SUST Major Mike Miller Interns this Summer at Uncommon Ground in Chicago

This guest post is from Roosevelt University Sustainability Studies major Mike Miller, who working as an intern at the noted Chicago restaurant, Uncommon Ground, which specializes in sustainable practices and home of the nation’s first rooftop farm. This is the first installment of weekly blogs this summer from Mike on the work he’s performing this summer during his internship.

RU senior Mike Miller at the Chicago Lights Urban Farm, Feb. 2013

RU senior Mike Miller at the Chicago Lights Urban Farm, Feb. 2013

My name is Mike Miller and I am a senior in the sustainability program at Roosevelt University.  Though I have a passion for sustainability as a whole, my overall interest lies in agriculture; more specifically, urban agriculture.  I do not want to spend an hour telling you all of the reasons that I chose urban agriculture, so I’ll just inform you of a few key reasons:

  • Everyone needs and deserves to have access to healthy food.
  • There is pleasure in watching something grow.
  • It is a nice platform to have an impact in someone’s life.
  • There is something spiritual about it, no matter your beliefs. It’s a wonderful connection with the earth. It’s Zen or something…..

Those reasons combined with a few others have led me to the Uncommon Ground, a restaurant with two locations in the city of Chicago. The first and oldest location is located at 3800 North Clark street and the second location, the one the internship takes place at, is located at 1401 North Devon in the Edgewater neighborhood. It houses the nation’s first organic rooftop farm, which is what my internship will be centered around. You can find more information about both locations and the rooftop farm here at the Uncommon Ground website.

That’s done, Let’s dive in…

Spinach harvested from the rooftop

Spinach harvested from the rooftop

The internship program is led by Jen Rosenthal and consists of seven interns, including myself. We are a interesting bunch! Each person in the internship comes from a completely different background, yet we are all pulled together by an interest and passion for urban agriculture; its rather refreshing! Due to the diversity of the group, there are multiple levels of experience in a farm setting, from those who know nothing about agriculture to those who sort of know their way around. This of course slows some things down but it makes things interesting nonetheless. There are a lot of questions! Our group meets as a whole on Thursday mornings. During our group sessions we work together on tasks laid out by Jen and have a “classroom time” where we go over topics laid out in our internship curriculum.

Three pounds of radish

Three pounds of radish

For the past three weeks I have also been working at the Uncommon Ground on Wednesday mornings. Normally it is another intern (Joy), Jen and myself. Each intern is required to do at least one additional work day outside of our Thursday group sessions. This gives us a chance to have a little one on one time with Jen.  Starting next week I will also be going on Monday mornings. I decided to amp up my involvement because I want to learn as much as possible before I go out and try to do this on my own. That said my weekly updates here will be a review of three days of work, or about 12 hours a week.

Here’s a brief run down of the curriculum…

Week 1

Introduction to Uncommon Ground | Tour | Overview of urban agriculture

Week 2

Plant ID |  Basic Botany | Direct Seeding | Transplanting

Week 3

Growing Seasons | Growing Cycles | Growing Environments | Crop Planning

Week 4

Soil Science & Fertility | Growing Mediums

Week 5

Irrigation | Harvesting | Post Harvest Handling

Mizuna harvested from "earth boxes"

Mizuna harvested from “earth boxes”

Week 6

Indoor Growing – Plant Propagation & Micro/Sprout Production

Week 7

Plant Health| Pathogens

Week 8


Week 9

Amendments | Fertilizers

Week 10

Planning | Observations

Week 11

Composting | Vermiculture

Week 12

Bees | Apiculture

Week 13

Cover Cropping | Crop Rotation

Week 14

Organic Growing & Certification

Week 15

Innovative Agriculture Models | Crop Diversity

Week 16 (My Final Week)

Intern Presentations – Crop Plans (we present them to Jen and the owners of the uncommon ground)

Things I have done thus far…


  • Radish
  • Mizuna
  • Spinach

Hardened off (which means to introduce plants from grow room to outdoors):

  • Tomatoes
  • Peppers
  • Egg Plant
  • Basil

Combated plant diseases and insect infestations:

  • Cabbage moth caterpillars on Bok Choi
  • Septora on Tomatoes (Septora is black or brown spots on the leaves of the plant that are caused by soil coming in contact with the plant. It must be stopped immediately in order to protect the plant’s health. This means infected leaves must be trimmed off.)
Taking schoolchildren for a tour of the restaurant/farm

Taking schoolchildren for a tour of the restaurant/farm

Assisted in a tour: Tour group consisted of 3rd and 4th graders from Summers-Knoll in Ann Arbor Michigan. I was really impressed with the knowledge these children had when it came to sustainability, for it was truly unbelievable; it made me question why I paid thousands of dollars to Roosevelt. I should have just enrolled in 3rd grade at Summers-Knoll.


I forgot to mention the crop plan. This project is going to be awesome. We have to come up with a plan for a garden that address plant growth in each season (spring, summer, and fall). I am really excited for this assignment because it is a very practical application of what it will be like to work in the field I am choosing to pursue. I think I will be designing a garden that is a half-acre in size much like Chicago Lights Farm. I’ve already done a mock drawing of the design and I’m pumped about it.

Mike Miller
5 June 2013, Chicago IL

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