A Hidden Gem at UGA: The Green Roof Garden

On a normal day in her position as the Urban Agriculture Intern with the Office of Sustainability, Emma Courson can be found harvesting food on the Green Roof Garden on top of the Geography-Geology building.

A rooftop and harvesting food might not seem to go together, but the Green Roof Garden is one of the University of Georgia’s hidden gems that many students may not know about.

Courson, however, is familiar with the quaint garden, because of her role with the Office of Sustainability. The green roof has been a part of the building since the 1960s, where it was first used as a temperature buffer for the climatology department.

Now the green roof has evolved into something more.

“About eight years ago we had some students and professors who saw the value in the space in that… the space could be used for growing food,” says Courson.

The food grown on the rooftop garden goes directly to Campus Kitchen at UGA.  Campus Kitchen is a hunger relief program at UGA. The food is used to help older adults and service agencies in Athens.

Not only is the roof used for harvesting food, it is also a Connect to Protect space through the State Botanical Garden.

The goal of the Connect to Protect program is to educate people about pollinators and create areas of food sources and natural habitats for pollinators throughout the state.  When pollinators are migrating, these spaces, like the one of the top of the building, are extremely important, because they provide a food source for the pollinators.

A monarch butterfly, one of the pollinators that benefit from the Connect to Protect program. Photo: Aladin 2017.

“Especially in Athens, in such an urban landscape, these Connect to Protect spaces are especially important,” says Courson.

Green roofs and roof top gardens aren’t just a phenomenon found here at UGA; they can be found all over the world.

A green roof or an eco-roof “is usually a flat or slightly inclined on which plants are grown in a thin layer of soil,” according to a periodical published at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, titled Green Roofs Become Increasingly Popular in the US and Europe.  Green roofs don’t necessarily have to produce food like the one at the University of Georgia, they can just be grass or plants.

According to the same periodical, Green Roofs are becoming more and more popular in urban areas.

Amy Trauger, an associate professor at the University of Georgia in the Department of Geography, researches sustainable and urban agriculture.

“I was recently in Cuba and there’s a food security crisis there.  They supplemented their food intake through rooftop gardens,” says Trauger.

Green roofs have many benefits, including the production of food.

Some of the other benefits of Green Roofs include storm water management, moderation of urban heat island effect, improved air quality, energy efficiency, and educational opportunities according to  Green Roofs for Healthy Cities.

“One of the highest costs for food production is the value of land, and when we have gardens on the roof, we [get rid of] that cost,” says Trauger.

Because of all the benefits, Courson is extremely passionate about green roofs.

“I think every building should have a green roof!” says Courson.

If you would like to get involved with the Green Roof Garden at UGA, you can volunteer or contact Courson for a tour.

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