Moving dirt up high pays off for all flavor of business

By Rhonda J. Miller
PBN Staff Writer

When this ole’ world seems too full of concrete and traffic, some Rhode Island businesses are taking to the roof for green space ambiance for lunch, for insulation to help cut energy costs in half and for growing vegetables for a downtown restaurant that spotlights locally sourced culinary creations. More

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Moving dirt up high pays off for all flavor of business

PBN PHOTO/BRIAN MCDONALD
FROM THE GROUND, UP: Matthew Varga, executive chef at Gracie’s, tends to the restaurant’s rooftop garden on the nearby Peerless Lofts building.

By Rhonda J. Miller
PBN Staff Writer

Posted 7/22/13

When this ole’ world seems too full of concrete and traffic, some Rhode Island businesses are taking to the roof for green space ambiance for lunch, for insulation to help cut energy costs in half and for growing vegetables for a downtown restaurant that spotlights locally sourced culinary creations.

“We grow Johnny-jump-up, also known as viola. They make amazingly beautiful garnishes. It’s like a small pansy with purple, yellow and white,” said Matthew Varga, executive chef at Gracie’s in Providence. “Nasturtium adds a nice, peppery bite to salad and beautiful colors.”

Varga is also a passionate urban farmer for the restaurant’s vegetable garden on the rooftop of Westminster Lofts’ Peerless Building, conveniently near Gracie’s. That’s the way it was planned – garden-to-table, as fresh as the 3 p.m. harvesting to the 5 p.m. opening for dinner.

“It’s fresh as fresh can be. The various herbs – thyme, rosemary, lavender – they’re all picked the day they’re used and the flavors are so intense,” said Varga.

In the Ocean State, a listing of green roof projects on the University of Rhode Island’s stormwater solutions website include a health care corporation, small businesses, schools, a luxury hotel and nonprofits.

For Gracie’s, the investment in the 1000-square-foot, trapezoid-shaped rooftop garden, and the daily labor by Varga and others on the staff, pays off.

“Edible flowers and herbs alone can be very expensive. You can pay up to $25 a tray,” said Varga. “I probably pull twice that much out of the garden on a daily basis.”

Gracie’s sends out garden-fresh social media messages.

“We stay up-to-date on Facebook on what’s coming out of the garden,” said Varga. “If we have something growing in the garden, we’ll write a menu item that features it.”

“Cabbage, bok choy, broccoli, cauliflower, eggplant, summer squash, winter squash, tomatoes – 18 varieties of tomatoes,” said Varga. “Chard, collard greens, kale, about six kinds of lettuce, at least.”

The rewards carry over to increasing the attraction of leasing and living in the Peerless Building, said Westminster Lofts Property Manager Lindsey Hahn.

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