Rooftop gardening coming to Hamilton

Hamilton Urban Gardens Systems (HUGS) is working with the city to build a community garden on the top floor of the George McDulin Parking Garage, tentatively to open by mid-May.

Alfred Hall, co-founder of HUGS, said the project has been three years in the making.

“I used to drive up (Martin Luther King Boulevard) to New Miami … and I’d see that building and I kept thinking that would be a great place for a rooftop garden,” Hall said.

Plans for the garage roof include: 20 raised 4-foot-by-4-foot boxes for various fruits, vegetables, and herbs; 16 5-gallon buckets with a rain-gutter system for growing tomatoes; and 30 boxes of plants hanging off a “living wall.” So far, five residents in the Mercantile Lofts have signed up to garden on the roof.

“It will truly be a community garden, where the people downtown can come (and grow), where there really is no place to grow,” Hall said.

HUGS will sell some of the produce grown on the rooftop garden at the upcoming RiversEdge concert farmer's market and at the Saturday farmer's market around the Historic Courthouse.

According to a user agreement with the city, use by HUGS of the top floor of the garage will be free of charge after submission of a written proposal with a floor layout, a $1 million liability insurance acquisition, a $500 deposit, and established rules for water use, maintenance, and responsibility of personnel.

Hall anticipates that HUGS will start developing the garden in the first week of May, after the requirements of the user agreement with the city have been filled and the agreement is signed.

The garden became feasible after the city closed the top floor of the garage for parking purposes, according to Hamilton Public Works Director Richard Engle.

"The top floor (had) the cheapest rates, and we didn't want to reduce the capacity of people to park there at a reduced rate," he said. After the city reduced parking rates last year, people started parking on the third and fourth floors, leaving the top floor ready for a new project, he said.

HUGS received $1,250 from Miami University of Hamilton to help start the garden, and US Bank has pledged a $500 sponsorship.

Hall anticipates charging $25 for a box and $5 for a tomato bucket, both of which will come ready to plant. Hall and HUGS co-founder Patty Burbacher both hope the entire roof eventually will be used for a garden, the likes of which are already popular in major cities like New York City and Seattle.

“When we first did this (tried to make a rooftop garden), there was minimal interest in buying local produce,” said Burbacher, who started HUGS with Hall as her 401(c)3 project as a graduate at Butler Tech for her Bachelor’s Degree in Integrative Studies three years ago. “But people have really come around these last three years.”

Cindy Dingeldein, co-owner of the Community Design Alliance architectural firm at 236 High St. with her husband, Mike, plans on buying a plot for their office’s use.

“We are in the office more often than not these days, so we have a better chance of maintaining a garden at work than at home,” Dingeldein said. She envisions planting lettuce, tomatoes and herbs for summer lunches and dinners at the office.

The addition of a rooftop garden is keeping with the city’s green ambitions, Hall said.

“The space is just there; there’s no reason not to use it for all kinds of things,” he said.

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