Denmark’s first rooftop farm faces closure

ØsterGro, Denmark’s first rooftop farm, is facing closure, to be replaced by 23 private parking spaces.

Denmark’s first rooftop farm faces closure
The ØsterGro rooftop farm is threatened by closure due to historical building regulations. Photo: ØsterGro/Gro Spiseri

Historical legislation, the 1975 Byggeloven (Building Law), designates the Copenhagen roof a location for parking to serve users of the building, which once housed a car auctioneer company. But the parking spaces may never be used in practice.

ØsterGro was started in 2014 by three idealist young people: Kristian Skaarup, Livia Urban Swart Haaland and Sofie Brincker, who were inspired by the famous Brooklyn Grange Farm in New York.

With 20,000 visitors a year, the unique ØsterGro has been featured in high-profile travel magazines and newspaper articles, while C40 Cities, an organisation which promotes sustainable solutions in cities, was planning to use the farm as a meeting location.

The urban farm now faces the prospect of moving 100 tonnes of soil, all their current crops, the greenhouse, which is the location of its restaurant Gro Spiseri, ten hens, three families of bees and two rabbits.

A final decision is expected before Christmas, but the farm's founders have not yet given up the fight.

“We are not going anywhere at the moment! We are keeping the fight going and we are currently at a deadlock. We see this as a David and Goliath battle with the kommune [municipality, ed.] trying the squeeze the little people. Perhaps it is time that we reach state level to change this legislation,” Skaarup told The Local.

“If ØsterGro is removed, there will be no winners in this,” he added.

Jac Nellemann, who owns the building, has previously said that the location might never actually be used as parking, given that it can only be reached by an old car lift left over from the days when the building was a car auction house.

“It's tough when the municipality itself has help set up the farm, only to come back four years later saying that we have to put cars on it,” Nellemann told newspaper Dagbladet Information.

Nellemann gave ØsterGro permission to start up on the roof in 2014, and is a supporter of the project. ØsterGro obtained a temporary licence to use the roof, but now the municipality will not extend the permit and wishes to revert the space to car parking.

The parking spaces will not be for the public but the users of the building.

Copenhagen Municipality’s urban planning committee (Teknik- og Miljøudvalget) gave Østergro and Nellemann the opportunity to identify alternative spaces nearby in which to accommodate the required 23 parking spaces, but this was not possible in such a densely populated urban area.

The municipality itself has given Østergro 350,000 kroner in funding, politicians have used the space for photographs in political campaigns, the farm is featured in Visit Copenhagen’s tourist guides, and it is an important element in the C40 Climate Quarter project, which focuses on solutions to adapt the city’s rain water management.

Given ØsterGro’s presence in the branding of Copenhagen as a green city, its destruction seems to be a paradox.

The rooftop farm is used for lectures, tours, and courses for schools on organic farming and agriculture. 40 local community members receive fresh vegetables from the farm. On Wednesdays, the farm opens for visitors to come and learn about the cultivation of the crops. Ten people are currently under its employment.

“My children can be part of seeing things grow all the way from the land to the table. And it gives a really good sense of what food is and renewed respect for it. I've learned how demanding it is to grow a head of cabbage head,” Nikola Kiørboe, a volunteer at the farm, told Dagbladet Information.

The only way the decision can be reversed appears to be a change to the forty-year-old legislation.

Ninna Hedeager Olsen, a councillor with the Red Green Alliance party and head of the municipality’s urban planning and environment committee (Teknik- og Miljøudvalget), expressed her regret at the situation.

“I think it's terrible. ØsterGro is an example of everything we want with the city: to create biodiversity, local food production, communities, a greener city,” Olsen told Dagbladet Information. 

“All the politicians on the committee have asked the [municipal] administration, in 27 different ways, whether anything can be done. And the answer is that the law does not allow it. I think if there was an opportunity, the administration would have found it,” she added.

Contacted by The Local, a press officer with Copenhagen Municipality confirmed the accuracy of Dagbladet Information's report on the matter but asked not to be quoted directly.

Meanwhile, ØsterGro has started a petition against the closure, which currently stands at almost 6,000 signatures, and is scheduled to hold its Christmas market on December 15th-16th.

READ ALSO: Denmark's government to spend a billion on organic farming


‘We still have a chance’: Danish minister’s relief after Glasgow climate deal

Denmark's climate minister Dan Jørgensen has expressed relief that a meaningful climate change deal was struck in Glasgow last night, after a last minute move by India and China nearly knocked it off course.

'We still have a chance': Danish minister's relief after Glasgow climate deal
Denmark's climate minister Dan Jørgensen speaks at the announcement of the Beyond Oil and Gas Alliance in Glasgow on Tuesday. Photo: Andy Buchanan/AFP/Ritzau Scanpix

“For the first time ever, coal and fossil fuel subsidies have been mentioned. I’m very, very happy about that,” he told Denmark’s Politiken newspaper. “But I am also very disappointed that the stronger formulations were removed at the last minute.” 

Late on Saturday, the world’s countries agreed the Glasgow Climate Pact, after negotiations dragged on while governments haggled over phasing out coal. 

Denmark is one of the countries leading the phase out of fossil fuels, formally launching the Beyond Oil and Gas Alliance (BOGA) with ten other countries and states at the Glasgow summit on Tuesday, announcing an end to oil exploration last December, and committing to phase out coal by 2030 back in 2017. 

Jørgensen conceded that the deal struck on Saturday was nowhere near far-reaching enough to keep global temperature rises below 1.5C, which scientists have estimated is critical to limiting the impacts of climate change, but he said the decision to hold another summit in Egypt next year meant that this goal could still be reached. 

“The big, good news is that we could have closed the door today. If we had followed the rules, we would only have had to update the climate plans in 2025, and the updates would only apply from 2030,” he said, adding that this would be too late. “Now we can fight on as early as next year. This is very rare under the auspices of the UN.” 

Limiting temperature rises to 1.5C was still possible, he said. 

“We have a chance. The framework is in place to make the right decisions. There was a risk that that framework would not be there.” 

Jørgensen said that he had come close to tears when India launched a last-minute bid to water down the language when it came to coal, putting the entire deal at risk. 

“It was all really about to fall to the ground,” he said. “The assessment was that either the Indians got that concession or there was no agreement.” 

Sebastian Mernild, a climate researcher at the University of Southern Denmark, said he was disappointed by the lack of binding targets and global deadlines in the plan, but said it was nonetheless “a step in the right direction”, particularly the requirement that signatories to the Paris Agreement must tighten their 2030 emissions reduction targets by the end of 2022.

“It’s good that this thing with fossil fuels has got in,” he added. “It’s a pity that you don’t have to phase them out, but only reduce.”

He said the test of whether the Glasgow meeting is a success or failure would not come until the various aspects of the plan are approved and implemented by members states.