Corner Market's Urban Garden Gets Creative With Water

“Humidity’s our friend,” Chuck Cole, owner of Corner Market said as a thin trickle of water rinsed compost from his hands. Cole had just given a tour of the garden he’s set up on the roof of his market and flower shop — a garden irrigated by rainwater runoff and the condensate generated by the building’s roaring air conditioning units. When the air gets sticky enough, that trickle grows into a running stream of water. He stores it by the barrelful.

Raised planters hold produce, herbs and flowers in various stages of flourish and distress, as bolting basil, blueberry bushes, lavender, tomatoes, peppers and more bake in the sun. A recent storm took its toll on some corn whose stalks shot out at odd angles instead of straight up, and the tomato plants had yellowing leaves and swollen fruit. The recent weather, both torrential rains and punishing heat, had taken a toll on his garden, but it still churned with potential.

Cole says he’s been gardening since he was a kid, but things got serious when he moved into his home in the M Streets, just up the road from his market. A few vegetables and herbs turned into a small urban farm. He still keeps chickens at his house.

He has a well at home, but at the market Cole needed to get creative to keep his planting beds irrigated. A number of depressions in the sagging roof were fitted with drainpipes that lead down to the water barrels. The water dripping from the air conditioning units was tapped as well. A pump brings the water back up to the roof where it’s fed to each of the beds, and runoff is returned to the system and run through the loop again. It’s like a tiny ecosystem, complete with insects.

Cole takes credit for the bees buzzing around the flowers and the blueberry blossoms, too. At the far end of the roof, a hive produces honey that’s sold downstairs. The Honey Bee Guild, a Dallas-based collective of buzzing obsessives, helps Cole tend the hive and harvests the honey twice a year.

While the pavement bakes below a tiny, urban farm produces enough vegetables to keep a stand at the farmers market going. A lot of the produce goes home with employees, but the occasional tomato slice makes its way onto a sandwich served at the market. As all of this happens, cars wiz by north and south along Greenville Avenue. The only clue to what’s happening above is a few haphazard cornstalks jutting out from the roofline.

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