Photo: Ruthie Abel

A Lightweight Garden System at a Heavyweight Detroit Institution

“We’re celebrating 52 this year, which in Detroit is an accomplishment, and in the restaurant world is nothing short of miraculous!” Carolyn Howard is the energetic co-owner of Traffic Jam and Snug. An institution in its own right, Traffic Jam, or T.J.’s, as it is known to locals, is in Detroit’s walkable Midtown neighborhood, convenient to Wayne State University and the Detroit Institute of the Arts.

Photo: Ruthie Abel

Traffic Jam includes Detroit’s first microbrewery, a bakery, bar and restaurant areas, and a cheese-making facility (the beer equipment is dual-purpose). The 20,000 square feet also means plenty of space for a rooftop vegetable and herb garden and a greenhouse.

In between seating tables and working a private party, Howard led the way through a maze of rooms and staircases to the roof.

Photo: Ruthie Abel

“On a hot day, the temperature up here can be over 130 degrees, so we added these shades over the garden,” Howard explains, ducking under black netting.

To avoid adding weight to a fragile roof, T.J.’s uses a Garden Soxx system. “The ends get tied and then the long mesh socks are filled with dirt,” Howard adds, pointing to raised bed containers that look like giant earthworms.

T.J.’s gardeners focus on crops that replenish easily, such as microgreens, kale, herbs and ground cherries. Howard imports tea plants and dries the herbs in a corner of the roof. “Selling teas has paid for the gardeners and then some,” she noted. Today’s menu lists nine varieties, including Earl Detroit and Spicy Chai (“a blend of pineapple sage, lemon grass, purple Thai basil, sweet stevia, creamy coconut, ginger and red hot chili pepper”).

Photo: Ruthie Abel

The roof is also host to an annual crop of hops, used for flavoring and stability in T.J.’s brewery.  Grand Theft Pilsner is a perennial house favorite, and this year T.J.’s partnered to remake Altes, a lighter German-style Detroit brew from the ‘80’s. Cheese wizzes may also appreciate the many house-made varieties, including Blue Asiago– number 4 on Thrillist’s list of “Top 50 things to eat in Detroit before you die”.

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