Sky High: Farming On Top of the Town

By Kris Woll

The sky isn’t the limit for Dayna Burtness’s new venture: It’s the setting.      

Burtness recently founded Sky High Harvest, a for-profit business aiming to create, right here in Minneapolis, the first large-scale agricultural green roof west of the Hudson River.

Burtness’s initiative is rooted in the conviction that food should be grown close to where it is consumed, even in an urban core, and that such initiatives are good for people, for business, and for the planet.  

“Cities are for people,” explained Burtness. “I’m a big supporter of urban density, and rooftop farming allows for development—of condos, new restaurants, stores—and then on top of that development you can have rooftop farms.”
Other large-scale agricultural green roofs currently exist in New York City, and smaller roofs—featuring raised beds, or more of a rooftop garden model—exist in Chicago, Milwaukee, and Richfield, Minnesota. These projects have provided structural and logistical models for Sky High Harvest.

Burtness’s current work focuses on finding a site for the farm. “Right now I’m taking tours of every single rooftop I possibly can in the hope of finding the first site,” she explained. “I’m establishing a pilot to show people this is neat and successful and possible. In the long term, I want to establish a network of rooftop farms in Minneapolis and St. Paul to really have an impact on local food supply.”  

Burtness sees her niche not just as providing access to locally sourced food in the city, but also as providing the job opportunities in a growing green economy. “In ten years, I’d like to have ten rooftop farms in both Minneapolis and St. Paul. I would like to employ a lot of people as part-time and even some full-time urban farmers.”

Sky High Harvest got a recent boost when it was awarded a $6,000 grant from MinneSpark. The money—$2,000 cash and $4,000 in services—has assisted in business-building efforts including filing the paperwork necessary for becoming an LCC, as well as creating a website and designing a logo. And support for the project has come in other ways as well.

“People are already signing up to volunteer,” Burtness explained. “I get e-mails every day from people who want to know more or send suggestions for roofs.”

And demand for her still-unplanted produce is growing.

“I’ve had lots of interest from core area restaurants, which will keep 100% of my product within a five-mile radius of where it is grown.” Burtness’s efforts blend her agricultural heritage—her family history leads back to farms in southeastern Minnesota—with her metro upbringing—she grew up in the suburbs of the Twin Cities, the first generation in her family to be raised off the farm.

“My dad says that he worked so hard to get off the farm and here his daughter is working so hard to get back,” she laughed.  

Of course, she’s not really trying to get back on the farm—she is working to get the farm here, right on the top of the city she calls home.

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