Future Farmers of the Mall


Adaptive reuse of shopping mall as a farmQuick, name three things in your local mall. Did you say "farm"? Probably not.

Perhaps you envisioned listless teenagers, stale pretzels or exercise-minded senior citizens - you would not be alone in listing these ho-hum responses. The country is littered with disinterest in dead malls. But don't dismiss the shopping temples of yesterday too quickly. Shopping malls may be on the brink of major reinvention and adaptive reuse...as farms.

The Galleria Mall in Cleveland, Ohio is leading the way by growing organic food for mall patrons and local restaurants.

Future Farmers of America? Meet, Future Farmers of the Mall.
The mall has transformed the lost retail space within its glass-top confines into a gigantic, organic-food greenhouse. The idea sprouted when the mall's marketing and events coordinator Vicky Poole teamed up with Jack Hamilton, a business owner in the Galleria. Together they began operating Gardens Under Glass, a hydroponic garden in the Galleria at Erieview in downtown Cleveland. The project is funded by a $30,000 start-up grant from the Civic Innovation Lab.

Gardens Under Glass at the Galleria will start with lettuce, spinach, peas, tomatoes, and herbs, and, if successful, add fruits, more vegetables and edible flowers. Food will be raised hydroponically, aquaponically and in organic soils through a combination of raised beds, vines and vertical structural supports. The plan also includes composting and using nutrient-rich waste from aquariums to nourish the plants.

The duo hopes that the project will be a model for sustainable farming, while bringing additional visitors or curious onlookers to the mall's stores.

If successful and implemented at the mall on a larger scale, Gardens Under Glass could help extend Ohio's short growing season and increase the amount of food dollars spent locally. It could also serve as a case study for communities struggling to figure out productive uses for otherwise underutilized or abandoned shopping malls.

The adaptive reuse of the space is not without obstacles. For example, even though the glass ceiling provides ample light and the interior location significantly reduces possible pests, the mall was not built to be insulated and heated like a typical greenhouse. So, hardy crops need to be selected. Another challenge -- and opportunity -- is finding people to tend the mall's gardens. For now, the workers will be volunteers, but one can easily imagine a future where farmers are hired to work inside the mall.

It's predicted that shopping malls and other "single use" structures will slowly disappear over the next thirty years. That could be the extreme pressure required for positive reinvention.

Cleveland, we're watching you grow.

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