Video: Stonewall Jackson Elementary Students Plant for Winter on the Breaking Ground Green Roof

January proved to be a perfect month for harvesting and planting on the Breaking Ground green roof. Our temperatures have been mild and the

Picking collard greens on the BGGR

weather has been gorgeous! We would certainly love a little more rain, but we’ve been happy to have enough to keep things growing. We introduced some young students from Stonewall Jackson Elementary School to our roof and gave them an opportunity to experience planting and harvesting in a most unlikely place, on a roof right in the center of the urban core. I was honored to be joined by three smart, amazing young ladies who had no idea what great farmers they are!

When my friends arrived at Breaking Ground Contracting, I’m not sure they knew what to expect and the looks on their faces when they saw a garden growing on top of a roof was absolutely priceless. They immediately wanted to know what we were going to do, to which I responded, “We’re going to get our hands dirty!” Without shovels (we’re only working in 3-4 inches of soil) or gloves, the girls hesitated at first, but soon realized that getting our hands and nails dirty is actually

Harvesting greens on the BGGR

pretty fun! Together we planted starter plants of broccoli, lettuce and chard, three of each plant for each girl. The starter plants were grown by Eli Bajalia and Valerie Herrmann, a local Jacksonville couple that has the most amazing permaculture yard filled with tropical trees and plants as well as a tremendous variety of vegetables…and an amazing worm (vermiculture) composting system.

After planting, my friends had an opportunity to harvest some of the lush collard and mustard green leaves that have been growing for the past two months as well as some herbs that have been on the roof since its beginning. We even posted a collard green and potato soup recipe at the end of this post! I think the girls  were surprised to see that we could grow something edible in such a “strange” place. We talked a lot about why this isn’t done more often and they started looking around at the tops of other buildings and asking why we aren’t growing food up there! I explained to my friends that part of it is just that this isn’t how it has been done in the past and that we need to show people how to do it more often now. This is exactly why Breaking Ground Contracting uses our roof as a teaching tool, to show how it can be done

Ready-to-eat greens on the BGGR

by others.  If we can grow this much food on our little roof, imagine what the big box stores of the world could do!

As the girls visited today, we were filming our January video for the Breaking Ground green roof. You can see them planting in the background as we discuss the importance of projects such as this. We believe that educating the next generation is imperative, andwe believe that allowing them to actually experience this through dirty hands, picking vegetables (and then taking them home to cook them!) and walking amongst the vegetation will provide the experiential knowledge they need to “get it.”  Today, three more students know about urban agriculture and vegetated roofs than yesterday. Will one of them end up being the architect who designs a green roof, the horticulturist who plans green roofs or the maintenance person who manages a green roof? One never knows, but knowing that we are providing the opportunity for experiences, learning about innovative and sustainable design  and the connections to nature and food is imperative to the change of mind set from traditional practices to new, valuable and environmentally sound practices.

Take a moment to view our January video. Look at the happiness in these students’ faces as they delve into something new, different and natural. In Richard Louv’s book, Last Child in the Woods, he discusses in detail the child/nature connection and the impact is has on learning, self-esteem and overall well-being. At Breaking Ground Contracting, our roof is providing that connection to nature, and we are so happy to be a part of the process. See our recipe below for a yummy, cold-weather soup and enjoy the video!


Yields 8 servings


4 tablespoons olive oil

2 cups chopped onions

2 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled, cut into 1-inch pieces

8 cups (or more) water

1/2 teaspoon dried crushed red pepper

4 garlic cloves, minced

1 bunch mustard greens (about 12 ounces), stems trimmed, leaves coarsely chopped

1 10-ounce package fresh spinach, stems trimmed (Or use 2 pounds fresh)

Sour cream (optional)


Heat 2 tablespoons oil in heavy large pot over medium heat. Add onions and sauté until tender and golden, about 8 minutes. Add potatoes; sauté 3 minutes. Add 8 cups water and crushed red pepper. Bring to boil. Reduce heat. Simmer until potatoes are tender, about 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat remaining 2 tablespoons oil in another heavy large pot over medium heat. Add garlic; sauté until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add mustard greens and all but 1 cup spinach leaves; sauté until wilted, about 3 minutes.

Add sautéed greens to potato mixture. Working in batches, purée soup in blender until smooth. (Can be prepared 1 day ahead. Cool. Cover and refrigerate.) Return soup to pot. Bring to simmer, thinning with more water, if desired. Season soup to taste with salt and pepper.

Cut remaining 1 cup spinach leaves into 1/3-inch-wide slices. Ladle soup into bowls. Add dollop of sour cream to each bowl. Garnish soup with sliced spinach leaves and serve.


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