City Roots

christian widell (unsplash)
Columbia, SC

City Roots, Columbia, SC’s first and only urban sustainable farm, is located on a three-acre urban site in the Rosewood neighborhood.  We grow approximately 75 varieties of fruits and vegetables, keep bees not only for honey but for pollination, and raise chickens not only for eggs but for the fertility they add to our soil.

We do extensive crop rotations and cover cropping for soil fertility and pest management. We have a large-scale composting operation which we use to amend our soil and by doing so have diverted 225 tons of material destined for the land fill into rich, fertile soil. We create worm casting and worm tea via vermicomposting to use as a fertilizer.

We produce microgreens year-round, and operate an aquaponic system which is the combination of aquaculture, the production of commercial fish (tilapia), and hydroponics, the growing of plants in a water medium that mimics a stream and pond ecosystem.  We operate our farm in a holistic fashion with each part playing an integral role in the overall system, and we follow the organic guidelines throughout our operation.

City Roots was founded by retired architect Robbie McClam and his son Eric McClam in 2009.  Our main building was designed to meet a Platinum LEED certification utilizing minimum materials, energy and ground space, while providing a beautiful facility for processing, cold storage and retail sales.  With an open plan and a tall ventilated clerestory running through the main axis no air conditioning is required (or provided) and the abundance of natural light all but eliminates the need for artificial lighting.  The building is used not only for farming but after hours it is used by us and others for Harvest Dinners, community meetings, and as a special rental venue for events.

Our greenhouses were recycled from their original use for growing tobacco seedlings.  We like to point out the irony of their evolution from growing a toxic product to now growing some of the most nutritious and beautiful raw vegetables available.  The greenhouses are solar heated and the first one uses its 3000 gallon tilapia fish tank as a latent heat sink to keep the greenhouse warm even on the coldest of nights.

In our brief 3 years in existence and on only 3 acres, we have had over 12,000 volunteer hours, 3,000 students on tours, 3,500 self guided tours, 10,000 event attendees, 100 CSA members, 440 volunteers, 22 interns, and employ five people -- all on three acres.   We have been in numerous TV spots, radio, print publications and periodicals and have won the following awards: the 2010 International Downtown Association Pinnacle Award, the 2010 Columbia Choice Award, the 2010/2011 Free Times Best of Columbia – Best New Green Business, and the 2010 Farm City Award – Richland County. 

We sell our products on site, at local farmers markets and through our year-round CSA.  We use our fuel-efficient Toyota Prius to make deliveries at several health food retail grocery stores, numerous restaurants here in Columbia, as well as in Charleston. 

We are excited to be a finalist in Green America’s new People & Planet Awards program.  Should we be fortunate enough to win, the $5,000 award would go a long way to help fund several of our other green initiatives including solar panels to power our “grow lights” in our aquaponic system, a front-end crimper and precision seeder that will allow us to migrate to a no-till farming system that will improve efficiency and save on tractor fuel by 70 percent, as well as reduce water demand for our plants and a rainwater containment system to improve our efficient use of water.