07/07/2010 05:44 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Uncommon Ground Rooftop Farm Report: God Bless America

Historically speaking, most Americans have either farmed or gardened, and while maybe it's not as common as it once was, the last several years has seen a renewed interest in productive growing. Not only has there been a proliferation of home and community gardens (a friend's recent attempt to get a plot on Chicago's north side yielded nothing but a harvest of waiting lists), but Chicagoans have become more and more ingenious in what, how and where they grow. Places we once thought were inappropriate for growing -- rooftops, parking lots, old warehouses -- are now being used for production recently thought inappropriate for cities -- bees, chickens, aquaponics.

In my eyes, self-reliance and growing food are deeply intertwined. We grow, not only to have access to fresh vegetables, but to have access to our vegetables, vegetables that we know about. If we grew them, we know what went into and on them, what fertilizers and pest controls were used, when they were picked and how long they've been in storage. And gardeners are glad to know that. Homegrown tomatoes come with wonderful flavor, but they also come with peace of mind. During the World Wars, when America had to be particularly independent, the government encouraged home growing in the so-called war and victory gardens. One statistic I read says that at its peak, 40% of America's produce was coming from these gardens. And today's growers, like so many Americans before us, prefer to do things for ourselves. Hey, grocery store, bug off. We got this one.

At Uncommon Ground, our contribution to this movement, our rooftop farm, is having a resurgence of its own. Followers of this blog (shockingly, I've been told that there are some) will remember a few weeks back that we were facing some significant fertility issues. Kale and parsley were particularly stunted and showed purple exterior leaves. Soil tests revealed a few mineral deficiencies and we swung into action with some soil amendments. We've started adding a pelletized amendment called Pre-Plant Plus as well as doing foliar feeding with fish and kelp meal. While we'd prefer a more permanent solution to what we're perceiving as mineral leaching, the plants seem to be responding to our amendment regime. Almost all the plants in our beds are becoming full and lush. Earlier today we harvested both the kale and parsley for our kitchen.

I can't tell you what a relief it is seeing the garden bounce back from what could have been a dismal season. Not to count my tomatoes before they ripen, even pulling in the several pounds of kale felt like a real victory. And the timing was opportune: last Monday, Uncommon Ground's all-staff meeting was held on the rooftop, and I introduced the whole staff to what was going on this year. Several people took me aside to tell me how good it looked. I admit I was proud. I was proud of the land, our little portion, and what it could produce for our restaurant independent of refrigerated trucks, distributors, packaging, and marketing. If veggies are a sign of the American spirit, I'm the staunchest of patriots.