Belvedere College is in one of the most urban locations in Ireland but that hasn't stopped the boys' school from starting a farm on its rooftop. The Dublin secondary school, a stone's throw from O'Connell Street, is growing potatoes and a selection of vegetables, farming fish and keeping beehives. There are plans for chickens too, according to teacher Simon O'Donnell, who is Belvedere Farm's project co-ordinator.
He points to 180 varieties of heritage and heirloom potatoes, which are growing in water cooler bottles on one rooftop for the Boxty House restaurant in Temple Bar.
Its owner Pádraic Óg Gallagher had been involved with urban farm promoter Andrew Douglas in growing potatoes on the roof of the Chocolate Factory not far from the school. When that project ended, they took their potato plan to Belvedere College. "We believe it has huge potential," says Mr Gallagher.
Wheatgrass, micro greens, tomatoes, herbs and edible flowers are among the plants being grown in the GrowLab which leads on to another rooftop.
The team has set up an aquaponic system where goldfish waste is pumped on to a grow bed as fertiliser for plants such as salad crops and herbs. “In turn the plants filter the water to the fish, ” Mr O’Donnell says.
Staff, students and parents have been sampling the wheatgrass and the Boxty House buys the micro greens from the school. Mr Gallagher says other restaurants including Chapter One and Fallon & Byrne are planning to take some produce.
Mr O’Donnell is eyeing another rooftop space for chickens. They would eat the bed of seed and greens that remains after wheatgrass is harvested. “It’s extremely good for them and they’ll produce manure for our crops. So everything is feeding each other.”
The farm is also running four beehives on another rooftop with support from the Dublin Honey Project.
The project will come into its own in September when the school begins a seven-week urban farming module with Transition Year students. Mr O’Donnell says one of his aims is to help young people understand where their food comes from.
Goodwill from past pupils and businesses such as the Boxty House is funding most of the project but Mr O’Donnell believes it will be able to stand on its own two feet within a year or two. “And then we believe it could be extended to other schools, even in a small way.”
Follow the project on Twitter @BelvedereFarm