The Uncommon Ground at Uncommon Ground

July 15, 2009 at 7:53 am

Uncommon Ground does indeed cover some pretty uncommon ground.

The restaurant, which operates two locations, started as a coffee shop in 1991 and later expanded to the current spaces at 3800 N. Clark St. and 1401 W. Devon Ave., which opened in December 2007.

The Devon location features the nation’s first certified organic rooftop farm, which was dedicated by Mayor Richard M. Daley on July 11. “Nature can coexist in urban communities,” said Daley at the dedication service. “We believe this is the future of the city.”

The farm, which was completed last July, boasts 28 planter boxes, housing a variety of peas, carrots, radishes, beets, arugula, peppers, eggplant, cucumber and herbs. “I have 17 different varieties of tomatoes growing,” said Natalie Pfister, Uncommon Ground’s farm director. “There are lots of ways to grow food in a really small space.” The restaurant generally splits what is grown and produced on the farm between the two locations, which, since April 2008, includes four beehives. Co-owner Helen Cameron, who often tends to the hives herself, said that one hive produced about 40 pounds of honey last year.

Sustainability is of the utmost importance to Cameron and her husband Michael. “I’m looking for a lean, mean, clean food chain,” said Cameron. Besides sourcing local ingredients, the farm’s deck is made of a recycled plastic and wood fiber composite, the roof’s solar panels heat an estimated 70 percent of the restaurant’s water. All paper products used in both locations are recycled. Wooden boxes that the bees were delivered in became an outdoor coffee table.

Equally important to the restaurant are community events. The restaurant hosts a farmer’s market every Friday in the Devon location’s parking lot through October 30, featuring a number of local farmers and free trade vendors, including Harvest Moon Organic Farms, Mint Creek Farm and Goose Island Brewery. “We want this to be a shared public space,” said Cameron.