Students harvesting herbs on the University Crossing Rooftop Garden.
Students harvesting herbs on the University Crossing Rooftop Garden.

Thanks to a collaboration between UMass Lowell and Lowell-based urban farming nonprofit Mill City Grows, there is a rooftop garden outside the windows of the busy second-floor landing in University Crossing overlooking Salem Street. The garden primarily produces herbs. The Office of Sustainability and Mill City Grows designed the 500-square-foot space in 2019. The modular garden consists of about 200 plants growing in individual milk crates filled with nutrient-rich compost, generated from food waste from the university’s dining halls. Learn more by reading the article: Rooftop Garden Takes Urban Agriculture to Another Level.

In 2021, the Office of Sustainability installed a second rooftop garden featuring about 500 growing containers for herbs, vegetables and flowers covering the 2,300-square-foot mezzanine roof at O’Leary Library on South Campus. Learn more by reading this Boston Globe article: On UMass Lowell Roof, a Garden Grows.

Student Research & Community Collaboration

In collaboration with Mechanical Engineering Associate Professor Juan Pablo Trelles and Electrical Engineering Associate Professor Cordula Schmid, UMass Lowell students, Sam Alpert, Bernard Tabu and Visal Veng have created a revolutionary, new and more efficient type of fertilizer. The research team began refining the fertilizer system at UMass Lowell’s O’Leary Library Green Roof during the summers of 2022 and 2023. The technology uses solar power to produce fertilizer on-demand and onsite, while also being a modular mode of production that does not emit greenhouse gases. Read more in the UMass Lowell Press Release: Fertilizer Innovation Aims to Reduce Carbon Footprint.

Craic Sauce, is a Lowell-based company that seeks to produce quality, locally produced hot sauces. During the summer of 2023 the O’Leary Library Green Roof was planted with Hungarian hot wax peppers, cayenne peppers and Fresno chilis that the company used to collaborate with the university on a dual branded sauce.

What Is a Rooftop Garden?

Derived from the broader concept of Green Roofs, Rooftop Gardens are a specialized and innovative way to combat the lack of green spaces in urban areas, while also providing locally grown produce. In collaboration with several UMass Lowell student groups, local non-profits and local businesses, these Rooftop Gardens serve as a functional and picturesque way to combat climate change and inspire campus-wide action for environmental sustainability. Our Rooftop Gardens use a circular system in which compost made from food scraps is taken from the several dining halls located throughout campus, to grow produce that will then be used in the dining hall meals. This process provides a system that allows students and faculty alike to enjoy their food in a way that repurposes food waste, uses locally grown food and supports local non-profits and businesses.

  • Repurposing Food Waste
    Using compost from the several dining halls throughout campus, our Rooftop Gardens ensure that food waste on-campus is reduced to a minimum and ensures the food grown on campus is of a higher quality.  
    Stormwater Runoff

    Vegetation and green spaces are one of the best natural defenses against flooding because of their propensity to absorb rainfall. However, as urban areas become denser and more popular places to live and work, local vegetation and green spaces have become an afterthought. With Rooftop Gardens, we can utilize spaces used for housing, education, and work, to prevent flooding, while using less land.  

    Combats the Urban Island Heating Effect

    As urban areas become denser and more popular places to live and work, local vegetation and green spaces have been increasingly perceived as blocking new developments. These dense placements of buildings and streets create large swaths of land that absorb and retain heat, thus making urban areas much hotter than rural areas. Rooftop Gardens provide a solution to efficiently use unused spaces where vegetation can provide shade and release excess water into the air, through a process called transpiration.  

    Provides Habitats for Wildlife

    As human development increasingly pushes green spaces and wildlife away from their natural habitats, Rooftop Gardens have become a sustainable way to provide vegetation for birds and other pollinators alike to seek shelter, find food, and become incorporated into the process of providing locally grown produce.  

    Sequesters Carbon

    As the fight against climate change increasingly revolves around the human production of carbon dioxide, society has become increasingly involved in reducing the production of carbon dioxide. However, what if there were a cheap, environmentally sustainable, and efficient way to reduce the carbon dioxide that has already been put into the atmosphere? The good news is that plants have always done this! Rooftop Gardens provide new spaces to capture and store carbon dioxide, while also growing delicious, locally grown produce.