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Parsley plants a rooftop garden

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Despite Colorado's short growing season, there's a growing movement in town of restaurants starting their own gardens. And Parsley has taken the local movement to a new level -- its roof.

The tiny, organically-minded lunch spot in the Golden Triangle has planted a garden on top of its storefront space. "We just really wanted to accentuate the word 'local,' and grow some things as local as you can get," says Rachel Frakes, lead gardener, urban gardening enthusiast and Parsley staffer.

With the okay of owner Jason Bailey, Frakes planted the garden in May, starting with young plants rather than seeds. For this first-year pilot program, the plan is to fill six kiddie pools.

Currently, there are four pools planted with mint, flat-leaf parsley, Roma tomatoes and basil. In early August, two more pools will be filled with cilantro and jalapeno pepper seedlings. Frakes got the idea for using pools from a dispensary, and racked up extra sustainability points by sourcing used and discarded ones at Eco-Cycle in Boulder. And yes, the plants are raised organically.

But the plot won't always be so small. Frakes and Bailey have plans to eventually expand what Frakes describes as "just a kitchen garden" to cover the entire roof. Using containers with greater depth than the pools, she hopes to grow celery, carrots and strawberries next year.

This winter, Frakes will plant root vegetables that, with sufficient insulation, should survive the cold months and be ready for harvest next spring. She learned that tip from Feed Denver's Urban Farmers and Vegetable Gardeners Symposium that she attended in March.

"I'm not really an experienced gardener and neither is Jason," says Frakes, explaining why they consulted friends and books. "I think we were both, just, 'We want to do this.' We just thought it would be cool for a lot of reasons."

Aside from giving Parsley a source of incredibly local food, the garden also cuts down on its utility bills. The soil creates an extra layer of insulation, which means the roof is slightly cooler during the summer and warmer during the winter.

With Colorado's short growing season, it's impossible to produce all the ingredients the eatery uses; plants like avocados just don't grow in Colorado, and there are demand issues, too. "We go through so many tomatoes in the store that it wasn't super-functional for us to grow just ten tomato plants," Frakes notes. And while there's parsley growing in the plots, it's not enough to supply all the parsley juice the restaurant sells.

Parsley is currently harvesting basil from the garden, using it to make the basil pesto found in the caprese, arcadia and Mediterranean tuna sandwiches, as well as the caprese salad. And mint grown from the rooftop can be found in many of Parsley's drinks, including the sencha green tea, carrot and mint juice, mango smoothie and blueberry yogurt smoothie.

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