Hortech Gets Green Roof Grant

November 10, 2006
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SPRINGLAKE — Hortech Inc. will receive a $300,000 matching grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to help it make the leap from groundcover to roof cover.

The 23-year-old SpringLake nursery specializes in groundcovers and perennials, and has developed a modular "green roof" system called LiveRoof, which can be grown in a nursery before it is installed on top of a building.

"We're been selling plants for green roofs for about four or five years now," said David MacKenzie, owner of the nursery. "The system that we've developed that we've gotten the grant for is brand new and we've just begun selling it. Most green roofs involve about four inches of soil on the roof top (with) the soil placed on membranes and drainage panels. Then usually what's done is, small plants are planted in that soil and then they're cultivated, and the roof becomes green over time."

With the modular system, which MacKenzie said interlocks similar to Lego building blocks, the growing process is simplified and the roof is installed green, cutting down on the time and effort spent cultivating the plants.

"You have a green roof overnight," MacKenzie said.

MacKenzie compared the process to seeding a lawn versus laying sod. A seeded green roof could take up to two to fours years to fully mature, while the LiveRoof grows in the nursery before it is exposed to the elements.

"The establishment period for planted green roofs can vary and be difficult to predict," he said. "This allows you to basically sidestep that period of maturation to derive the benefits of the green roof right away."

While LiveRoof weighs about 30 pounds per square foot and cannot be used on buildings that were not planned for the extra weight, MacKenzie said his company is working on a lighter-weight version.

With the $300,000 grant, the company will be able to market the product more quickly in a developing market.

"It's a huge thing for us to get this kind of a boost," he said. "It will allow us to develop our brand and be a market leader. It's going to give us the ability to create brand awareness to a degree that we wouldn't be able to otherwise."

MacKenzie said with the Grand Rapids area being a leader in the use of green roofs, he has been working with local developers and architects to use his product. The first modules are being grown for Muskegon condominium project VidaNova, with more local projects in mind, MacKenzie said.

Douglas Harjer, developer of VidaNova, said the primary reason he decided to use the LiveRoof system is because there is no waiting. Though Harjer said the system may be more costly, it is worth having the roof installed already green without intensive maintenance.

"The green roof is being raised in his green house now," he said. "When we put it in, in two or three weeks or whenever it is, we have an instant roof."

Harjer said he heard about MacKenzie and his system from several sources. 

"When you hear about the same person from a number of different people, you start to pay attention," he said. "He's the man with the green thumb."

In addition to local architects, MacKenzie is also working with other leading nurseries that could be licensed to carry the modular systems in other areas of the country. Hortech would sell the module bases to the nurseries, which would plant and sell them.

Hortech's grant application was one of eight eligible applications received and accepted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development, said Bobbie Morrison, rural business and cooperative specialist. The grants are part of $19.475 million in grant funds that support valued-added agricultural producers across the country.

"It is part of the Farm Bill as far as assisting the (agricultural) producers in rural areas," Morrison said. "This project began in 2001; the funding has been limited the last couple of year but this year it has increased and our applications have increased also."

Morrison said the department feels good about Hortech's product and the others that were funded, and she hopes that the grants will help the companies be successful and lay the foundation for future funding and more projects.    

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