Godsil. You recently won a couple of awards for excellence in historic restoration artisanship. And now the word is out that you have invested considerable time, money, and energy on a “family farm” on top of a commercial building. Why are you doing this?
What is it you hope to accomplish?
Lindberg. You flatter me by mentioning the awards. They are the city of Milwaukee’s “Cream of the Cream City” awards for historic preservation. The awards actually go to the homeowners, as they are considered the stewards of their property, which (because they are, in the end, just passing through) ultimately belong to us all. The difficult part is getting homeowners to invest the time and money to restore their homes properly. After that, my part is fairly easy.
The idea for the “family farm,” which I also like to call my “Victory Garden” has all sorts of sources, the two primary ones being Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, which I read about a year ago, and the work Will Allen has done at “Growing Power.” Kingsolver’s book is a gripping combination of grave warnings about the impact of our current eating and growing habits, and of joyous inspiration about what we can individually do as an alternative. Of particular impact on me was her discussion of the great amounts of fossil fuels imbedded in our food, largely from its shipping, but also from its means of production. I read Kingsolver against the background of what Will has shown possible in both an urban setting and in limited space. When I acquired the building that houses my company, the idea of putting the roof to good use had already had a full term gestation from these sources. I also have a very good friend (wink-wink) who has been a constant source of enthusiasm, inspiration, as well as countless connections with other like-minded people.
This sort of environmentalism is certainly “in the air.” The victory garden is one of countless reactions to what is becoming the obviously perilous state of our planet. We have to change how we do just about everything, and we’re collectively finally realizing this and trying to do something about it. The sad thing, though, is that both the warnings and the technologies have been available to us for at least 30 years, but only recently has the movement gained (or begun to gain) necessary momentum. We shouldn’t spend too much time bemoaning the trendy nature of this sort of thing, but it should curtail most of our self-congratulatory impulses. Although this is a time, for me, of great excitement, I really need to just put my head down and do the work. My wife, Liana, who is also my partner in this project, helps me do this, as she has a great appreciation of the particular beauty and wonder of a plant, when gazed at from a few inches away. This alone can be sufficient motivation.
I’m not sure what I can accomplish through this project, as I don’t know how well my process and procedures will fare. At the very least, we should be able to grow enough vegetables to supply us throughout the summer, and hopefully into the autumn and the winter. If we can achieve really good production, sharing and even selling our produce could be a possibility. But it is too experimental at this point to make any plans like that.
More generally, though, when you stand on the roof of my building, there are within view about 30 flat roofs, all of which are just sitting there, collecting heat and allowing a highly concentrated run-off after rain and snow. My larger goal is to see more business owners or their employees throughout the city install and nurture their own roof-top victory gardens. In the history of our species, many cultures (maybe most) have made use of nearly every resource at their disposal, including all available space. The idea of massive amounts of waste is relatively new and unsustainable. By necessity, I think our culture may have to rediscover this mindset, and I’d like to show how easy it is to use a roof for more than one purpose.