a very urban setting. We are on a very small lot. Our lot is about 4,500 square feet, so one-tenth of an acre. That’s quite different than most cohousing in the U.S. The other projects tend to be more suburban. Even if they are considered urban, they are sort of in smaller cities or in the outskirts of some of the larger metropolitan areas, so they’re not quite as dense. They’re more in single-family neighborhoods of cities. So we are quite dense and quite urban, and I think that’s one of the exciting things that has drawn people to our community. We are only, because of our small urban site, nine families.

Caryn: Okay. I think that’s a little easier to control, in terms of consensus, when you have a small number of people.

Grace: Yes and no. Everyone still has his or her own opinions. But yeah, I think it’s easier to reach consensus when there is a smaller group of people, most certainly.

Caryn: Is there a theme with this group? Something that drew you all together that you wanted to— Some rules or some ethics or something that brought you all together?

Grace: I would say that our site is actually the biggest thing that brought us together. We do have a vision and a set of values that do kind of bind us together, but those were created afterwards as a group, after we first started the group. I would say that a big central theme to that vision is sustainability, and that’s not just from an environmental standpoint, but also kind of how we work as a social network and recognizing that we have a significant impact to our local economy and that the way that we’ve chosen to live also impacts us financially in a sustainable way. I would say that that’s kind of the big, underlying piece is sustainability, and I would say that’s true for a lot of cohousing communities. Many of them would say that they hold sustainability high in terms of their values.

Caryn: Okay, so you’ve got a fundraising project going on right now on and you want to build an urban rooftop farm. I want to know more about that, and the first thing that I’m curious about is that you’re calling it a farm and not a garden. What’s the difference?

Grace: The big distinction in our mind was gardening is sort of a pastime or a hobby kind of thing, or could be seen as that or also could imply something ornamental. We wanted to make a statement that, while we are a very small rooftop farm, our intention is to produce food year-round and that it’s a commercial venture for somebody. That somebody right now is the Seattle Urban Farm Company, who is a local company that helps businesses and individuals and developers build and maintain urban farms throughout the city of Seattle. They are a for-profit company; they’ve started doing work with developers doing rooftop gardens on multi-family projects. This one is a little bit different in that we are going to be contracting with them to maintain the farm, and then we have a local restaurant that is interested in buying our produce at least for the first couple of years. So that’s kind of the distinction. We wanted to distinguish that we are a production farm; we’re not having lots of different types of vegetables. I mean, we may over the course of time, but we wanted to make a statement that it was a productive farm with a business model around it.

Caryn: And how much area is there on this rooftop for farming?

Grace: So our site is 4,500 square feet, as I said before. We are using about a third of the rooftop, or the site area. Something over 1,500 square feet is the total area, including the walking surface. And then the beds are probably half of that. It’s not a lot of dirt that we’re talking about, but it is a significant amount and we will be closely monitoring and analyzing the amount of food that we’re producing in that first year to really have an understanding of what that will look like long-term as we continue to manage the farm.

Caryn: Right. So that’s great. Now, people that want to support your particular project can find it at It’s the Capital Hill Urban Housing Rooftop Farm.

Grace: Mm-hm. And if you can’t remember that, you can just Google Barnraiser rooftop farm, and you’ll be able to find us.

Caryn: So for people that are in the Seattle area, if they contribute, there are some nice gifts of produce and dinners with a local chef. For those that are curious in rooftop gardening, I think it’s just interesting to check this out and see what they’re doing. I’m just curious about it. I live in New York City – we have a lot of apartments, a lot of rooftops – and am wondering how to take advantage of that to farm. Do you have to do anything special to the roof in order to be safe in growing food?

Grace: Right, yep. So it’s helpful to start off with a new construction project knowing that you’re going to be building the farm because the weight of wet dirt is actually quite significant, and it’s not something that most buildings are designed to accommodate, especially older buildings. Looking at an older rooftop in New York, unless it’s a high-rise that has concrete construction or steel construction, it’s probably not likely that you can support the load of a rooftop farm. But it’s certainly possible to go back and retrofit. In our situation, we designed the rooftop not only for the farm on one side, but also for future photovoltaic panels so that we can generate our own energy. So the weight of those things are roughly comparable, and so both of our rooftop areas will be able to support that load. But that was designed in advance, and it comes at a cost as well as just the engineering fees. Our hope is that we will be a catalyst, not only for Seattle but for other cities, that they might recognize that you can start small and have a small rooftop and just build from there, because our interest is in having a food network in our neighborhood so that not just this one restaurant, but hopefully lots of restaurants and lots of people would be able to get fresh, organic, sustainable, regrown produce right in their neighborhood and not have to pay for the cost of transporting their food across the country or across the state or paying for the carbon emissions from fertilizers and other things like that that are typical with our food production today.

Caryn: I love it, and I really hope that you get this project funded. It’s already at $8,300 and you want $10,000 by August 21. So it looks like you’re well on your way.

Grace: Yeah, and $10,000 is our initial goal. We have two stretch goals that we are anticipating because the real cost of it is quite more. We’re trying to be realistic with the crowdsourcing strategy, to set a realistic goal we know we can achieve and then to do stretches because if we don’t meet our goal then we don’t get the money. So that’s kind of been our strategy. Even though we’re close to our goal, we’re hoping to max that goal out and push ourselves up a couple of stretch goals of $5,000 each.

Caryn: Right. Well this is really inspirational, and like you said, I hope this is really a model for others. We really need to take control of our food system and everyone, to some degree, needs to be growing food. Somewhere. Anywhere.

Grace: It’s important for our kids to know—

Caryn: I just love this concept. Not only will you be making food, but it’s beautiful.

Grace: Mm-hm. It’s also teaching our kids where food comes from, that it doesn’t come from cellophane bags and Styrofoam containers.

Caryn: Exactly. Children need to know where their food comes from, and they are more likely to want to eat healthy food when they are part of growing it.

Grace: Mm-hm.

Caryn: Yeah. Okay Grace, well thank you! Is there anything else you want to add about rooftop farm and cohousing?

Grace: I just want to add if anyone’s interested in learning more about the project, they can Google us, “Capitol Hill Cohousing.” That will take you to our website, where you can learn more about who we are and our vision and values. There’s a link to the Barnraiser from there. The Barnraiser has a great video, so please do check us out.

Caryn: Okay. I’ll also include a link on my website with this interview for anybody who wants to find out more. Great. Thanks for joining me on It’s All About Food and all the best!

Grace: Thank you, thank you so much.

Caryn: Okay. Take care. I am really fascinated by this. I live in a co-op building in Queens. We’re having a board meeting on Wednesday. I know the board would never go for something like this. But we’re in a very strong concrete building, and we even have some space on the ground floor that, oh my god, would be so great for a garden, but I don’t think anybody would ever go for it. But you know, maybe this is something to consider and if you are with some likeminded people and you have an opportunity to move into a space together and you want to grow food, this is a great project and a great concept and I hope more people do it. So there’s that.

Caryn: All right! Some really incredible things are happening. We had some breaking news yesterday. I don’t know if you heard about it, but I have to share it because it has to do with food. We’ve talked about the “ag-gag” many times on this program. I’ve had numerous people speaking to how dangerous it is. It’s basically a law that has been put into place; in I think it’s seven states now, which is anti-whistleblowing. So whistleblowing is when somebody inside an organization, either undercover or not, reports things that are illegal or problematic within a company. As you know, in factory farming, in animal feeding operations, in the growing of animals to feed people, many of these facilities, they’re completely closed-in factories and they don’t let anyone in and it’s impossible to know what’s going on. So there are some brave, brave people that do undercover investigation, and because of these ag-gag laws that are in place in a number of states, they specifically say that these investigations are illegal and there are significant penalties for those that are convicted of documenting animal cruelty or documenting life-threatening safety violations. It’s not just about documenting cruelty to non-human animals; it’s also about documenting violations against fellow humans. You’ll find that those that can easily cause violence to non-human animals will easily do it to humans as well. Well the good news – such good news – is that yesterday in Idaho, the ag-gag law was ruled unconstitutional. This is amazing, wonderful news. There were a number of groups that teamed up, including the Animal Legal Defense Fund and People for Ethical Treatment of Animals, the American Civil Liberties Union, and the Center for Food Safety. If you go to the Animal Legal Defense Fund website,, you can read the details about this amazing decision. Read the court declaration. I think it’s really good reading. I don’t know how, if you’ve ever read a declaration or a court’s ruling, but these documents are really fascinating. Rather than read an article that gives you the sound bites, you can actually get the whole piece of information about what happened, and this one is so important that reading the entire ruling is, I think, really useful. One of the things that I absolutely love about it was that the judge paid particular attention to, as Will Potter put it in his blog post, the impact of the ag-gag on journalism and newsgathering. He talked about the story of Upton Sinclair, the author of The Jungle. I don’t know if you’ve read that, it’s a great book. It talks about the meat packing plant in Chicago in the early twentieth century. It’s a fictional story; it’s a really depressing story. Upton Sinclair focused actually on the plight of immigrant labor. Humans. The plights of very poor humans. And although he talked about what was going on with the non-human animals, he wasn’t really focusing on the treatment of non-human animals. It was about the working conditions for people working in the stockyards. As a result of that fiction book and the research that he did, we had the passage of the Federal Meat Inspection Act and the Pure Food and Drug Act. But the judge noted that Upton Sinclair’s conduct back in the early twentieth century, today, would expose him as a criminal. Prosecution under this ag-gag ruling. This is so exciting, that it’s been struck down as unconstitutional and this is something to celebrate. Woo! Now onto Utah and some of the other states that have this ag-gag. I plan on bringing on one of the council members from the ADLF and talk about this more in detail. I’m sorry, the ALDF. The A-L-D-F, the Animal Legal Defense Fund! Don’t want to mix up those letters in the acronym. We’re going to be talking about it more in detail next week, because I think this has great ramifications. So stay tuned for that, okay?

Caryn: All right, we just have a few more minutes left. Something I wanted to talk about that bugs me. Have you heard about some of these food products that are coming out, these… I don’t know how to describe them, they’re kind of like drinks or shakes which free people from not only hunger but also from having to eat food. I’ve read a variety of different articles how these high-tech engineers in Silicon Valley, for example, they want to work at their computers all day and all night, and they don’t want to focus on eating. Some creative folks have come up—there’s a number of these different companies that are making these liquid meals: Schmoylent, Schmilk, People Chow, and the one I’m going to talk about today is Soylent. Have you heard about this? It’s crazy and I find it so depressing that there are these investors that would actually support a project like this. Soylent is now on their 2.0 version. They’ve had a 1.0 and a 1.5 and now they’re on a 2.0. Of course they’re making it sound like software upgrades, ‘cause that’s what they’re all about. It’s like they dialed in to hit all of the recommended daily allowances for a variety of nutrients so that you get a quarter of what you need in a serving of this drink and it’s supposed to have been crafted with the help of some medical doctor who has some background in nutrition. Well you read the ingredients in this thing and it’s a disaster. A disaster. Why is it a disaster? Because more and more evidence shows that if you want to eat healthfully and live a long, happy, quality life, you want to eat whole foods. Not processed foods. This Soylent liquid meal is all processed. The first ingredients on this list, the first ingredients are canola and sunflower oil powder. Sunflower oil. And then it goes on and on, it’s a disaster. And of course, they say on their website that this product is not organic and it is not GMO-free. They use GMO ingredients. I’m thinking, maybe there are some people that just don’t like eating and they just want to eat to live. Well, fine. But I think… I look for food to be my only enjoyment in life. There are plenty of things that I love to do: run, jump and play, breathe lovely air, feel the sun, et cetera, be with family and friends, hear music, there are so many wonderful things to do. But we need to eat. Why not make it enjoyable? That’s all part of life. This whole concept bugs me. Now the last thing that bugs me, if it doesn’t bug you, do you remember the movie, Soylent Green? They actually named this product after Soylent. And if you remember that movie, Soylent was people. It was during a time of overpopulation. It was a sci-fi film where they took people that were dying and dead and ground them up and fed them back to people in this nutritional drink called Soylent. Euh. Major euh. All right, that’s Soylent, now you know about it. Please. Don’t support it. If you like the idea, let me know about it. But the thing is, there’s all these nutrients listed here that they have, but the thing we know about whole foods, is that there are nutrients we have not discovered yet. There are nutrients we don’t know the name of, that we get when we eat the whole food, and when we isolate vitamins this way, we’re not getting what we need. There’s research that shows when we isolate vitamins like Vitamin A and Vitamin E and folic acid, for example, they don’t work the same as when they come with all kinds of other nutrients. It’s not healthy. In fact, it can be a negative result. It can promote disease, when we eat these isolated forms of nutrition rather than the whole food. A disaster.

Caryn: All right. I just have a minute left, and gosh, I wanted to talk about all the wonderful foods that I’ve been preparing this week. Please visit I have some wonderful delicious new recipes. A carrot bisque, which I’ve actually been enjoying eating cold since it’s so hot. It’s delicious, creamy, cool. Great hot or cold. So, so easy to make. And then I made this wonderful frozen treat. I call it Popeye’s Sweet Sensation. It’s one of these frozen soft-serves that I made with frozen spinach and blueberries and cocoa. And it’s delicious. Okay, thank you for joining me. I’m Caryn Hartglass. Send me some emails, will you, at, and please don’t drink Soylent. No, no, no, no, no. Have a delicious week. Bye-bye.

Transcribed by JC, 8/27/2015

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