- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 28, 2009

It is a crisp fall day on Emory Knoll Farms as John Shepley stops at a raspberry bush, picks a few berries and pops them into his mouth on his walk to the greenhouses.

He’s going to check on the recently assembled plastic covering that will protect the farm’s greenhouses in winter.

Rows and rows of small sedums, delosperma and other green roof plants sit below the covering, soaking up the sun in their newly insulated home.

The plants, millions of which are grown each year for green roofs across the country, have been the sole focus and cash crop of the Street, Md., farm since 1998, said Mr. Shepley, a former electrical engineer who now co-owns the business.

The National Aquarium in Baltimore, the Walter Reed Community Center in Washington, D.C., and Radio Shack’s World Headquarters in Fort Worth, Texas, are among the farm’s more than 400 clients.

Growth of the farm’s business, which has seen as much as a 70 percent rise in sales in the last five years according to co-owner Ed Snodgrass, reflects a growing national interest in green roofs.

Green Roofs for Healthy Cities, a nonprofit working to promote green roofs in North America, reported that the area of U.S. roofs covered in greenery had jumped by 36 percent between 2007 and 2008 to 3.2 million square feet. Since the survey began in 2004, the area of green roofing has increased by 123 percent, the group reported.

Most clients install green roofs for residential dwellings, school systems, municipalities and government buildings to make them last longer, Mr. Shepley said.

Long-term sustainability is one of the goals that the Friends Community School in College Park had when constructing its new building, which opened in September 2007.

When officials decided to “go green on a budget,” said Connie Belfiore, director of admissions and outreach, “we were determined to have a green roof.”

When Mr. Snodgrass’ family began farming Emory Knoll six generations ago, the farm produced dairy products, but it eventually lost profitability, Mr. Snodgrass said.

Mr. Snodgrass then tried raising llamas, which didn’t work, and later he began growing perennials. Through connections in the horticulture world and a few horticulture conferences, Mr. Snodgrass learned about green roofs.

Mr. Snodgrass began growing a small number of plants that were used in research, and his business grew rapidly from there, he said.

“I had a lot of faith that green roofs would happen but didn’t envision it being this successful,” said Mr. Snodgrass, who heads plant research on the farm.

Mr. Shepley, who joined the farm as a partner in 2003, said they take pride not only in their service and quality of plants but also on “being a resource for the green world as a whole.”

“They’re designed to be both functional and beautiful,” Mr. Shepley said.

Green roofs protect against water runoff for the first 15 minutes of a summer thunderstorm and extend the roof’s life by minimizing UV light exposer and slowing breakdown of roof materials from heating and cooling. Mr. Shepley estimates green roofs will last anywhere from 50 to 70 years, double the life of a standard roof.

Aside from the setup and first few weeks of work, these roofs require little maintenance, Mr. Shepley said.

However, not all plants are suitable for life on a green roof because they must be able to endure certain weather and planting conditions. Emory Knoll Farms mainly sells about 30 types of plants, and another 60 to 80 types are sold in small quantities.

The sedums, which evolved in a Mediterranean climate, have drought-tolerant capabilities that “blow almost every other plant out of the water,” Mr. Shepley said.

Miss Belfiore says she has been pleased with the impact and symbolism of Friends Community School’s green roof.

“The green roof we have is working really well,” she said. “It shows to our students and to everybody what we hold important to our philosophy; stewardship of the environment is very important.”

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