Last week, we had the opportunity to join a group from Ground Up Chicago to tour the rooftop garden at Uncommon Ground’s location at Devon a few blocks west of Broadway. What a great evening for a garden tour! The air was cool, the sun was bright, and the ideas (and wine) were flowing.
Jen Rosenthal is the owner of Planted Chicago and Farm Director at Uncommon Ground. Rosenthal has a background in art, but fell in love with gardening so hard that she changed her life focus from art to gardening (some might argue gardening is just a different form of art) and wound up being the green thumb at Uncommon Ground.
What a cool job. Rosenthal helps the restaurant develop and maintain the gardens, and works with the chefs to grow the right crops, spending hours and hours pondering the felicity of the soil, the potential for the garden, and the spreadsheets that show how well the garden is doing for the restaurant. She also managed to get the rooftop garden at Uncommon Ground to be a Certified Organic garden (no small feat) and in what little spare time she has, works hard to bring tours of kids and chefs to the rooftop for a closer look and endless questions.
On this night, the rooftop was populated mostly by chefs and foodies who eyed the garden with a mixture of appreciation and envy. It’s early June and the lettuces are coming in, radishes are flourishing, and the baby bock choy is already bolting.
Much of the discussion focused on the technicalities of running a chef’s garden on a city rooftop. Soil mixtures, dealing with birds, finding enough bees (Uncommon Ground works with a beekeeper), when to plant, when to seed, when to say “no” to a crop for a multitude of reasons. We nibbled on greens, radishes, white bean dip with lemon and tarragon, and much more, while Rosenthal answered all the questions — ranging from technical questions about the garden to how she measures value in the PR the garden gets for the restaurant.
The rooftop chefs’ garden at Uncommon Ground is flourishing this year, and the restaurant is welcoming new crops each week as the season progresses. If you want to book a special party (small, but intimate and green) call Uncommon Ground and ask for rooftop seats. Or just show up any night and ask for what’s fresh today. You won’t be disappointed.
Want to see more fantastic images of the garden? Check out Ground Up Chicago’s Facebook album.