How My Garden Goes – Part 0

Posted: March 8th, 2011 | Author:
My Bushwick "front yard" after a light snow.

My Bushwick "front yard" after a light snow.

Welcome to my inaugural post! In this series of posts on The Greenest, I will share my musings and misadventures as I grow my first garden, in Bushwick, Brooklyn. I have experience neither in blogging nor gardening, but I intend over the next few months to develop both a completely readable blog and an edible garden. Though I’d be plenty happy with just one or the other.

I’ve been growing [note: I will trying to keep the obvious puns to a minimum and not point them out when they happen unintentionally] increasingly interested in urban farming over the past year or two, reading a ton, volunteering a bit, and shmoozing here and there with a bunch of incredible people who are involved in this movement.

I’m convinced that we will all be better off if food production in cities – in personal gardens, community gardens, and small-scale commercial farms – really takes off. And when I moved to a new place in Bushwick earlier this year, from a closet-like subterranean flat on the Lower East Side, I finally had some space to start growing a garden of my own.

Not only did my new Brooklyn residence give me a bedroom where I could actually stand up straight without banging my head on the ceiling, it also had a real-life honest-to-gosh front yard! I felt like a 1950s suburbanite cashing in on some ill-conceived government homeownership program and finally moving out to great big new house in the suburbs – except in this “suburb” I hear the roar of the elevated M train from my bedroom. And of course, I’m renting.

I suppose my “front yard” is like a suburban front yard to the same extent that Bushwick is like a suburb. What we have is a roughly 10-foot-by-10-foot patch of dirt/trash blend, with a cherry tree (pink and lovely in the spring! I know this from Google Street view) and another tree (gnarly and uninvited-looking) in the center. But even this was more promising than what many city dwellers have access to, and I was determined to make it work.

… Eventually. We moved into the place in mid-September [note: the lease started September 1, but our move-in was delayed by unadvertised amenities like hundreds of pounds of construction equipment and molding furniture from the previous occupants, and hundreds of non-paying tenants in the form of a German cockroaches] and the little I did know about growing cycles told me it wasn’t the right time to plant anything. I couldn’t just leave the plot how it was though, ugly, unruly, clearly advertising its lack of stewardship. So I set out to clean the thing, figuring step one was just clearing the eyesore.

I went to the local hardware store and, after an hour of wandering up and down the aisles, craning my neck to see to the top of the packed shelves and asking each item, “Will you be helpful?” I left with a 5-gallon bucket, a cultivator (“garden fork,” I thought), and pruning shears.

I got to work, pruning that secondary tree of anything that wasn’t the central trunk or a straight branch off that central trunk. This pruning method was based on what I did for 3 months on a kibbutz in Israel in 2004, where I was caring for 2 fields of Paulownia, a fast-growing Chinese tree used for hardwood timber. I have no idea if this method had any positive effect on my Bushwick tree, but it made things look a bit more orderly.

Next, I scratched up all the dirt, removing anything that was either man-made (glass, cigarette butts, bottle caps, candy wrappers) or green (tons of little weeds that just screamed, “this is our home, not yours!”).

An upstairs neighbor found me sitting outside the building in a pile of trash and muck and branches and leaves. He paused. He may have rolled his eyes.

“What are you doing?” he asked.

“Just cleaning this up a bit.”

“Oh, cool. I’ll come help in a little while.” He never did come help, and I was okay with that. After all, I had a strong sense of having no idea what I was doing, and I didn’t want to be revealed as a muddy little fraud.

That was October 24th, and that was pretty much the last time that I played/worked in my little plot of land. But I’m gearing up for spring. I’m seeking advice, sketching out plans and timelines, and perusing seed catalogs. I have to say, I’m a bit nervous about growing things – what if I fail!? – but it’s time to walk the walk. Stay tuned.

Filed under: Urban Agriculture | 4 Comments »

An Urban Goat Love Story

Posted: March 7th, 2011 | Author:

Jennie Grant, founder of The Goat Justice League, gives Snowflake a kiss.

My new heroes of making the impossible seem like common sense — truth appear stranger than fiction — with more amusing titles — are the founders of The Goat Justice League.  I am not even going to bother paraphrasing their mission statement:

The Goat Justice League was founded to legalize the keeping of goats within the city of Seattle. Perhaps this sounds outrageous, but outside Seattle’s urban core, most neighborhoods are made up of single family homes on lots of about 4,000 square feet. It is not difficult to set aside a 25×25 foot area within such a yard and devote it to goats. Taking care of goats takes work and lots of research, but it can be extremely rewarding for people who love animals and want to produce food in their own back yard.

And they even have a baby goat named “Joel Salatin.”  Sorry, Joel. Or, maybe “Congratulations?”

The really funny part is that The Goat Justice League means business.  According to a recent, excellent story by Jennifer Bleyer in the Dining Section of the NY Times (“Fresh Goat Milk, dead Wood and Dubious Neighbors,” Feb.22, 2011): Jennie Grant, 46, a gardener from Seattle, established the Goat Justice League (motto: “I’m Pro-Goat and I Vote”) to lobby for the legalization of goats there.

She succeeded in persuading the City Council to change the rules. And since then, 37 goats have been licensed in Seattle. They include Ms. Grant’s own Oberhasli runt and miniature LaMancha, which scamper around a 400-square-foot pen in her yard facing Lake Washington, where they look across the water at Bill Gates’s estate (“I wonder if Bill Gates ever looks at my goats”) and fill her Mason jars with two gallons of high butterfat milk a day during their production peak, much of which she makes into chèvre.

Inspired by Seattle’s victory, a chapter of the Goat Justice League sprung up in Charlottesville, Va., and prevailed in its goat legalization effort in September. Goat fanciers in Minneapolis; Eugene, Ore.; Northampton, Mass.; and Long Beach, Calif., are pursuing similar campaigns, and residents of Detroit, Washington, D.C., and more than a dozen other places have sought Ms. Grant’s counsel on overturning local goat prohibitions.

Novella Carpenter with her goats in her backyard farm in Oakland

But many would-be goatherds never maneuver such mazes because they abandon the idea of keeping goats as soon as they learn what it entails. In Portland, around 200 people have enrolled in a class called Goats in the City through Tierra Soul, an urban self-sufficiency institute. In Berkeley, a one-day workshop called Urban Goats 101 has filled up since BioFuel Oasis, a farm supply store and biodiesel station, began offering it last year. Novella Carpenter, who teaches the class, said it “is about managing expectations and really kind of scaring people.”

Among dairy goats’ needs are access to a livestock veterinarian, a consistent supply of high-nutrient hay and a stud service for breeding — none too easy to come by in a city, said Ms. Carpenter, who has raised goats at her Oakland, Calif., home for three years. (She wrote about her experiences in the book “Farm City: The Education of an Urban Farmer.”) The animals’ hooves and horns must be trimmed, and Ms. Carpenter recommends a secure pen with walls about five feet high to prevent them from bounding away and “destroying the things you love.”

Most pressing is that they typically need to be milked twice a day, every day.

“I’m not just saying ‘Goats are great, go get some,’ ” Ms. Carpenter said “It’s so much work to have goats. At the end of my class, people say, ‘Oh, my God, I had no idea it was so complicated.’ ”

But some city farmers remain undaunted. Jules Dervaes, an urban homesteader in Pasadena, Calif., lives on a fifth of an acre with his three adult children, eight ducks, eight chickens, three beehives, two cats, composting worms and a tank of tilapia. In 2006, he added two goats to the menagerie, and he quickly came to appreciate their cat-like intelligence, dog-like personalities and general adorableness, despite the management they require.

“I’ve lost a citrus tree, a mango tree, wood off the house, five or six brooms,” said Mr. Dervaes, 63. “We’ve had to protect our investment more than we ever did with chickens or ducks. In a city, where there’s not much forage and your place is compact, man, they can go through the trees and bushes like nothing.”

Making the best of it, he tacked chicken wire around his tree trunks and against the wooden garage where the goats live, to deter their chewing. In the absence of nearby medical services, his daughter Jordanne, 27, stocked up on veterinary books and learned how to do basic care like deworming, which involves examining feces and administering parasite-killing medicine and herbs. For alfalfa hay, Mr. Dervaes drives 25 miles round trip to equestrian stables in Los Angeles.

He also recently created Barnyards and Backyards, a social networking site for urbanites raising livestock to connect with their more knowledgeable rural counterparts for advice. Still, he sometimes wonders if his metropolitan goats might be better suited elsewhere.

“In the end,” Mr. Dervaes said with a note of resignation, “maybe we’ll have to move to the country.”

Goats graze Angels Knoll Monday, Sept. 8, 2008, in downtown Los Angeles. The city Community Redevelopment Agency made use of the non-human work-force to eat weeds, brush and overgrown plants during a two-week stay on the steepest portion

Another Reason to Love Urban Goats: Weed Control

In looking for this recent article, I found another NY Times article from 1999 “Goats in Trial as Urban Weed Killers.” (Kevin Moloney, May 16, 1999):

“A herd of about 100 Cashmere goats that has been munching at the park and other weed-choked areas around the city since April is working for the City of Denver as part of a program to fight invasive weeds that have taken over native plants and wildlife habitats.”

Judy Montero, a spokeswoman for the Denver Parks and Recreation Department. ”We hope the goats will reduce our use of herbicides and pesticides in the long run.”

”It’s the oldest weed-control technique known to mankind,” said Lani Lamming, an owner of Land Whisperer, the Alpine, Wyo., company that is leasing the goats to the city. ”It’s so logical and simple. In my opinion, we’re using life to nurture other forms of life. No natural resources are being wasted.”

Mrs. Lamming, who owns the company with her husband, Fred, said goats preferred the broadleaf weeds to grass, unlike cows and horses, which graze grass first. The herds are managed alternately by the Lammings, their three teen-age sons and professional herders.

The goats, which work in two four-hour shifts daily in a temporarily fenced-in area, can mow down about one acre per day. They can reach areas that machines cannot, and they serve other purposes as they graze: tilling the soil, re-seeding and fertilizing.

Part of the plan for the park is to re-establish native grasses. As the goats are nibbling on the broadleaf weed varieties, a park official said, their hoofs are trampling in seeds of desirable native species distributed by city employees.

The cost of a job varies depending on conditions, but Land Whisperer estimates the average cost is $100 per acre, using 50 to 100 goats.

In the past, the city has relied on mechanical mowing, spraying herbicides and pesticides and pulling weeds by hand. But those methods have hazards: air pollution from mowing and contamination of groundwater from chemical sprays.

What started as an experimental practice in 1999 has now gained widespread acceptance being used in many metropolitan areas around the Country.  If you paired this weed-killing with harvesting goat milk, meat and pelts, then you’d have a pretty amazing system of agriculture arising from “waste”  avoiding the use petroleum-based mowers and noxious pesticides.  Now, that’s a win-win.

 

 

 

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Changing the Way We Eat: Live from TEDxManhattan

Posted: February 16th, 2011 | Author:

Diane Hatz, Director of The Glynwood Institute for Sustainable Food and Farming, asked me to blog live from the inaugural TEDxManhattan event “Changing the Way We Eat”, February 12, 2011.  All in all, I produced a whopping 125 tweets, 11 Facebook Updates and one blog. These formats tell the story in reverse chronology that I have re-ordered for your reading pleasure.

Session 1 – What happened?

Here is the live stream for Session 1 http://www.tedxmanhattan.org/webcast-session-1.

Live blogging: I feel like Lester Bangs, the [famous] music critic, taking the stage to tap on his typewriter.  Now, laptop.  Shout out to TEDxMan Viewing Parties, especially friends in Hudson Valley, Gianni Ortiz, and Ithaca, Krys Cail, and Erin Fairbanks at NYU and the rest of you 40 some odd other sites!

Laurie David – Environmental activist and author Laurie David kicked off the day with the ode to family meals as the glue of social interactions and good eating habits. She calls for parents to “ring the dinner bell” for the health and success of their kids. Rituals around sharing food are cornerstone of social behavior and society itself! What’s the one factor shared by all National Merit Scholars: They all ate dinner regularly with their families. I guess that’s why being called “Late to Dinner” has such negative consequences to be avoided at all costs. David’s talk tracked themes laid out in her new book “The Family Dinner:  Great Ways to Connect with Your Kids, One Meal at a Time,” a guide to unplugging and connecting with your family over healthy, fresh food. She claims the power of Family Dinner is so strong that she succeeded in drawing her famously cynical ex-husband, Larry, back home for dinner together with their daughters.

Carolyn Steel, who is author the book Hungry City, came to TEDxMan via video of her previous TED talk.  Steel uses food as a means to “read” cities and explain their function.  Steel described the history of how cities fed themselves for 1000 years focusing on eating domestic animals and the consequences of the increasing scale of this practice correlated to the ever-enlarging metropolises. Such metropolises will not be able to continue to grow and rely on ever-dwindling rural areas to supply food.

According to Steel: “The first thing we need to do is to stop seeing cities as inert objects and recognize them as organic entities, inextricably bound to the natural ecosystem. The language may be new, but the thinking is not: Philosophers as diverse as Plato, More, and Marx have tried for centuries to resolve the urban paradox by imagining ideal societies. The trouble is, such societies were utopian, so they never came to pass. What we urgently need is an alternative to utopia: a model that aims not at perfection but at something partial and attainable. My proposal is sitopia, from the ancient Greek words sitos (food) and topos (place). Sitopia, in essence, is a way of recognizing the central role that food plays in our lives and of harnessing its potential to shape the world in a better way.”

As a solution to the growth of the Metropolis, Steel’s concept of “Sitopia” frames the challenge of the future being a shift from city as food consumer to city as food producer. She advocates modeling decentralized, scattered site production of food within cities, promoting such changes as cultivating urban farms.

Cheryl Rogowski is a second-generation family farmer from the black dirt region of Pine Island in Warwick, Orange County, New York.  She reveals that she was Onion Princess in 1983, daughter of an onion farmer in biggest onion-growing region in the US.  Rogowski tells of damaged soil from onion mono-crop planting & how she “dug in” & began changing to organic practices and started thinking of “dirt as soil.”

The Rogowski Farm has been a pioneer in the Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) movement that allows consumers to buy a portion of the farmer’s harvest in advance of the harvest.  She is also credited with starting the first low income CSA in NY state.  Rogowski talks of burden and benefit of CSA, taking on responsibility of feeding others but knowing that her members are eating better and helping her take care of the soil.

Karen Hudson lives on a fifth generation family farm in West Central Illinois. She founded F.A.R.M. (Families Against Rural Messes), a grassroots group in Illinois that opposes CAFO’s (concentrated animal feeding operations) and their impacts. She is co-founder of ICCAW (Illinois Citizens for Clean Air and Water). Hudson talked about her campaign to change airborne manure disposal practices of factory farms, hitting on a campaign slogan: “Illinois Land of Stinkin’”.

Many of her successful campaigns against CAFOs demonstrated abuses and illegal activities using aerial photographs as evidence.  Large dairy corporations were not so pleased to be held accountable to federal and state environmental laws.  Hudson tells the chilling tale of how Big Dairy responded to her efforts by successfully getting an amendment to a draft of an Anti-Terrorism Bill that would have made it a serious crime to take aerial photos of agricultural animal operations.  She caught wind (so to speak) of this language and help wage a citizen’s campaign to remove it. Hudson reminded the audience that changing the way we eat involves taking on entrenched interests that will fight dirty and hard to continue profiting from creating pollution and poisoning their neighbors.

She said her kids were confused by her activism.  However, over time, she was pleased that her children shifted from embarassed to proud.  Recently, she got a megaphone from her kids for her birthday.

Ken Cook, president and co-founder of Environmental Working Group (EWG) discussesd how government money is spent on US food system thru Farm Bill.  Cook showed a map of Manhattan with hundreds of densely-packed dots representing recipients of federal farm subsidies. He said many of these dots represented payments made to absentee owners of farmland. He showed this slide to demonstrate that Farm Bill effects even urban places like Manhattan.

Cook wants to convince all eaters in the US to make reform of Farm Bill part of their healthy diet. He showed how most Farm Bill is $314 billion for Food Stamp Program with 43 million people enrolled, half of whom are kids, getting $4.50/day and $1.50/meal. The next largest portion of funding in the Farm Bill is Farm Subsidy. Largest 10% of all farms get 70%+ of all subsidies concentrated in midwest.

These days the Farm Bill pays for the depletion of the soil in one chapter while it pays for conservation in another.  For instance, Farmers are paid to remove plant residue to make fields for ethanol vs. leaving it in fields to replenish soil health & fertility.

What does change in the Farm Bill look like? In US, 814 million acres are used for crops and livestock. By contrast, the $25 billion organic market operates on <1% of that land = 7 mil acres. There is a lot of room for improvement and growth of organic stewardship. To help increase the size and understanding of the organic marketplace, Cook and EWG have produced a wallet card listing the “Dirty Dozen,” foods that receive such dangerous levels of pesticides that they should only be eaten if labeled “organic.”

After Cook spoke, we enjoyed a performance by Dean Osborne playing bluegrass banjo from the highlands of Kentucky, traditional music for 200 years from an agrarian area in the US. Nice cultural reference point to bookmark the importance of feeding the soul as well as the body.

Dr. Scott Kahan, Co-Director of the George Washington University Weight Management Center, spoke about “Why We Eat the Way Eat?” Knowing some stuff is bad for us, why do we continue to eat it? Kahan opined that our environment — social & physical landscape — strongly shapes our decisionmaking process about food & all else.

“Unhealthy food is cheaper than fresh food, so that obviously influences economic decisions.”  Portions of unhealthy foods are larger these days, leading us to eat more and more. The largest Coke available in 1960 was the new 12oz can! Now, the can is the smallest size. Food scientists have learned how to manipulate human response to taste, smell & texture using salt, sugar and fat to seal the deal.

“Unhealthy foods more widely available in more stores than healthy foods.” Hard to get a fresh peach at a gas station. 6000+ ads are directed to kids each year selling unhealthy foods as opposed to only a handful of ads for healthy foods.  ”Messengers sell unhealthy products to kids.” Studies of kids who eat a food with a picture of a character, like Shrek, on the package report that it actually tastes better to them than the same food without the picture of the character on it. Who knew a foul-smelling ogre could be used to sell more unhealthy food?

Kathy Lawrence, founder of NY’s Just Food and Program Director of School Food FOCUS “helping transform school food procurement to provide meals that are more healthful, local and sustainably produced.” Lawrence described how National School Lunch Act was passed with good intentions but school lunch reflects negative changes taking place in the entire US food system. School lunch changed from whole, fresh food to packaged, shelf stable prepared foods. Sound familiar? School food is supposed to make kids happy & healthy, yet it’s backfiring by providing foods that makes kids obese and sick.

As a solution, Lawrence offered a list of “powers” of change: Peers, Partnerships, Fun, Public Policy, Public Plate. And . . .Power of Peaches! Some kids have never seen a fresh peach. “When school food programs introduced peaches at schools, kids loved them.” The Food Revolution could all start with a bite of sweet fresh fruit. Dare we eat a peach? Lawrence ended with the power that links all the others together: The Power of Love. “We have the power and we share the vision to make enlightened institutional purchasing that is at the heart of ending obesity and food-related illnesses.”

The food at lunch was spot-on with the themes of the day provided deliciously by Mary Cleaver of Cleaver Co., sustainable chef in NYC for 25 years. To further “change the way we eat,” Hatz informed us that we would be given a picnic bag with five lunches only after we linked a group of five strangers to eat together. Even though I fulfilled this exercise honestly, meeting some great new people, one of my lunchmates was the son of my neighbor from across the street!

Session 2 – Where are we?

http://www.tedxmanhattan.org/webcast-session-2

Dan Barber, chef for Blue Hill at Stone Barns, joined via video feed talking about problems with commercial fishing and sustainable alternatives. Barber asked his supplier how its fish farm was “sustainable.” First, he was told that the farm was so far out at sea that none of the fish waste could pollute local waters.  Next, he was told that the feed to flesh ratio to grow larger fish, like Salmon, was one of best in the industry 2.5:1 and the feed consisted of  ”sustainable proteins.” When Barber pressed the fish farmer to explain what he meant by “sustainable proteins,” he found out that one of main ingredients in the feed for fish was chicken!  ”After learning that fish were fed chicken, he said “All the fish began to taste like chicken.”

Barber went on to explore the question: What makes a good fish farm? He visited an estuarial marshland recaptured from industrial destruction in Spain that was farmed extensively not intensively.  Barber found out that a good fish farm measures success by the health of visiting predators, such as flamingos, whose pink bellies show their fitness after being permitted to eat 20% of farmed fish. The good fish farm shares its yield with predators because it is part of an ecosystem rather than destroying one.  The fish from the good farm has skin that tastes sweet like the ocean because the water is so clean. Not oily, bitter.

Barber came away with a simple, powerful observation: “The future of food should taste good.” Feeding more people more cheaply has been business plan of American Agriculture for the last 5o years, resulting in resource extraction & depletion. Barber thinks that kind of business plan cannot continue forever.

Diane Hatz introduced TEDx Fellows. Stefani Bardin is an artist exploring impact of processed foods vs. fresh foods on digestive tract using a miniature camera called the M2A naming her project (aptly) “Fantastic Voyage.” Other fellows include: Stacey Murphy, founder of bkfarmyards, a decentralized urban farm network in Brooklyn, NY; Erica Dahwan incubating SupplyChange, a fair trade fruit company; Letitia Johnson, starting a Delta SEEDS to develop capacity among black farmers in Mississippi; and Wayne Labar, Vice President of Exhibitions and Featured Experiences at Liberty Science Center, working on Cooking: the Exhibition.

Brian Halweil, editor of Edible East End, publisher of Edible Brooklyn and Edible Manhattan and senior fellow at the Worldwatch Institute said he was inspired by naturalist Paul Ehrlich to do explore sustainability.  Ehrlich says that “agriculture is where humans touch the world most intensively” and Halweil began to research negative impacts & promptly got depressed.

To move away from the negative impacts humans make on the environment, Halweil wrote a book entitled Eat Here, looking at local food system as a positive, uplifting alternative that could change the World. Halweil tells stories of food system changes improving the environment in small ways around the World.

Halweil spoke of citizen oyster growers in the East End of Long Island helped by Cornell University to form the largest community aquaculture program in the US.  Halweil draws hope from Kenyan farmers fertilizing soil by planting trees between crop rows, fixing nitrogen & dramatically increasing crop yields. Halweil is encouraged by the increase of individual farming in cities in Africa and the expansion of green carts in NYC moving food to un-served areas. Lastly, Halweil has witnessed many schools all over the south fork of Long Island adding edible schoolyards to their curriculum and physical culture, competing with each other to see who can raise the most food.

“Food can be our greatest ally,” says Halweil. “And, If the environmental movement is dead then I say “Long Live the Food Movement!”

Lucas Knowles, Coordinator of USDA’s Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food, spoke of partnerships that stimulate growth of local/regional food systems which can be transformative.  Knowles mentioned that Farmers Markets have double sales over the last 10 years but still only represent a minute fraction of the overall market — equal to less than 1% of all food sales.  The partnerships cited by Knowles were admirable and interesting.  My eyebrows raised a bit when Knowles gave a shout out to ADM as a partner of a little farmer collective in Washington state.  All in all, Knowles focused on existing USDA programs rather than using his bully pulpit at TEDx to explore how USDA might really change the food system.

Barbara Askins, President and CEO of 125th Street BID, talked about the business of food in Harlem, a place with food deserts where 1 in 6 residents have diabetes. “What’s missing?” she asked “A community accepted vision of how to bring fresh food to Harlem, comprehensive plan” not piecemeal. Askins continued to pose questions: What’s Harlem food like now? Supermarkets far off, fast food everywhere, many people of limited means whose traditional foods are unhealthy, adopted in the past for active people who did physical work all day. What are the solutions? Askins cited some creative artists who used “edutainment” to raise consciousness about healthy eating through hip hop music.  She spoke of NYC’s Green Cart Program as an instance where government was making a difference in bringing fresh food to underserved people via street vendors. In conclusion, she felt that input from the community itself is always necessary to find out how to plan for local change.

Elizabeth Meltz, Director of Food Safety and Sustainable for Batali & Bastianich Hospitality Group, spoke about her company leads by example of celebrity chefs who walk the walk and talk the talk. Meltz discussed her experience attempting to green a restaurant business.  She found that greening was a lot more about educating staff rather than simply changing to green stuff. When one restaurant changed to low-phosphate detergents, she found the dishwashers pouring tons of the soap into the machines. When she asked why, the dishwashers told her that the new soap made no suds. After she explained that this was normal, the dishwashers stopped using excessive amounts of soap.  Meltz sees her job as convincing staff that it is easy to change. As a result, Meltz helped create 13 certified green restaurants and the company got behind the Meatless Mondays, helping to sell the idea to customers as something they could do themselves at home.

Dr. Melony Samuels, Executive Director of the Bed Stuy Campaign Against Hunger (BSCAH), noticed that food pantry clients were giving back certain foods because these foods were not their choice. To help give clients more choice, they created a “Superpantry,” modeled on supermarket where clients could choose more of what they wanted to eat.  She was surprised with how quickly fresh vegetables would fly off shelves. Since fresh vegetables were expensive and rarely donated to the food pantry, Dr. Samuels decided to start an urban farm. She identified vacant lot nearby to work with the owner on its transformation. After the farm was completed, adjacent neighbors came to Dr. Samuels for help planting their own farms using a manual she created.

In its first year, Dr. Samuels’ farm grew 1200 lbs food! She discussed the health benefits that she saw amongst farm volunteers: weight loss, lower blood pressure, reduced disease symptoms, taking less meds.  Dr. Samuels said that her work was only the beginning of solving a National crisis “Kids who eat junk — They’re bellies are full but they are still hungry.”

Ian Cheney shared his visionary project Truck Farm, documenting the story of urban agriculture in NYC through the filter of his 1/1000th acre plot, growing food in the bed of his pickup in Brooklyn using green roof techniques. “Truck Farm attracted young urban dwellers who rarely saw food grow, making suggestions for places to grow food.”  The most common suggestion amongst the youth: The Toilet! Cheney had no problem with the kids irreverence. In fact, he invited it. “We need to bring humor to the usually heavy dialogue around sustainable food.  We use the Truck Farm to spark dialogue.”

Josh Viertel, President of Slow Food USA, told about how he herded sheep on Mount Aetna in Sicily as a romantic way to use physical work to solve philosophical problems. After he got a sense of the need to combine heart, hands and mind together, he began working on changing food policy. For instance, Viertel recently sent a video to Obama about his failing to mention sustainable food in his State of the Union address.  Obama cited Walmart’s efforts as part of the Country’s move to sustainability.  ”Obama handing off responsibility for food & farming to Walmart is like handing over offshore drilling oversight to BP” commented Viertel.

“‘Vote With Your Fork’ is a good rallying cry but many districts only have one candidate & can only vote for incumbent.” Viertel thinks that The “Enlightened Eater” is easy to manipulate by commercial interests but an “Engaged Eater” is harder to push around. Big Agriculture Corporations are scared of the “Engaged Eater” and they are fighting back.  For instance, at recent speeches by good food advocate Michael Pollan, the Farm Bureau has delivered buses full of volunteers who read questions off of pre-printed cards like: “Why do you hate American Family Farmer?” Viertel discussed how being “engaged” meant that we all would have to be ready for some strange, intense fights ahead from entrenched economic interests whose profits are endangered by changing the way we eat.

Session 3: Where are we going?

http://www.tedxmanhattan.org/webcast-session-3

Dr. William Li, head of Angiogenesis Foundation, appeared via a 2010 TEDTalk video ”Can We Eat to Starve Cancer?” Angiogenesis is the growth of blood vessels.  The proper balance of body’s blood vessels signal health. Without a blood supply, many microscopic cancers that arise continually in the body cannot grow and become deadly. Dr. Li found that diet is responsible for 30-35% of environmental causes of cancers. Dr. Li asked: “What can we ADD to our diets to reduce that risk?”

To answer this question, Dr. Li tested foods with supposed anti-angiogenic properties and discovered that combining two of these foods greatly improved effectiveness. I’m glad to hear that drinking a blend of Sencha & Dragon Teas fights cancer because it sounds like a pretty tasty flavor mix to me.

Dr. Li then appeared live at TEDxManhattan and Hatz interviewed him.
Hatz: Is there a local sustainable food connection to fighting cancer?
Dr. Li: Yes, we have begun to research this possible nexus.
Hatz: Any surprise foods?
Dr. Li: Dutch hard cheese.
Hatz: What about chocolate?
Dr. Li: Chocolate is the Holy Grail we hope to study the impact on angiogenesis.
Hatz: What’s the impact of quantity eaten?
Dr. Li: We are studying that and other related behaviors like preparation and combination.

Michael Conard, Assistant Director of Urban Design Lab at Columbia University, spoke about “Rebuilding our Food Infrastructure.” Conard stated tha most food crises are distribution problems. He cited the renowned Leopold Center study that shows average distance traveled by food is 1500 miles. What the Leopold Center did not show is that distance was same in 1925 but that food was shipped by rail with a much lesser carbon impact. Conard brought the issue of means of transportation to the foreground to show that distribution is a key to changing the way we eat and the impact of the food system on the planet.

Conard stated that health care costs related to treating obesity estimated to reach 50% GDP by 2080 if we don’t change current trends. At the same time, demand for local foods has increased dramatically over the last ten years.  Local fresh foods will play an important role in reversing these negative health effects of long haul industrial foods.

Conard posed the question “How do we increase supply to meet growing demand for local food?” Conard proposed an analysis of the “food shed” that would permit a re-alignment towards local production and distribution.  He suggested that a “Spoke & Hub System could support greater local production.” Conard concluded that “Food Hubs” can be developed to create opportunities for “synergy between distribution, processing and production.”

Conard concluded by stating “Access & availability of food is human right. Governments and cities need to create infrastructure to secure resource for all.”

Britta Riley, an artist and creator of Windowfarms.org. “Living in City, I rely on others for everything.” Riley said. “This interdependence can solve social problems through Open Source systems.” Riley wanted to devise a project that would make a difference in food system for people living in apartments, so she turned the best science she could find: NASA. In a way, Riley mused, her city apartment was about as natural as space ship.

She found that NASA had invested in making food using hydroponic using a liquified soil to nourish plants. After some exploration, Riley found that off-the-shelf commercial hydroponic systems were loud, energy guzzlers. So, she sought to improve design through open sourcing a prototype, receiving inputs from designers around the world.

Riley calls her on-going design process “R&DIY,” merging the corporate term R&D with the DIY to connote the collaborative process. Riley see the community created around the design changing behavior & relationships which is every bit as important as perfecting the function of the product.

Elizabeth U, founder of Finance for Food, stated that food businesses face hurdles to obtain access to capital.  There are so many different ways to fund a business and so many different types of food businesses that it’s hard to match dollars to values. U has been encouraged by more decentralized, disintermediated funding models like #Kickstarter which allows business to solicit unpaid backers and #Profounder which allows business to share some percentage of their profits through this online interface.

At base, U said, changing the way we eat may require that we change our thinking about investing. You can start with your bank which invests your money in places that you may or may not like. U encouraged the audience to “Ask your bank where it is investing?” If the investments sounds bad or the bank won’t answer you, U suggested that you consider moving your money to a bank investing in food system. U concluded that the most powerful way to make change in local food is to invest directly in local food producers. “The risk of investing in local food business is high but the higher risk is staying with industrial food as your only option.”

Musicians from Ethel reflect on role in TED from beginning & impact of real time collaboration & sharing which is what TED is about

In a quick interlude, Diane Hatz challenges all viewing parties around Country to undertake a project together over the next few months, submit the ideas to TEDx.  The best idea will be selected to join TEDx next year

Frederick Kaufman, CUNY Graduate School of Journalism, asks “What is a Sustainability Index?” In recent research, Kaufman found that Big Ag businesses are trying to create a metric for “sustainability”.  Kaufman found this research to be sinister rather than sincere.  ”The process of self-regulation is called ‘Market Capture,’” Kaufman said, whereby you control the terms of knowledge.

Kaufman found that the problem inherent in many self-regulating standards is that they are not geared to measuring sustainability but rather set up for making money as efficiently as possible. “When we talk about food as an index, we are no longer talking about food.”

To understand the process of making a sustainability index a little bit better, he visited WalMart’s department dedicated to this work. On each of Walmart’s 125,000 products, the company intends to place a Sustainability Speedometer with 300+ factors leading to its score. Kaufman found this approach laudable and laughable in equal parts as it provided no real understanding of the complexity and no concrete guidance to the consumer.  In conclusion, Kaufman found that the Sustainability Index gave Walmart yet another way to market its good, keeping the customer happy but no better informed.

Curt Ellis, coFounder of FoodCorp, related how the Peace Corps was established in 1960.  During the course of the program, Peace Corps engaged 250,000 young leaders and showed how they could make change in the World. “In face of a National obesity epidemic,” Ellis stated “it seems time to launch a Peace Corps for improving school food, a Food Corps.” Food Corps could help organizations already working to improve school food could have foot soldiers to help scale up. “Kennedy talked about New Frontier,” Ellis said “but its Old Frontier that needs us now.”

Ellis asked: “What could Food Corps mean?” For Ellis, Food Corps means school-based agriculture, Farm to School programs, and cafeterias as places where food celebrated. “My hope is that we can take tired idea of Food Service and reimagine it as Real Food and National Service.”

Michel Nischan, Chef, CEO Wholesome Wave, said “Where there is flavor in the tomato, there is definitely joy,” he continued “there are also nutrients and health.”

Nischan asked: “Where do you get your food when you live in Food Desert? Quickie Mart? Why are there no grocery stores in Food Deserts?”

Nischan’s answer dispelled certain stereotypes about “culture.”  ”There are no grocery stores in food deserts because the people who live there can’t afford good, fresh food.”

Why is cheap food cheap? According to Nischan “Because it’s already been paid for by the government subsidies.” Nischan detailed how Wholesome Wave responds to affordability problem by doubling the money SNAP recipients use when buying fresh foods. Nischan laid out his vision about how local food entrepreneurs could be the “Superheroes” of sustainable food movement by making and circulating money in local community.  That’s how Nischan sees changing the way we eat.

In conclusion, I found that was a full and fulfilling day of inspiring talks representing a diversity of approaches to Changing the Way We Eat.

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2010 NYC Urban Agriculture Roundup

Posted: January 3rd, 2011 | Author:

Brooklyn Grange, a rooftop farm business in Long Island City, NY. Photo by CyrusDowlatshahi.com

Introduction

2010 was a major year for urban agriculture. There seemed to something related to urban agriculture every week.  I had a hard time keeping up.  So, I am pleased to offer this Year End Roundup to review all the activity during this amazing year.

Farms: Many New Starts and Expansions

In 2010, many impressive farm enterprises started and expanded in NYC.

Ben Flanner designed and built almost an acre of rooftop farmland in Long Island City, Queens, the first site for Brooklyn Grange, his for-profit agricultural enterprise.  In addition to finding no receptive landlords in Brooklyn, Flanner had some intial setbacks with the NYC Department of Buildings.  With charismatic pluck and good planning, Flanner quickly shed these logistical headaches and turned his first growing season into a productive one, selling to area restaurants and hosting a market every week. Next year, he is trying to locate several additional rooftops to farm, pursuing his long term strategy to develop a viable venture.

Tenth Acre Farms started in Early 2009 by Jordan Hall and by brothers Bennett and Adam Wilson — in Mr. Hall’s backyard.  They expanded in 2010 to the abandoned basketball court at St. Cecilia’s School in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, using raised bed gardening and hosted a weekly market from Spring to Fall.

Eco Station helped launch The Secret Garden Farm in a re-discovered inner yard adjacent to the Bushwick Community Garden (Linden St and Broadway).  In its first season, the farm produced heirloom tomatoes, eggplant, mustard greens, jalapeño peppers, kale, and fresh herbs sold at Bushwick Farmers’ Market. The season had some bittersweet notes: crop damage from the September hurricane and discord with a neighborhood gardener who was reluctant to share space. With good cheer, Eco Station ended the year with a successful Solstice Celebration.

Added Value, now in its 10th year of operation, planted three-acres of organic fruit and vegetables at a new Farm on Governor’s Island.  Farm Managers supervised volunteer farmhands and opened farm stand for visitors.

Bk Farmyards High School for Public Service Youth Farm. Photo by Kate Glicksberg

Stacey Murphy and Bee Ayers of Bk Farmyards were incredibly busy this year, opening two ambitious new projects in Crown Heights, Brooklyn.  First, they worked with students to cultivate an acre at High School for Public Service Youth Farm with support from Green Guerillas.

Second, the pair launched the first Egg CSA in NYC, giving 40 members roughly a dozen eggs per week throughout the growing season. Located in Imani Garden, 50 hens were housed in a newly-constructed model chicken coop designed and built by Murphy and volunteers with a mere $1,500 grant from NY Restoration Project (founded by Bette Midler).

Bed Stuy Farm secured the right to plant on an adjacent lot this year.

After successful advocacy in 2009, Bed Stuy Farm obtained permission to farm the property adjacent to its parent organization, Brooklyn Rescue Mission.  In September, Bed Stuy Farm was selected by Growing Power (located in Milwaukee, WI) to be one of several Regional Outreach Training Centers which will receive technical training and support.

In March, a group of neighbors in Windsor Terrace, Brooklyn started Prospect Farm, working together to grow food in a formerly vacant lot. The project started modestly when Tom Angotti, who lives adjacent to the lot, emailed around for help clearing debris. He was pleasantly surprised “Over 100 volunteers arrived during the day.  That’s when I began talking to neighbors about planting a farm together.” The soil has been tested and found to have high levels of lead and other heavy metals.  So before growing any food, the group’s first step will be soil remediation through careful composting.

Digging beds at Ujima Garden, a Neighborhood Farm of Slow Food NYC

Through its Neighborhood Farms program, Slow Food NYC launched Ujima Garden, partnering with East New York Urban Youth Corps, WATCH High School and Brownsville Multi-Service corporation to find a location where we could build our teaching farm.  Located in East New York, volunteers cleared space for this new farm consisting of almost 4,000 square feet.  East New York Farms! donated all the tools for the volunteers to use and Brooklyn Botanic Garden donated plants and planting mix. WATCH High School will take over long-term management of Ujima Garden.

Gotham Greens, a commercial hydroponic rooftop greenhouse operation, finally found a home atop the Greenpoint Manufacturing and Design Center in Brooklyn. Beginning in 2011, the 15,000 square foot facility expects to produce over 30 tons of “premium quality, pesticide-free, sustainably-grown,” vegetables, fruit, and culinary herbs every year.

DIY Sub-Irrigated Planter (SIP) at Slippery Slope Farm

Builders of rooftop greenhouses may challenges in obtaining government approvals because the new structure may sometimes exceed the Floor Area Ratio (FAR) permitted for an existing building size and its zoning. City Councilmenber Gale Brewer became aware of how FAR restrictions inhibit building rooftop greenhouses after attending the NYC Food & Climate Summit last year. So, she and others sponsored Introduction 0338, a Local Law to amend the building code adding ”greenhouses to the list of rooftop structures that are excluded from such [floor area] calculations.”

Advocates of urban farming expressed concern about Intro 338 because the proposed law would limit FAR bonuses to only 1/3rd of roof area, which would provide little benefit for prospective commercial rooftop farms.

After holding hearings on October 20, 2010, Councilmember Brewer explained that the Housing and Building Committee delayed further action on the legislation “while we review enlarging the exempted roof area and ensuring no private penthouses are built using this law as a loophole to evade the intent of Building Code and Zoning.”

Throughout 2010, I heard about countless other urban homestead projects launched in back yards, plots in community gardens and apartment windowsills.

One notable home grower who went public is Frieda Lim, creator of Slippery Slope Farm located on her rooftop in Gowanus, Brooklyn.  This summer, Lim hosted free tastings and teachings at her farm to discuss her use of Sub-Irrigated Planters (SIPs) designed in collaboration with SIPs guru Bob Hyland.  To her surprise, her farm was featured in the NY Post!

It was a really inspiring year for innovative experiments in urban farming of every size.

Farm Support Organizations: Crop Mob NYC and Lower Hudson CRAFT

Crop Mob NYC started in February 2010 after organizer-farmer Deb Taft read an NYT article about the group in North Carolina, where the idea orginated. Crop Mob alerts a network of landless farmhands about a farmer’s need for assistance. The concept borrows terminology from “text mobs” — spontaneous gatherings called together rapidly by text messages.

Crop Mob NYC provided farmhands for Eagle St Rooftop Farm

Taft amassed 900 followers and organized 11 “Mobs” from April to October — the first hit 4 Brooklyn farms with more than 100 people participating. All but two Mobs lent a hand in the City — the other two were in Westchester and Putnam Counties. Mobs helped harvest at BKFarmyards High School for Public Service (twice), Eagle Street Rooftop Farm, Brooklyn Grange, Queens County Farm Museum, Added Value’s Red Hook Community Farm, Bed Stuy Farm, La Finca del Sur in the Bronx and others.

Another cool thing that happened in 2010 was the formation of the Lower Hudson CRAFT chapter, coordinated by Glywood, connecting an upstate farming organization to farms in NYC. CRAFT is an acronym for Collaborative Regional Alliance for Farmer Training, a longstanding organization including farms from Pioneer Valley in Massachusetts to Upper Hudson by fostering opportunities for farm interns to improve skills.

This year, the Lower Hudson CRAFT met about 10 times at different farms from Putnam County to NYC, including Red Hook Community Farm and Eagle Street Rooftop Farm. Apprentices (and farmers) were given a tour of the host farm followed by a lesson in a particular specialty — or challenge — of the farm.  According to Deb Taft: “We all got to see the many different ways things can be done and to hang out with colleagues instead of feeling isolated on our farms”  Contact Maryellen Sheehan to join Lower Hudson CRAFT.

School Gardens: Growing  Support for Innovation and Greater Resources

A 2010 study by the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets found that 306 of the 1,600 NYC schools have a school garden or some type of interactive growing environment. Interestingly, 43% of community gardens also partner with a local school.  The study finds that barriers to garden creation and survival include limited funding, need for gardening equipment and materials, and few resources to care for gardens over the summer.

Vermiculture at Brooklyn New School by Educator Matt Sheehan.

Even amidst space and resource constraints, City schools have already found creative ways to implement and expand gardening projects in 2010. Examples of innovative growing projects include PS 364 in the East Village which grows vegetables in converted pickle barrels; PS 146 in Brooklyn (New School) which has created a complex composting and rainwater harvesting system to support their thriving garden; and Discovery High School in the Bronx which started a hydroponic growing wall.

In an effort to support the growth of school gardens, The Mayor’s Office and Food Network chef Rachel Ray launched a broad-based, private-public initiative with NYC SchoolFood via Yum-O, Ray’s non-profit devoted to improving healthy eating for children. At a press conference in the vegetable garden at PS 29 in Brooklyn (where my kids went to school), the Mayor announced new efforts that will help address obstacles to creating and maintaining school gardens and supportive programs including:

  • Launching a new mini-grant program (grants of $500-$1,000) this fall for schools in need of funds to start a garden.
  • Creating a website for schools, being designed by GrowNYC, to be launched by this fall with resources including:
    • Additional technical assistance provided by GrowNYC and GreenThumb.
    • Information on how to locate and connect to local community gardens.
    • Complimentary programming provided by City and nonprofit partners.
    • Information for teachers on how to incorporate garden instruction into existing curricula to maximize their academic impact.
  • Expanding the “Garden to Café” pilot program from 25 schools to more than 50 schools in the 2010 school year. The program’s goal is to connect school gardening and lunch menus through seasonal harvest events and educational activities. PS 29 is one of the initial Garden to Café sites using what is grown in its salad bar and creating recipes for special events.
  • Starting a teen intern program to take care of school gardens during the summer months. NYC Service will also help coordinate volunteers to care for the gardens.

“We are very excited to help teach New York City youth where food comes from and in turn provide them with encouragement to make healthier choices,” said Ray. Sounds like a good start.

School Gardens: High Profile Projects Gather Celebrity Backers

Rendering of Edible Schoolyard NY at PS 216 by Work.AC

Edible Schoolyard – A little bit of Oakland arrived in Brooklyn this year when Alice Waters spearheaded a new project at P.S. 216 in Gravesend: Edible Schoolyard New York.  Movie producer John Lyons, who had volunteered at the public school, was the motive force behind raising the whopping $1.6 million, attracting an A-list celebrity Advisory Committee, like Momufuku chef David Chang and locavore guru Michael Pollan.  Ground broke in October on the first phase of the elaborate farm construction, featuring a four-season high-tech greenhouse designed by Work Architecture Company, known for its pioneering 2008 installation Public Farm 1 at P.S. 1.

Edible Schoolyard New York could become a dazzling showcase for farm-based learning in the City’s public schools.  At the groundbreaking, Borough President Mary Markowitz remarked “I am happy to state that this is the only neighborhood project that no one has complained about.” While admirable, the lack of public comment may reflect the lightning speed with which the whole project was hatched by people outside the school community. Contrary to many other public schools around the City, for instance, parents and teachers at P.S. 216 had no previous commitment to starting a school garden. Hopefully, the immense initial investment will yield a cadre of loyal, local stewards dedicated to the viability of Edible Schoolyard.

The Sun Works Center atop PS 333 in Manhattan

Sun Works Center – Another high-profile school garden opened this Fall — The Sun Works Center for Environmental Science, built on the roof of The Manhattan School for Children P.S. 333. A public-private partnership between the P.S. 333 community, New York Sun Works, and the School Construction Authority, the Sun Works Center uses sustainable local food production as a tool for teaching environmental science. NY Sun Works has an ambitious plan to build 100 greenhouse classrooms throughout NYC called .

Together, BrightFarm Systems and architects Kiss+Cathcart designed the Sun Works Center to utilize diverse growing mediums such as Nutrient Film Technique (NFT), vertical Vine Crop System, Aquaponics and raised soil beds dressed with vermi-compost made on site. Other green features include building-integrated photovoltaic cells and rainwater capture for both evaporative cooling and irrigation. The Sun Works Center was developed by the same team that created the Science Barge in 2007.

How do you pay for the ambitious construction planned for the Sun Works Center? Located in the Upper West Side, P.S. 333 is well-situated amongst the well-heeled.  In 2009, Designer Donna Karan, Actress Lauren Bacall and Author Ann Brashares hosted a benefit where 430 attendees contributed $100,000. Additional funds were raised through an online auction on Charity Buzz co-hosted by Wellness in the Schools.  Despite the scale of the resources required in the face of an economic downturn, NY Sun Works is scheduled to open its second Greenhouse Project this year at The Cypress Hills Community School, P.S. 89, an innovative, successful, community-based, bilingual (Spanish/English), public school in northeastern Brooklyn.

Rendering for GELL Project at PS 41

Rendering of GELL Project at PS 41

Greenroof Environmental Literacy Lab (GELL) – In March, P.S. 41 unveiled designs for its new $1.7-million rooftop “environmental literacy lab” — unique in its design and scale for a New York City public school at the West 11th Street school.  Initial construction began this Fall.

The GELL Project will feature “plants, insects and wildlife from a mix of habitats as well as learning space to teach lessons in urban sustainability, farm-to-table agriculture and environmental stewardship.” The project’s costs have been underwritten by the offices of Manhattan Borough President Stringer, City Council Speaker Quinn and State Senator Thomas Duane, along with donations from foundations and the school community (which is drawn from one of the wealthiest areas in the City!).

Fifth Street Farm Project – A grassroots organization of teachers, parents, and green-roof advocates have begun work on a farm atop the Robert Simon Complex, a large public school building on the Lower East Side containing P.S. 64 and the Earth School, and Tompkins Square Middle School. The 3000 square foot farm was designed by Michael Arad, known for his winning plan for the World Trade Center Memorial. The office of Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer contributed $500,000 toward the cost of the $750,000 project.

As a final note, P.S. 6 in Manhattan also started construction on a snazzy rooftop greenhouse, called Eric Dutt Eco-Center, but the information on the project does not emphasize any food or agriculture practices.

Adopt-A-Farmbox: Technical Assistance for School Farms

In May 2010, Artist Aki Baker, her husband Ron Baker of Baker Design + Build and Yemi Amu, a Health Educator and natural foods chef, teamed up to launch Adopt-A-Farmbox, a non-profit organization supporting the design of urban agriculture planters and programs in NYC schools. The three founders combine their unique and diverse skills to engage school communities in building farmboxes — using the objects as a starting point to initiate related programming: community building, gardening education; cooking & nutrition workshops and resource guidance.

“Our goal?” says Amu, “We want to connect children and adults to nature by presenting them with the opportunity to plant a seed, watch it grow, tend to it, then harvest and share the fruits of their labor with the community.” Last summer, Adopt-A-Farmbox raised $10,000 on Kicskstarter through a community-based fundraising campaign supported by schools, local businesses and artists that facilitated projects in 6 New York City schools located in Brooklyn and Manhattan including P.S. 347, The Greene-Hill School, P.S. 11, P.S. 307, Brooklyn Brownstone School and Children’s Workshop School. The team has plans to partner with 2 additional schools in Brooklyn and the Bronx in addition to expanding its program focus to include a project with a homeless shelter.

Community Gardens: Brinksmanship, Relief and Continuing Concerns

Brooklyn Bears Carlton Avenue Garden, Brooklyn.

Community gardens produce a lot of food for individual small plot farmers around the city.  However, in the 1990s, the Giuliani administration began to sell gardens to real estate developers, making their future uncertain. In February 2000, Attorney General Spitzer obtained a Temporary Restraining Order, preventing any further development in any community garden.

The Temporary Restraining Order remained in effect until September 2002 when Mayor Bloomberg and Attorney General Spitzer reached an Agreement preserving nearly 400 community gardens on city-owned land while allowing development to move forward on over other 100 gardens already slated for development.  The 2002 Agreement was expected to expire in September 2010, causing the NYC Community Garden Coalition (NYCCGC) to begin organizing its members and allies to sustain and to improve its terms.  As a result, the terms of the 2002 Agreement have largely been maintained to protect all current community gardens.

As part of the process of renewing the 2002 Agreement, NYCCGC had worked with City agencies to draft new rules governing community gardens.  Negotiations eventually broke off in September 2010, leaving the Coalition and its allies frustrated. On October 13, 2010, NYC Department of Parks & Recreation went ahead and issued “new rules” for community gardens under their jurisdiction.  NYCCGC released a Response, airing several concerns about the new rules which were reiterated at hearings held at the City Council on November 29, 2010. In the New Year, I am hoping that NYCCGC’s recommended changes to community garden rules will be adopted by the City.

Future Community Gardens: People’s Garden NYC

In the Community Garden Survey: New York City 2009-10, produced by GreenThumb and GrowNYC, the researchers stated: “While very few new gardens have started since 1999, much effort has been made since then to ensure the long term viability of community gardens.”

Advocate Daniel Bowman Simon started a petition campaign, People’s Garden NYC, to Mayor Bloomberg, which begins as follows: “We, the undersigned people of New York City, respectfully request that a vegetable garden be planted in front of City Hall.”

Simon has a track record of success in this “field.” In 2008, he was one of The WHO Farmers, coordinators of the The White House Organic Farm Project who rode around the Country in an upside-down school bus to convince First Lady Michele Obama to cultivate food on at the Presidential residence.

This spring, the Bloomberg administration built a new “Learning Garden” in City Hall Park “tended and used by nearby PS 276 and PS 397.” This could be the beginning of a step in the right direction. You can support Simon’s big, sustainable vision by signing the petition at the People Garden NYC site.

Farm School NYC: Certificate in Urban Agriculture

With a sizable grant from the USDA and two years of collaborative planning completed, Just Food launched Farm School NYC.  The program “aims to increase the self-reliance of communities and inspire positive local action around issues of food access and social, economic and racial justice by providing comprehensive professional training in urban agriculture for NYC residents.”

Farm School NYC drew some inspiration from The Apprenticeship Program of The Center for Agroecology & Sustainable Food Systems at UC Santa Cruz.  Farm School NYC will offer comprehensive training in all aspects of urban agriculture through a two-year certificate program and a wide range of individual courses. According to Jane Hodge, Director of Farm School NYC, Just Food received 160 applications for its first class of 15 students which demonstrates the demand. Hopefully, Farm School NYC will train and education a new set of leaders and farmers who will help establish the long term viability of urban agriculture.

Books: Homesteading, Edible Estates, Vertical Farming and More

Thinking about starting your own farm?  Check out The Urban Homestead: Your Guide to Self-Sufficiency in the Heart of the City, by Kelly Coyne and Erik Knutsen of Los Angeles, California whose joint blog is HomeGrownRevolution.

Knutsen and Coyne are identified in another book as part of a movement growing across the United States described as Radical Homemakers: Reclaiming Domesticity From a Consumer Culture by Shannon Hayes. As an interesting counterpoint, I noticed Eco Chic Home: Reuse, Rethink and Remake Your Way to Sustainable Style by Emily Anderson. Not as thoughtfully considered or politically astute but containing some nifty design ideas, like a standing lamp made of old flowerpots.  Something for all levels of social commitment?

Novella Carpenter’s Farm City: The Education of An Urban Farmer came out in paperback, displaying humor, humility and good storytelling that made this memoir one of my favorite books last year.  If you’re looking for a rural move, you might consult Up Tunket Road: The Education of the Modern Homesteader by Phillip Ackerman-Leist. I didn’t get a chance to read it but Joel Salatin liked it.

I really enjoyed Above the Pavement – The Farm! Architecture and Agriculture at Public Farm 1, providing an in-depth eyewitness interviews about the genesis of this influential exploration of the imaginative boundaries of urban agriculture and its new place in the cultural firmament of New York City.  The installation was the brainchild of Dan Wood and Amale Adraos of the architecture firm Work.AC and the book was the work of Project Projects as part of its Inventory Book series.

The book’s title harks back to the revolutionary call-to-arms shouted by students in revolt in 1968 Paris.  The authors stake a claim for urban agriculture as a next wave of urban radicalism and revolutionary re-imagination of city space.  Provocative and inspiring, this volume showed the transformative power of ideas with an especially interesting epilogue about the long Modern history of urban utopianism by Meredith Ten Hoor.

In a similar vein, Fritz Haeg released the second edition of estimable Edible Estates: Attack on the Front Lawn, his seminal agit-prop art project advocating front lawns be ripped up and farmed in an environmental protest to the cultivation of the single largest crop produced by the US: grass. Haeg gives another vision of the power of a simple alteration of business-as-usual leading to game-changing results.

If you are looking for a practical route to achieve what Haeg suggests, look no further Mini Farming: Self Sufficiency on ¼ Acre by Brett L. Markham, a beautifully photographed and illustrated guide to civic agriculture. I also noticed another volume on the same topic:  The Practical Homestead: The Backyard Handbook for Growing Food, Raising Animals and Nurturing Your Land by Paul Heiney.

Route taken across US by authors of Farm Together Now!

Artist and activist, Amy Franceschini, blogger of FutureFarmers, along with Daniel Tucker put out a coffee table reference, Farm Together Now: A Portrait of People, Places and Ideas For a New Food Movement.  The book is chock full of innovative farms from across the Country, including several urban farms. Strikingly, Katherine Leiner seemed inspired by a similar impulse, traveling cross country to gather stories and recipes for Growing Roots: The New Generation of Sustainable Farmers, Cooks and Food Activists.  Of course, Leiner visits Brooklyn and talks to legendary beekeeper Andrew Coté, writer-activist Anna Lappé, and food filmmakers Ian Cheney and Curt Ellis.

On the academic front, I found two decent surveys of urban agriculture from Canada and from the UK, respectively, Agricultural Urbanism: Handbook for Building Sustainable Food Systems for the 21st Century edited by Janine de la Salle and Mark Holland and Urban Agriculture: Diverse Activities and Benefits for City Society, a hardcover edition of the International Journal of Agricultural Sustainability edited by Craig Pearson, Sarah Pilgrim and Jules Pretty.  The former is a compendium of thoughtful ideas for urban agriculture while the latter book seeks to be a “collection of the latest thinking on the multiple dimensions of sustainable greenspace and food production within cities.”

Rendering by Chris Jacobs, Dean Fowler and Rolf Mohr posted on VerticalFarming.org

Continuing in the academic vein, Columbia Professor Dickson Despommier released his neo-Modernist manifesto Vertical Farming: Feeding the World in the 21st Century. Despommier believes that the “vertical farm is the keystone enterprise for establishing an urban-based ecosystem” and for “restoring balance between our lives and the rest of nature.”

Like any sci-fi geek worth his Star Trek stripes, I initially dug Despommier’s slick space ships synthesizing food in the soon-to-be City. With little practical experience building green or growing food, Despommier proposes an invention the merges the two complex undertakings into one theoretical construct. By contrast, I have experienced first-hand the maddening gulf between ideal and reality in the construction of green buildings. And I have seen the painfully plentiful ways that plantations can fail to meet even the best scientific expectations.

Hence, it is from a place of affection for Despommier’s dream that I state my own serious skepticism about the efficacy of building a multi-million dollar skyscraper to produce food with a supposedly smaller carbon footprint. Frankly, the real surprise about Despommier’s sweeping ideas is their traction with media outlets — mainstream and eco-conscious alike — which seem take his plans at face value with little in-depth questioning or probing critique.  Perhaps Despommier has hit upon deeply wishful thinking tracking our desire for a single magic bullet to an infinitely vexing target.

On the sustainable food front, there were so many books on this worthy topic this year that it would be hard to mention them all here.  Having said that, two notable books jump to mind.  Anna Lappe’s Diet for A Hot Planet: The Climate Crisis at the End of Your Fork and What You Can Do About It is an excellent overview of the current climate crisis and the role that the food system plays in it.  And, Four Fish: The Future of the Last Wild Food by Paul Greenberg is an entertaining, personalized and nuanced investigation into global fisheries.

The New Brooklyn Cookbook

Just for fun check out The New Brooklyn Cookbook: Recipes and Stories from 31 Restaurants That Put Brooklyn on The Culinary Map by husband and wife, Melissa and Brendan Vaughn, which provides an interesting tour of evolving food scene in Brooklyn, driven by chefs and restaurants who have a passion for fresh local ingredients.  The cook book also explores restaurants’ connections to urban farming, featuring a profile of Annie Novak from Eagle Street Rooftop Farms, to home cooks and to small-batch artisans, like Wheelhouse Pickles and Salvatore Ricotta. From a personal perspective, the “Chicken Under a Brick” recipe provided by chef Sean Rembold from Marlow & Sons was a revelation, allowing for a tasty and fast dinner for a family of four.

Documentary Film: What’s Organic About Organic

There were so many sustainable food films released in 2009 and still touring the country in 2010 (Dirt!, What’s On Your Plate, Fresh, etc.) that I get a little confused about the few documentaries that actually came out this year.  The most prominent film that I can recall, What’s Organic About Organic, was not really devoted to urban agriculture directly. The film covered a matter of importance to the urban food shed — the organic food debate —  showing the importance of being clear about these environmental standards moving well beyond personal choice and into the realm of social responsibility.

Mark Ruffalo plays an urban farmer character in The Kids Are All Right,

Feature Film:  The Kids Are All Right

Urban farming goes Hollywood!  The feature film, The Kids Are All Right, not only introduced the idea that lesbian moms can be as dysfunctional as their hetero counterparts but also debuted an urban farmer, played by actor Mark Ruffalo, who grows fresh produce for his southern California farm-to-table restaurant.  Let’s hope future urban farm characters are more responsible with their seed!

Television: Jamie Oliver talks Revolution

Chef Jamie Oliver talks to school children about their lunches.

I think that Jamie Oliver has done more to mainstream sustainable food politics in 2010 than anyone else. Everybody wants to talk to me about Jamie’s Food Revolution USA, an ABC television show that followed Oliver over the course of winter 2009, when he travelled to America to raise awareness of the growing obesity crisis and aimed to get people cooking and eating good food again.  Not bad.

Oliver hit some flat notes in the opening of the show when the local talk radio host asked him “who made you king?” – a fair question about an interloper amongst the fat and unhappy. However, Oliver shows everyday alienation from food production when some of the kids could not properly identify a tomato.  I have used that anecdote countless times as a glaring example of the failure of the educational system and food system alike.  It is an unbelievably powerful and priceless teaching moment.

Publication: Brooklyn Bread

Brooklyn Bread Press has to be the most unique new urban food publication around, launched this year by Danielle Franca Swift and Jack Wright. It is sort of a food fanzine that surveys both the people who produce comestibles and the folks that consume them.  The radically democratizing concept is that all the people in the sustainable food system are stars – the eaters equal to the feeders.  All those gathered around these many diverse tables are covered copiously in multi-frame photo essays taken at the borough’s myriad food events.  Brooklyn Bread reads like the Society Pages for foodies without any nattering over boldfaced names captioned in the pictures.

So, you could be the next face of Brooklyn Bread just by showing up for a cooking class at Ger-Nis Culinary Center. And, I am quite proud to say that the revelers who joined me for Farm City Tours were included in the premiere issue! Brooklyn Bread represents a new form of celebrity tabloid: honoring the people who create alternative, sustainable community around good food.

Websites: NonaBrooklyn

NonaBrooklyn tells us that it’s “like the sidewalk chalkboards that restaurants, shops and bars use to promote daily specials,” Nona pulls all those “chalkboards” together in a communiqué that tells you ‘What’s Good Today’ in Brooklyn.  You can learn about food news, special offers, events and tastings. Founder Peter Hobbs and the editors as NonaBrooklyn are deeply interested in promoting the growth of the sustainable food system and provide a lot of good exposure for urban farms.

In all fairness to the blogerratti, of which I am one, there were so many great blogs that I can’t pinpoint any others without extending this section way too far.  Suffice to say that I found a new urban agriculture blog about every week or whenever I looked, whichever came first.

NYC Government Action: Legal Beekeeping, FoodNYC vs. FoodWorks and Educational Green Roofs

Beekeeper Cerise Mayo at Red Hook Community Farm. Photo by Kate Glicksberg

Bee Legal – On March 14, 2010, NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene altered its regulations to make beekeeping legal.  Previously, honeybees had been classified as a prohibited “wild animal” under Title IV of the Health Code, Article 161, Section 161.01, making beekeeping punishable by fines of $200 to $2000.  Now, many of the honeymakers who crept about in the shadows can come forth and celebrate a “sweet victory.” The advocacy campaign that changed the beekeeping rules emanated from many different sustainable food organizations, most notably Just Food.  If you want to join the now-legal ranks of honeymakers, contact the NYC Beekeeping Meetup.

Other Voices, Other Laws – In addition to Intro 338, discussed above, the City Council proposed several other interesting measures related to urban agriculture this year.

The Council introduced but did not pass a Resolution 0200 to make the Newtown Pippin (pictured above) the official Big Apple apple. According to NewtownPippin.org, the City Council’s lack of legislative will did not dampen spirits at The Newtown Pippin Restoration and Celebration on April 28, 2010, marking the planting of NYC’s first public access orchard consisting of 40 heirloom apple trees in Randall’s Island Park. Go heirloom species diversification!

Now stalled in Committee, Resolution 0507 calls upon the NYS Legislature to allow the Green Roof Tax Abatement to extend to owners cultivating food producing plants.

Eureka! Here’s something that actually passed!  Local Law 42 directs the NYC Department of Sanitation to conduct a study exploring “diversion of compostable waste from the city’s waste stream” to be issued July 2012. In the past, a similar study laid the foundation for city-wide curbside recycling.

What's in a bin? Could Local Law 42 lead to a curbside compost collection, like the City of Ottawa?

FoodNYC – In February, Mayoral hopeful and Manhattan Borough President Scott M. Stringer released FoodNYC: A Blueprint for a Sustainable Food System, a comprehensive effort to unify and reform New York City’s policies regarding the production, distribution, consumption, and disposal of food.

The report summarized work of breakout groups at the NYC Food & Climate Summit held at NYU in December 2009 in partnership with Just Food, outlining a package of proposals that will make the City’s food system more sustainable by pushing local purchasing and production, increasing access to healthy food, and expanding the food economy. (See “Urban Farming on the Agenda” 12.19.09)

“For the first time, [we] present a single, comprehensive vision for food policy in this city.” said Manhattan Borough President (MBP) Scott M. Stringer. Urban Agriculture received special mention throughout FoodNYC, including the following recommendations:

Establish food production as a priority in New York City for personal, community, or commercial use by the year 2030.
 Assess Land Availability and Suitability for Urban Agriculture
 Create a Citywide Urban Agriculture Program
 Ensure the Permanence of Community Gardens
 Facilitate the Development of Rooftop Agricultural Greenhouses

MBPO Stringer has also begun mobilizing grassroots support for food policy change through gathering signatures for the NYC Food Pledge:

I pledge to eat in a manner guided by the environmental, economic, and health consequences of my food consumption, and I will work to create a food system consistent with the principles set forth in the NYC Sustainable Food Charter.

Foodworks NYC – In December at Food & Finance High School in Manhattan, Mayoral hopeful and City Council Speaker Christine C. Quinn unveiled her office’s vision of a comprehensive plan for a more sustainable food system .

The plan, FoodWorks, provides a blueprint for addressing issues at every phase of the food system – from agricultural production, processing, distribution, consumption and post-consumption, outlining 59 policy proposals spanning five phases of the food system. The proposals included new legislation, funding initiatives and far-reaching goals that present a long-term vision for a better food system in NYC.

Speaker Quinn’s proposals are closely aligned to the work of MBP Stringer and the NYC Food & Climate Summit. Speaker Quinn’s motivation to reform the food system is not new, having formed the NYC Food Policy Task Force with Mayor Bloomberg in 2006. In 2012, New Yorkers who care about food will face a choice of two candidates who have shown a lot of concern about improving NYC’s food shed.

Educational Green Roofs – In December, Manhattan Borough President Scott M. Stringer hosted an Educational Green Roofs for Public Schools Panel Discussion at PS 41. The symposium focused on the planning, development, curricular tie-ins, costs and maintenance of establishing educational green roofs.

The Borough President has funded ten green roof projects and two greenhouses which are in various stages of development.  These projects range from feasibility studies to green roofs to an aquaponic installation for breeding tilapia fish on top of Food & Finance High School. To help schools move forward with their own plans, the Borough President has posted a Report on Green Roofs for Existing School Buildings, detailing technical issues, and a Green Roofs Resource Guide, providing general information.

PlaNYC: Bringing Food to the Table in 2011 – An update of PlaNYC 2030, the Mayor’s long-term sustainability goals for NYC, will be issued on Earth Day 2011. One of my first posts detailed how urban agriculture might be included in the next draft. (PlaNYC and Urban Agriculture, 10.29.09)

The Food Systems Network NYC has prepared a document, Food for the Future, with the help of its members and friends explaining why the Mayor should include a Food Chapter in PlaNYC 2.0. The Mayor’s Office has a website — http://www.allourideas.org/PlaNYCwhere you can “Add Your Own Idea” and request that PlaNYC adopt the suggestions of the Food Systems Network — or your own.

NYC Policy Research: Farming Concrete and Five Borough Farm

Two major policy initiatives supporting the growth of urban agriculture got off the ground this year: Farming Concrete and Five Borough Farm.

Screenshot of FarmingConcrete.com Harvest Map page.

Farming Concrete is a volunteer, citizen science project to measure how much food is grown in New York City’s community gardens launched by Cartographer Mara Gittelman and several community partners. You can follow NYC’s harvest using their interactive map. Farming Concrete “looks at the yield of a small raised bed, determines how many of gardens might actually be considered farms in the national agricultural census, and ensures that we pay homage to the hard work and dedication of community gardeners over the last several decades who have truly made the success of urban agriculture possible today.” For every community garden in NYC, this open source study intends to answer the following questions:

“We at ___ Community Garden grew ___ pounds of food in ____ square feet, which is worth $___, served approximately ___ people, and prevented approximately __ pounds of greenhouse gases from entering the atmosphere.”

Related to this project was an endeavor called GardenMaps surveyed 223 gardens across the City to provide New York residents and community developers with more information about the activities and features of each community garden, such as art, compost, food, events and more.  GardenMaps charts out the results of a 2009-2010 survey by Mara Gittleman and Lenny Librizzi to support the work of GrowNYC and GreenThumb, creating a specific interface for community gardens taken from the broader OASIS community mapping interface.

Five Borough Farm was launched by Design Trust for Public Space in collaboration with Added Value to develop strategies to support urban agriculture in all five boroughs. The project will survey and map NYC’s existing urban agricultural activity and develop tools to help quantify the benefits of urban agriculture demonstrating to government the best policies to promote it.

Five Borough Farm Workshop on December 6, 2010

Late in 2010, the Trust amassed a large, diverse group of urban farmers and thinkers to discuss how to proceed with this important project.  The workshop attempted to settle upon common concerns and themes that might help guide the efforts of Five Borough Farm throughout the year, asking questions such as “What motivates you do your work” and “What’s our vision for urban agriculture in NYC?”  The results will be shared with all the participants as the project matures.  Already, the gathering has identified and galvanized an important network of people supporting and practicing urban agriculture. I am really interested to see how this project develops over the course of the next year.

Exhibitions: FarmCity.US and Living Concrete/Carrot City

Mathilde Rousell-Giraudy premiered her living sculpture Ça Pousse! at Farm City Fair

OK, I have to put in a shameless plug for my own action-research project, FarmCity.US, launched in September with the support for French Institute Alliance Française to promote the growth of urban agriculture.  It really was a pretty exciting collaboration:  three-weeks of events starting with Farm City Fair leading to three different Film screenings and Farm City Tours.

In the middle of the month, we opened  a visual exhibition — Brooklyn Utopias: Farm City at Old Stone House Historic Center.  We ended with Farm City Forum hosting a Pecha Kucha of great ideas in urban agriculture, featured a presentation by Novella Carpenter and hatched new ways of thinking about growing food in the City.

Display of design objects at Living Concrete/Carrot City. From left: Rainwater Catchment, Beehaus, Tiered Vertical Planter, Sub-Irrigated Planter

As FarmCity.US ended, The New School began its own ambitious three month program of Living Concrete/Carrot City, displaying both parallel projects in a gallery at the University.  Carrot City, curated by academics from Ryerson University in Toronto, examines how urban agriculture and issues of food security influence architecture and planning, displaying photos and texts of model projects as well as innovative design objects.  With a similar impulse, Living Concrete curators, Nevin Cohen and Radhika Subramaniam, installed a variety of projects – actual, ongoing and hypothetical — that demonstrate the potentials and challenges in linking design and civic agriculture.

Every week, the gallery hosted diverse panel discussions addressing different approaches to these issues of design and the future of civic agriculture.  Many of these conversations helped introduce new voices to the dialog and help widen and strengthen the network of people working in urban agriculture.  As a community-building exercise, Living Concrete also posted and promoted other events in urban agriculture during the course of its run.

Food Markets: Farewell Greenpoint Food Market, Hello Kitchen Collaborative?

In an odd twist of fate, Greenpoint Food Market (GFM) became a victim of its own success.  In June, NY Times printed a glowing review of GFM, highlighting the unique artisanal foods and communal spirit of the new market.

NYC Department of Health took note of some of the irregularities of the makers’ home processing and began snooping around, eventually shutting GFM down.  According to Founder Joanne Kim, who is an artist and curator: “GFM functions first and foremost out of a love and support for folks to share food, foster and cultivate a community, and secondly function as a nesting ground for artisanal food entrepreneurs to strengthen their wings and fly off to a bigger and wider world of opportunities and dreams fulfilled.”

Many people in sustainable food tried to help guide GFM back on its feet, including Bob Lewis of NYS Agriculture and Markets.  Lee has stated: “In the next couple months we will focus mainly on opening an incubator kitchen in Greenpoint.” Believe it or not, a new project is in the works to help move this idea forward in 2011 called “Kitchen Collaborative.”

Conferences: Black, Young, Growing Justice and Slow Money

Author of Slow Money, Woody Tasch, addresses the conference.

In June, I attended the 2d Annual Slow Money Gathering at Shelburne Farms near Burlington, Vermont.  Slow Money is the brainchild of Woody Tasch, who has written a book of the same title, making the common-sense observation that we have to invest in the “soil economy” with radically altered expectations of growth.

There was a great NYC contingent at the Gathering and we all engaged in passionate discussions that led to the creation of the Slow Money NYC Meet Up, of which I was recently appointed the coordinator.  We hope to announce more meetings in 2011 to begin developing a local investment structure for agricultural projects in NYC. Among others, I met some great up and coming NYC entrepreneurs, like Taylor Cocalis and Dorothy Neagle who were about to launch Good Food Jobs and Ben Sinclair and Adam Gordon who have been gathering support for NY Compost Company.

In September, Growing Food & Justice for All Initiative, a project of Growing Power, held its 2d Annual Gathering in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.  Will Allen continues to provide substantial leadership for the urban agriculture movement with his star power, providing guidance in networking, food justice and sound business practices.  Many urban farmers and sustainable food advocates from NYC attended.  Sadly, I could not make it because Farm City Fair was held the same weekend. I heard that it was an excellent meeting of the minds.  I hope to attend next year.

Gary Grant, President, Black Farmers & Agriculturists Association.

Happily, I was able to attend 1st Black Farmers & Urban Gardeners Conference held at Brooklyn College in November.  The inaugural event was presented by Black Urban Growers (BUGs), an alliance of predominantly black urban farmers and gardeners, food activists and allies united with a goal of rebuilding community wealth and health by reconnection to the land.

The conference was impressive in its scope, presenting practitioners who travelled from all over the Country to discuss their projects.  For instance, Will Allen was keynote speaker, laying out his impressive presentation of 600 slides demonstrating the progress of Growing Power — from an urban marketing ploy for his rural farm to its current state as a thriving multi-city food justice enterprise.

Racism and the challenges of structural discrimination were discussed in an illuminating panel about the multi-billion dollar Pigford class action settlement, the largest in US history.  I learned a great deal at this amazing and well-attended event.  On a bittersweet note, I was saddened by some blatant, unchecked anti-semitism announced from the podium that seemed glaringly out-of-step with the stated need for solidarity amongst the small ranks of urban farmers and their supporters – black, white or otherwise. Despite this alienating experience, I remain resolved to take away the positive knowledge I received, determined to bring people together and overcome differences.

Greenhouse operation at Stone Barns explained by Farm Manager Jack Algiere

Stone Barns greenhouse system explained by Farm Manager Jack Algiere

At Black Farmers & Urban Gardeners Conference, organizers repeatedly commented that their conference arose, in part, from the repeated realization that few people of color seemed present at sustainable food and farming events. With this anecdotal analysis fresh in my mind, I couldn’t help notice that Young Farmers Conference at Stone Barns Center for Food & Agriculture was almost entirely white.  Strikingly, Stone Barns is located only fifteen minutes from the very ethnically diverse borough of Bronx — yet one of the few people of color I saw had travelled across the Atlantic from Lagos, Nigeria. This is not a critique of the organizers of the conference at Stone Barns.  Rather, I present this observation for thoughtful reflection by everyone in the sustainable food community — myself included.

As was the case last year, Stone Barns provided an amazing array of interesting workshops and wide-ranging topics, provided in its breathtaking model farm setting.  This year, the panels were also helpfully organized into “tracks” according to areas of interest.  I selected the “business” track, attending sessions on enterprise planning, farm leasing, support networks, farm-based learning and many more.  As with last year, I was impressed with the crucial need to provide networking and knowledge-support for young farmers.  Stone Barns provided that in abundance. While no panels directly addressed urban agriculture this year, many could be extrapolated for use by the city farmer.

At some of the panels that I attended, I was struck by how many of the presenters were wonderfully inspired but not always so deeply experienced.  For instance, a young presenter on a panel about managing money admitted that he never run a business that made a profit.  The discussion that ensued was fun and interesting but I wondered whether it would have been more fruitful if it had been coordinated by a more seasoned convener.  Perhaps the organizers of the conference were trying to inject fresh perspective into the “common wisdom” for farm businesses, sensing that traditional approaches have not always been effective in reaching the values of young farmers today.

I grow increasingly concerned that gaps between good intentions and solid knowledge may create long term issues for the lasting viability of young farmers’ enterprises.  Admirably, young farmers seek to grow more food for their neighbors and themselves — mostly driven by a desire to create an alternative lifestyle and guided by sustainable environmental stewardship. However, I fear many of them may end up out-of-cash and disillusioned — unless they obtain the best and most solid guidance to help develop concrete skills, meaningful experiences and solid networks.  I raise this concern because I believe that it is incumbent on myself and sympathetic organizations, like Stone Barns, Slow Money, Black Urban Gardeners and others, to strive to continually review and improve the support we give to young farmers to help transform their crucially important dreams into a secure reality.

Conclusion

In closing, the breadth of urban farming projects and depth of public interest in them was amazing this year.  I end the year with real excitement as well as some growing concerns.  I foresee a danger that urban farmers may become exhausted media darlings who are constantly distracted from their core mission: to keep farming sustainable and local.  Therefore, those of us who care to make urban farming real for every neighborhood, every economic class and every race, it is up to us to raise our voices, repeatedly asking difficult questions of ourselves and of our peers. For instance, how can we help urban farmers make a living?

That is one of the many challenging discussions that I hope to help answer in a working group I have called for early in 2011.  So stay tuned in the New Year — and please let me know what you think as we move into this uncharted area.

Filed under: Urban Agriculture | 19 Comments »

Urban Farmer Backlash? Clash of Public Perception and Current Reality

Posted: November 3rd, 2010 | Author:

There comes a time when all great ideas bandied about in the public forum get lampooned. Urban agriculture seems to have reached that point last week (if not sooner).

Recently, NonaBrooklyn mentioned an article appearing in Daily Candy, “DIY Halloween Costumes” in which suggestion No. 4 was “Urban Farmer.” The article provided a set of dress-up strategies veering to cheeky: “Extra Credit: Talk about the time you ate with Michael Pollan.” Now, Daily Candy is hardly Fox News, having supported urban agrarian events in its pages, such as Farm City (curated by yours truly).

The mocking mention of “Urban Farmer” led me to pause to parse the social significance of this moment for the urban farming movement. I don’t wish to get all heavy and offended, missing the obvious humor here. After all, I am a New Yorker and I like a good yuck.  (And, I must admit that the accompanying video eked out a chuckle from me).  However, I am left wondering about the possible meaning of this satire for those of us that care deeply about the future of urban agriculture.

Daily Candy identified “Urban Farmer” as a three ingredient recipe:  ”1. Same [outfit] as Paul Bunyan but replace the ax with a shovel; 2. Carry a tote bag filled with fresh veggies. and 3. Talk about the importance of eating local.” The treatment given by Daily Candy is hardly a damning indictment of the foibles of urban farming (of which there are many). Yet, this depiction might suggest that “Urban Farmer” is perceived to be a type of person whose style and discourse are clichés that can be mimicked with pithy ease.

Still from the video "DIY Halloween Costume" on Daily Candy.

Overexposure or Underappreciated?

My first reaction was that urban agriculture may be deemed overexposed in the media with recent beauty shots of farms and farmers (NY Magazine, etc.), homages to hyperlocal food (NY Times, etc.) and bromides about ecological damage created by traditional agriculture (Everywhere except Tea Party rallies). I am concerned that the public might begin to associate urban farming more with fashion than function — doomed to be an ephemeral eco-trend rather than the promising future of food.

My fears are not without precedent. We need only peer backwards to the 1970s when the legitimate social and political struggles became co-opted by corporations and mass-consumed as “radical chic” and “hippie couture,” trimmed down to mere fringe on a million leather vests — empty of deeper content and passionate protest.

In my opinion, copious media attention should be continually lavished on farmers. To me, the recent surge in public interest in urban farming is long overdue. After all, these folks are growing the food we all eat.  To be honest, it strikes me as much more odd that — until recently — farm work has been virtually hidden from public view.  Farming has been systematically evicted from cities as smelly, dirty and dangerous to public health. The disconnection between eater and grower factors large in the recent food crisis, causing children to be confused about the origin of their sustenance.

Re-connection of producer and consumer is one of the chief benefits provided by resurgence of urban agriculture.  Urban farmers may not be able to grow all the food that urbanites need to survive.  Yet, urban farms give city dwellers an opportunity to see the process of growing food at close range while also getting to know the farmer as a neighbor — not someone from a distant county rarely — if ever — visited.

Portraying urban farming as a “hip” profession may not be such a bad thing (so long as its not just a “fad” thing). The average age of an American farmer is 57 and New York State along losing 50,000 acres of farmland each year to development. By portraying farmers as cool media darlings — no matter how stereotypical or ideologically misguided that image may be — the press may help capture the attention of young, college-educated folks (not just the flannel-loving ones) who would not normally consider farming as a viable vocation. Repeated media attention on farmers may have yielded some modest change: Stone Barns Center for Food & Agriculture reports growing numbers of attendees at its annual Young Farmers Conference.

Rev. Robert Ennis Jackson of Bed Stuy Farm. Photo by Kate Glicksberg

Archetype or Stereotype?

Perhaps, I got it wrong with my first reaction?  Maybe the “Urban Farmer” costume announces that urban agriculture has finally succeeded in embedding itself in mainstream consciousness as a profound archetype juxtaposed to others — such as mythical workaholic, Paul Bunyan, and commercial stooge, Brawny paper towel man (variants proposed by Daily Candy using the same get-up of false moustache and flannel shirt). In the 1990s, that same flannel shirt might have been part of a “grunge” rocker costume.

Today, “Urban Farmer” is the cultural reference that immediately comes to mind.  While “Urban Farmer” could just be the most recent wearer of the flannel mantle, it could also mean something deeper.  The costume came accessorized with (slightly) deeper content — healthy comestibles and comments about a central politico-social aspiration in the food movement: eat local. I am hopeful that the message that comes through the “costume” is a loving send-up rather than a something more subconsciously sinister. But then, my mind wanders to ponder more troubling interpretations. . . .

I think the Urban Farmer “costume” raises a potential risk that recent media attention makes urban farmers seem more ubiquitous, more resilient and more uniform than they really are in reality.

Ubiquity? Lately, we hear so much about urban farmers that we might be given to assume that they are everywhere — part of the city fabric.  Alas, that is not really true (yet!). Urban farmers are growing in numbers but they are still few and far between.  In reality, there are only a handful of working farms in a city of 8+ million.  There is a lot of food being grown on windowsills, in backyards, and within community gardens.  An important on-going study, entitled Farming Concrete, is trying to quantify just how much food is grown in NYC. However, there exist only a handful of farms that employ people who could legitimately write “Farmer” as their job title on a tax return.

To be fair, it is not merely the reportage on urban agriculture that could be accused of overstating the scope of urban agriculture.  The term “farm” has come to be used artfully to redefine any place where food is growing in the city –no matter how small — from “window farms” to “micro” farms.  Adding to this terminological confusion, there are several restaurants in Brooklyn that use the word “farm” in their names yet till only an admirable strain of the cultural zeitgeist.

I am sympathetic to the appropriation of terminology of “farm” and “farmer” to transform social consciousness around the possibilities for modest but meaningful contributions to changing the food system.  And, interestingly, even the USDA uses a pretty small threshold when defining farmer as someone who “sells at least one thousand dollars of agricultural commodities.” However, the stretching of common-sense definitions of “farm” and “farmer” may invite a bit of justifiable satirical send-up.

Resilience? Traditionally, a person, profession or idea becomes an object of ridicule when it is perceived as powerful enough to take a licking and keep on ticking. Maybe the “Urban Farmer” is now seen as a substantial social figure — strong enough to withstand mockery and flattery alike — like a politician, celebrity or sports star? The problem with this analogy is that the urban farmer is actually at the bottom of the socio-economic totem pole.  So, taking urban farmers “down a notch” would leave them lower than the bottom — basically nowhere.

By focusing on the flannel-clad surfaces and simplest soundbite of their workplace motives, I fear that this caricature may gloss over significant personal risks taken by urban farmers: extremely hard physical labor, uncertain income and seasonal unemployment.  Given the harsh realities of farming anywhere, especially within the city, I have been heartened by the recent trend to depict their efforts as heroic and worthy of note.

Did anyone notice that freak hailstorm on October 11, 2010? Well, the storm was bizarre and scary. For several urban farms, such as Red Hook Community Farm, the dime-sized ice balls destroyed their crops and decimated their anticipated annual revenues. The impact was so severe on the farm that local restaurant (and customer), Good Fork, was moved to hold an emergency fundraiser (tonight). Farming is, by its very nature, a fragile enterprise subject to weather, temperature, insects, fungi, and other environmental factors. And then, there’s economics. If it costs $10 to raise a tomato from seed to fruit in Crown Heights, the farmer can still only charge $5 at the market.

Uniformity? Other than Will Allen of , few faces of color appear in press coverage on urban farmers. And, it’s no secret that flannel is the personal covering of choice for mostly-white post-collegiate hipsters.  Not surprisingly, Brawny and Bunyon are white too.

Hence, Daily Candy’s casual clothing reference continues a racial profile that is commonplace yet inaccurate. Despite journalism’s credo of fairness in reporting, I predict that the upcoming Black Farmers & Urban Gardeners Conference will probably get less press coverage than the combined output devoted to the farm at Roberta’s Restaurant, a predominantly-white hipster hangout.

Now, I am not playing the race card here: I think that there is room for all colors of urban farmers, producing food for all types of reasons in every neighborhood. Roberta’s farm isn’t less important because serves locally-grown produce to mostly-white artsy types (myself among them). It’s just that Roberta’s farm is not MORE important than Bed Stuy Farm, serving urban farm fare to 1000 people each month as part of Brooklyn Rescue Mission’s food pantry.  Both farms are worthy of our interest and support.

Yet, the “flannel” goggles worn by the press seem to focus repeated reporting on one type of farmer while ignoring another. When media ignorance breaks down along skin color and class of clientele, then it recapitulates a hegemony and power structure that is not so hip.

Quantity over Quality? Form over Substance?

And then, my worry radar turns to my own bad self. In my defense, I was not attracted to investigate urban agriculture by its fetching costume, although I have been known to wear checked flannel on occasion. I saw urban agriculture as a way to express my desire to build a better city by expanding opportunities to grow the sustainable food economy here. Despite my purported bona fides, I too grow a bit wary of the rapid growth of the topic that has so intrigued me.

The sheer volume of cultural output on urban farming is daunting and hard to follow, ironically, dwarfing the produce from the actual urban farms. The diversity of discourse is a sign of strong sincere interest– artists, thinkers and writers can help create a new cultural context for urban farming that fosters product demand, healthy respect, mutual understanding and new directions.  On the flip side, it seems a tad perverse that some interpreters of urban farming may derive more income from telling and selling “the story of urban farming” than most farmers will ever make from urban farms.

I can well understand some public confusion about how to interpret urban agriculture.  Currently, you are faced with trying to discern a coherent melody amidst the din.  To import an agricultural metaphor: How to separate the wheat from the chaff?  It’s not always obvious. There are contributions to the field of urban agriculture that seem so similar that it may be hard to distinguish a difference.

Whose personal account of urban homesteading should you trust? Should you read the gonzo journalism of My Empire of Dirt: How One Man Turned His Big-City Backyard Into a Farm by Manny Howard or peruse the personal memoir Farm City: The Education of An Urban Farmer by Novella Carpenter?

Who is the legitimate thought-leader of the urban farming movement? Should you follow the simple homey steps of UrbanFarming.org sponsored explicitly by Trisket or the empowering earth savvy of GrowingPower.org supported in part by GE Foundation?

Whose vision should define the future of urban agriculture? Should you yearn for the dazzling towers of technopolis described in Vertical Farming by Dickson Despommier, plot green plans for Continuous Productive Urban Landscape by Andre Viljoen or organize the grassroots land reclamation outlined in Public Produce by Darrin Nordahl?

What approach to growing food is most sustainable? Should you explore complex systems, such as indoor, year-round inorganic growing invented by Edward Harwood, founder of Aerofarms, or simple approaches, like seasonal soil-bound organic planting schemes advocated by Bill Mollison, founder of The Permaculture Way?

Whose gathering should you attend to learn more?  Should you expensively explore the green of investments at Agriculture 2.0, pursue global policy initiatives at MetroAg Innoversity or affordably invest in community advocacy and urban jobs at Growing Power’s Urban & Small Farm Conference?

This explosive growth and wide span of opinion indicate the excitement and growing importance of urban agriculture right now.  However, it also makes it increasingly difficult to understand who is doing really good work and who is merely working it.  While I am excited by this increasing abundance, I am getting more and more hungry for substance.

Passing Fancy or Lasting Movement?

Bk Farmyards @ H.S. for Public Service. Photo by Kate Glicksberg

Could the torrent of contemporary attention indicate that urban agriculture is a fad hitting its peak moment? Or, is this dialogue the opening volley of food revolution that will be heard round the world?

Urban agriculture is not new  – it is as old as the hanging gardens of Babylon described in the Bible or the floating gardens of Tenochtitlan. And, urban farming is not new to NYC — Victory Gardens sprouted here during World War II and Community Farm Gardens have grown food since at least 1973.

Despite the firm history of urban agriculture in NYC, recently, there has been renewed momentum to expand its scope and influence.  What is new now about urban agriculture is increasing numbers of farmers and widening diversity of experiments motivated by intersecting crises in climate change and in public health.

A majority of urban agriculture projects gaining public attention are less than a few years old.  There are many bold experiments that are untested with farmers who are new to their profession.  So the urban farmer story will begin to evolve from “newness” to a theme of “sustainability.” With so many commentators and communicators recognizing the newfound importance of urban agriculture, I wonder what will happen in this next phase of its development which will be less glamorous, harder to track and thus commanding of less immediately gratifying attention.

There are some strong signs that urban agriculture is not disappearing with the next news cycle. Myriad meetup groups have sprouted up, supporting each others’ mutual learning and doing — from Permaculture practitioners to Beekeepers.  The New School has created a field of Food Studies and spearheaded a whole series of public conversations through December 2010, entitled Living Concrete. My own project, FarmCity.US, continues to evolve, grappling with fresh ways to support the growth of urban agriculture.  There are hundreds of urban agriculture blogs and even an Urban Farm Magazine.  And this Fall, Just Food announced the opening of its Farm School NYC to train a new generation of urban farmers who will learn more than a few superficial attributes of an “Urban Farmer” Halloween costume.  (FYI: Applications due November 15!)

So, I am greatly encouraged that urban agriculture may be growing forceful advocates and knowledgeable farmers who may help shape the evolution of the movement in a sustainable and thoughtful way, resisting identification as mere costumed clichés.

Filed under: Urban Agriculture | No Comments »

DIY Utopias: Growing Against All Odds 11.01.10

Posted: October 22nd, 2010 | Author:

If you missed (or loved) the opening weekend events, “Brooklyn Utopias: Farm City”, the exhibit is still on view through December 12 and the curators (Katherine Gressel and yours truly) are presenting another special public program for your further greenification:

“DIY Utopias: Growing Against All Odds.”
Monday, November 1, 2010, 7-9pm

Old Stone House, 2nd Floor Gallery
336 3rd Street (between 4th and 5th Avenue)
JJ Byrne (Washington) Park
Park Slope, Brooklyn 11215

Suggested donation: $10
Beer, Soda and Light Snacks Available

The evening will feature hands-on skillshare with activist-artists in an intimate gallery setting. Moderated by experienced DIY-artist Mary Mattingly (of the Waterpod (2009)), four artists/environmental leaders will demonstrate that anyone can contribute to the urban farming movement, turning “Utopian” vision into concrete action.

You will learn some techniques that the busiest of urban dwellers can practice in their own homes. Brooklyn Brewery and Bruce Cost ginger sodas will provide libations to accompany light snacks designed to enhance the learning process.

WORKSHOPS : :

(1) Rooftop Micro-Farming : : Frieda Lim, Slippery Slope Farms

Frieda is an artist, activist and agrarian.  She will demonstrate how to build and install simple windowsill or rooftop planters capable of yielding food with simple materials, little effort and low maintenance, using Sub-Irrigated Planters (SIPs).  Slippery Slope Farm is a modern urban sub-irrigated rooftop micro-farm located in Gowanus, Brooklyn. Lim designed the project to be simple to install, easy to maintain and capable of replication by anyone with a little space and a desire to grow their own food.

(2) Rainwater Harvesting : : , 

Andrew will demonstrate how to install a rainwater harvest system at your home or apartment, saving potable tap water for people.  Andrew, also known for his Compost Painting contribution to the “Brooklyn Utopias: Farm City” exhibit, works on a crew that installs rainwater catchment for community gardens.

(3) Permaculture & Compost : : Claudia Joseph

CORRECTION! Claudia holds a diploma of permaculture from Permaculture Institute, U.S.A. and has taught and practiced permaculture for 15 years, on both coasts. She manages the farm that surrounds Old Stone House Historic Center.  She practices food foresting and small scale intensive gardening.

If you have ever wondered what “permaculture” is about and how you can get involved, Claudia is the right person to see.  She also specializes in soil building and bio-remediation techniques, explaining some simple steps that you can take at home to turn food waste into “black gold.”  She has taught at Merritt College (CA), the Berkeley Ecology Center, Oakland Botanical Demonstration Gardens, BBG and NYBG among other places.

(4) School Farm Planning & Planters : : Aki and Ron Baker : Adopt-A-Farmbox

Adopt-A-Farmbox will lay out their civic engagement strategies for organizing support for school farms by using the process of building simple planter boxes to catalyze community and to connect around growing food.  Adopt-A-Farmbox builds and donates “farmboxes” to schools in New York City, including several schools throughout Brooklyn. Adopt-A-Farmbox is a volunteer-based, grass-roots campaign started in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn and has become an exemplar project integrating community development with education, food, creativity and agriculture.

During this evening, the curators will be on hand to introduce key themes and artworks in the exhibit, reflecting on the specific role of artists in envisioning a greener Brooklyn and contributing to its growing DIY culture. Ultimately, the event will aim to reflect on how some these “DIY” methods together can foster a more integrated, combined effort toward more sustainable living

The evening will also feature an unveiling of Brooklyn Farms: Past, Present, Future, an outdoor digitally-printed banner mural by Katherine Gressel, to eventually be hung on a construction fence in the park.

Visit http://farmcity.us/brooklyn-utopias/ for complete information on “Brooklyn Utopias: Farm City” including a recently uploaded “living catalog” that will be continuously revised to include more images and information throughout the remaining run of the show.

Filed under: FarmCity.US, Urban Agriculture | No Comments »

Exploring Amsterdam’s Unique Urban Agriculture

Posted: October 5th, 2010 | Author:

Hollyhocks grow from the sidewalk cracks on Hogeweg

Amsterdam is a very green city.  750,000 inhabitants and 600,000 bikes. Almost no cars.  Huge, beautiful parks.  Every swale is covered in an emerald blanket. Potted plants spill out from townhouse entryways.  Everywhere, lush butterfly bushes crowd into street corners and towering hollyhocks with immense pink blossoms grow from tiny cracks between building and sidewalk.

Multi-level Bike Parking Lot at Centraal Station, Amsterdam

I found myself wondering at some innovations that have brought green to the city throughout the 20th Century.

Tuin Parks

Typical tuin house with cold frame and hoops

Tuin Parks are a special area within public parks that are divided into small plots, maybe 20 feet by 20 feet, adorned with a little house.  Like Holland in miniature, Tuin Parks often have their own mini-canals.  Tuin parks are enchanting public-private spaces in which public visitors can enjoy the horticultural talents of private gardeners.

The houses are only a little larger than a shed and have no sleeping accommodations – some have kitchens and desks.  The plot surrounding each house is the imaginative creation of each owner.  Plantings are exquisitely maintained, somehow blending well with neighbors despite growing distinctive varietals.  All manner of vegetables are sprouting alongside herbaceous and ornamental borders. Many gardens are marked by fences or hedges — low enough to permit each garden to be viewed as part of a whole, grander park landscape.

Tuin parks are a peculiarly Dutch urban invention.  “Tuin” means “garden” in Netherlands, but has a deeper cultural resonance.  According to Simon Schama (historian), “The tuin . . . signifie[s] the divinely blessed prosperity of the Netherlands.”  The “tuin” appears repeatedly as an image associated with the Dutch nation, starting with engravings on coins minted in 1573, showing a lion (the king and military might) contained by the domestic image of a “tuin’s” fence.

Tuinpark Klein Dantzig is like Holland in miniature with micro-canal

City Farms & Children’s Farms

Amsterdam’s many parks also contain city farms and children’s farms (kinderboerderijen).  Children’s farms are often petting zoos with domesticated animals in a rustic setting where there milk or eggs are used only for educational purposes.  City farms are usually several acres within a park managed by institutions or carved up as “allotment gardens” where small plots are maintained by individuals or students from nearby schools.

Large greenhouse and allotments associated with a local school

According to researchers Marjolein Elings and Jan Hassink, there about 350 city farms in The Netherlands, “ranging from small fields to large complexes, which have up to 15 million visitors a year.” The farms provide an opportunity for urbanites  to interact with animals, plants, their environment and each other, experiencing first-hand lessons about sustainable agriculture, the food system and their own health.  “In The Netherlands, 25% of the city farms belong to a health institute. Most city farms are paid by the local government. Many farms struggle with a lack of money and bureaucracy due to agricultural legislation.”

City farms are particularly popular and numerous in the Netherlands even though such agriculture can be found throughout Europe as evidenced by the European Federation of City Farms (EFCF).

In Amsterdam, a consortium of government and businesses have launched a project called Proeftuin (“Taste Garden”) promoting individual healthy eating as a means to understand the well-being of nearby farms and the welfare of domestic animals. Proeftuin creates opportunities to buy and sell local foods by helping farmers near the town market their products and services to city dwellers. A similar impulse motivates Boerderijeducatie-Amsterdam — literally “farm education”, a project that coordinates 17 farm businesses in and around the City as sites for students to visit and work in agriculture.  Boerderijeducatie seeks to guide children to better understand the link between farm work and food on their plates.  Boerenstadswens (Farm City Wish) provides fun and rewarding ways for city consumers and farmers to meet each other face-to-face through farm visits, summits and organizing Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) associations.

Green Care Farms

Zorgboerderij Erve Knippert providing farm work for elders with dementia

The term ‘Farming for Health’ describes a variety of different kinds of “social agriculture,” such as “Care Farms” or “Green Care Farms” that integrate differently-abled people or former drug addicts as well as farms dedicated to serving children or elders.

According to the International Community of Practice — Farming For Health, Green Care Farms are popular throughout Europe providing beneficial farm work experiences for many people as a better form of social or educational service. For instance, Wageningen University elders who worked on Care Farms were healthier, eating and drinking more normally than similar counterparts in adult daycare centers.  The National Care Farm Institute has documents that the Netherlands had 591 care farms in 2005 compared to just 75 in 1998.  For an excellent introduction to the opportunities and challenges presented by the fastest-growing area of “multifunctional” agriculture, one should refer to the online Proceedings of Frontis Workshop on Farming for Health (2005).

Peri-Urban Polders

In the Netherlands space is at a premium.  A majority of the land area of the country has been reclaimed from the sea over the last 500 years creating fertile fields.  (Not so green).  Hence, every available speck of land seems to be richly planted for agriculture, closely abutting other land uses in surprising ways.  Planted fields appear next to airport runways, adjacent to industrial shipyards, and right at the outskirts of the lanes of urban hardscape.

Fietspad (Bike path) on dyke 1 km outside Amsterdam, cow pasture and canal on left

Fietspad (Bike path) 1 km outside Amsterdam with dairy farms on the polder on left

Farms form a ring at the edge of Dutch cities.  Cities abruptly end and agricultural land starts right away.  The quick transition in land use is jarring to my American sensibilities. I am so used to urban density followed by seemingly endless concentric circles of gradually decreasing-density sprawl, creeping along until rural lands appear at the very far end of the known world.

Amsterdam, for instance, reminds me of historical accounts that I have heard about Brooklyn and Queens — fertile farmland adjacent to Manhattan well into the 1920s.

When the wind shifts over the polders (the term for land beneath the dykes), you can smell livestock manure wafting through the sophisticated Centrum of Amsterdam.  A short bike ride from Centraal Station brings you uninterrupted vistas of grassy fields full of grazing cows, sheep, goats, and horses.  The maintenance of the polders as a peri-urban agricultural space is another way that the heavily urbanized Dutch keep close connections to their food supply.

Squatters and Green Guerillas

Amsterdam is home to Action Group S.W.O.M.P, akin to Green Guerillas in 1970s NYC.  S.W.O.M.P. = Slimme Woonwagenbewoners Op Mooie Plekjes (translation: Smart Caravan People Living in Beautiful Places). The action group formed in the mid 90′s — occupying empty lots and growing their own food there.

SWOMP 4 Permaculture Design with raised beds on sand.

SWOMP 4 is an experimental garden that hopes to experiment and demonstrate diverse approaches sustainable and climate neutral life in vacant spaces. SWOMP doesn’t believe in waiting for “governments and capitalists to give us permission to live our lives in a sustainable way, but we want to start now and learn what we need to learn to live without oil and big industry before it is too late.”

SWOMP 4 uses “permaculture design” growing food year round in the City to show (a) “that people don’t need to import food from all over the the world” and (b) “that industrial farming is both impractical and unnecessary.”  SWOMP 4 uses non-potable ground water for irrigation, composts waste and tests new approaches to growing, like vertical “mass of earth.”

Pilots and Planners

Discussing Amsterdam Pilot in "Farming the City" on September 14, 2010.

While I was visiting Amsterdam, I met with Francesca Miazzo, one of the editors of CITIESthemagazine.com, focusing a year of inquiry upon “Farming the City.” She invited me to present, Naturally Occuring Retirement Community (NORC) Farm, created jointly with threadcollective.com, during a “Week of Sustainability” 09.11-19.10. The CITIES exhibition was divided in three parts: Community activism, Material Design and Public Policy.

On September 14, 2010, CITIES organized workshops in which local farmers, local communities, policy makers, artists, architects and engineers were invited to share their knowledge, skills and intentions — imagining various ways of “Farming the City”. Fourteen innovative ideas for urban agriculture from around the world were presented for consideration as platforms for developing an Amsterdam Pilot project, which will be presented for adoption by the city of Amsterdam.

Farm-to-Table Restaurants

Everyone tells travelers to Amsterdam that the food is terrible.  Well, if you spent your vacation in NYC eating at Gray’s Papaya in Times Square, then you might say the same thing about the City that Never Sleeps.

In contrast to Amsterdam’s poor culinary reputation, the city is in the midst of an amazing food revolution — emphasizing robust flavors, local sourcing and farm-to-table ethics.  Several of the most amazing places to eat in Amsterdam also connect their cuisine to urban farming or peri-urban farm partners.  Amsterdam is home to several conceptual restaurants whose chefs seek to spur re-thinking of how we eat as much as what we eat.

Restaurant De Kas

De Kas Restaurant has its own urban farm & greenhouse.

In 2001, Chef Gert Jan Hageman stumbled upon a 1926 greenhouse that belonged to Amsterdam’s Municipal Nursery — slated for demolition.  Hageman converted the 8-metre high glass building into a restaurant and urban farm.

Situated within Frankendael Park, meals are served inside the soaring greenhouse where the chef grows many of the vegetables and edible flowers that you are served.  De Kas was designed by Piet Boon, preserving the industrial character of the original building. The dining experience reminded me of Stone Barns in NY except that De Kas is located about 100 metres from a tram line well inside the city limits.

De Kas Restaurant seafood salad with greens & edible flowers from its farm.

De Kas Restaurant local seafood salad with greens & flower from its farm.

Proef Restaurant

In 2004,  Studio Marie Vogelzang started “Proef” as a platform for diverse projects that investigate connections and relationships between food and design, cuisine and farming, consumer and producer.  ”Proef” means both “taste” and “eat” in Nederlands. I encountered Proef as the presenter of a conceptual art piece in Performa09 which I reviewed in TheGreenest.Net: Apples & Anti-Pasta (11.07.09).

A view through the tomato beds at Proef Restaurant's urban farm.

Proef Restaurant is one Vogelzang’s latest food design experiments, located in the Westergasfabriek arts complex.   The spatial layout of the restaurant blurs the lines between production and consumption.  Guests can dine inside the kitchen or in the urban farm in the adjacent yard. The experience brings you closer to the food that you eat and the people that prepare it for you.  The raised planters, the industrial setting, the informal vibe reminded me strongly of eating outside in Roberta’s garden in Bushwick, Brooklyn.

Proef Restaurant caprese salad presents a re-examination of basic ingredients.

Similarly, the presentation of the dishes intends to alter diners’ assumptions and promote new understandings.  For instance, the ingredients of a caprese salad involves the pairing of fresh mozarella and fresh tomato dressed with basil leaves and a drizzle of good quality olive oil. Vogelzang serves the salad on a plate cleaved in two neat pieces with mozzarella placed on one side of the split and tomato on the other.  The round ball of mozzarella has a wedge cut out of its middle in the shape of a tomato slice.  The plating is playfully provoking a question about the relationship of the ingredients how they blend and separate.

Restaurant Merkelbach

Formal French gardens of Restaurant Merkelbach.

Restaurant Merkelbach is located in the former coach house and stunning formal gardens of the Frankendael estate that became the park of the same name.  The Restaurant takes its name from the last owner who generously open his home to curious visitors.  Chef Geert Burema applies a French-Mediterranean style to local ingredients, emphasizing freshness and seasonality, receiving mention in the pages of Food and Wine.

Burema developed a relationship Ben and Ria Voortwis of Lindenhoff Farm, just 12 kilometers away from the restaurant in Baambrugge. Voortwis raises free-range cows, pigs, lambs and chickens. His motto is “authentic taste” and his operation sells fresh meat as well as using all the parts of the animal to make sausages, pates, hams and other preserved meats.  Nose-to-tail Netherlands Style!

Voortwis is so concerned about freshness that he deliver eggs to customers within 10 hours of the hen’s laying. Burema and other chefs asked Voortwis about traditional Dutch butter and fresh raw milk cheeses, so the farmer started to produce them himself.  Now he produces over twenty types of dairy products.

Chefs asked him for lettuces and herbs, so Voortwis started to grow them.  And what vegetables he can’t grow himself, he sources from other, like-minded biologique (organic) farmers. The story of Chef Burema and Farmer Voortwis provides an important example about how a dynamic relationship between producer and consumer can create new markets for locally-produced, carefully sourced food.  The results of this flavor partnership are incredibly delicious.

Restaurant AS

Communal dining tables of rough hewn wood is part of the neo-primitive aesthetic of Restaurant As

This conceptual restaurant is close to impossible find, located inside Beatrixpark in the South Axis area (where tourists never tend to roam). As our bike ride got longer and longer, my wife begged me to admit that I was lost. Luckily, I wasn’t (although my iPhone was. . .).  Just as I was about to lose hope, I saw a sign for Prinses Irenestraat across the broad 4 lanes of Beethovenstraat.

I am glad we persevered: Restaurant AS is one of Amsterdam’s most creative restaurants full of food provocation and pleasure.  AS started as part of the now-defunct Platform 21, an experimental space for sustainable design and fashion, housed in a round brutalist concrete chapel (now “Kunst Kapel”) adjacent to a de-comissioned monastery. Everything from the kitchen and bar line is organic and local, like beer from Brouwerij ‘t IJ and fruit drinks Beemster polder.  However, AS is more than that. .

The motto of Restaurant AS is “cooking in its purest form.” According to Chef Sander Overeinder, the kitchen is outdoors and open “so that one may see, in a respectful manner, that one dies so the other may live.” Similarly, the dining process is dramatic, slow, casual and thoughtful (Our meal lasted three hours) — these traits are characteristic of New Netherlands cuisine.  And, in the spirit of open source software, Chef Overeinder provides all of his recipes online (follow tab labeled “steekgerecthen”).  By sharing his process as well as his recipes so overtly, Overeinder invites you to see cooking food as creative, spiritual, and social.

The chef selects the menu based on what is available according to seasonal and climatic changes. Overeinder looks for authentic, flavourful ingredients obtained from “suppliers that are small enough to make their own decisions,” such as De Wolf’s Dutch goat cheese from Terwolde, organic vegetables grown on Dutch soil, and a bit farther afield, like Panifico Deumila’s Pane di Altamura from Puglia.

Diners sit at long, rough-hewn communal tables (inside or outside) while meals are cooked within view a Tuscan oven. The server offers a choice of meat or fish. I took the stewed goat, prepared with almonds and saffron, flavored with lemon pickled in salt. Salty, sweet, gamey.

We drank a delicious organic red wine from France (I wish I could remember the name!) and met some friends from Brooklyn whom we stumbled upon earlier in the day.  On one side, we viewed the glare of neon sign from the Kunst Kapel –culture and creativity of human systems — and on the other we faced the dark forms of closely-set tall trees in the huge Beatrixpark.  The setting for Restaurant AS provided a fitting way to re-imagine food — poised between nature and culture — so perfectly understood by our Dutch hosts.

Neon sign "Kunst Kapel" (Art Chapel) announces Restaurant AS in the dark.

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Farm City Forum 09.25.10 Looks at Future of Urban Ag

Posted: September 23rd, 2010 | Author:

Saturday, September 25
Discussions at 1:00 pm, 3:00 pm, and 5:00 pm
FIAF, Le Skyroom
22 East 60th Street, New York, NY 10065

Buy tickets now!

Farm City, a three-week series of events launching FarmCity.US, concludes with an “unconference” of participant-driven discussions exploring how to shape the future of urban agriculture produced in collaboration with Eyebeam Art and Technology Center. Sessions will bring together artists, farmers, urban planners, architects, food activists, and authors. Novella Carpenter, author of Farm City: An Education of An Urban Farmer, will be a featured speaker.

Farm City Talk provides an online discussion area for you to contribute your ideas, comments or questions to the Forum — whether or not you can be there in person!

FARM CITY FORUM

The Future of Urban Agriculture

Summary: Farm City Forum takes the format of an “unconference,” a lively participant-driven series of discussions exploring how to shape the future of urban agriculture. Sessions will bring together artists, farmers, urban planners, architects, food activists, and authors. Novella Carpenter, author of Farm City: An Education of An Urban Farmer, will be a featured speaker.

Theme: The Future of Urban Agriculture

Primary Goal: To engage participants in a visioning process about transformative possibilities of urban agriculture as a means to generate new thinking and experimental action positively impacting a more sustainable future.

Secondary Goal: To explore how artistic interventions transform and illuminate urban agricultural endeavors and vice versa.

A non-traditional “unconference” format is aimed at engaging the knowledgeable attendees in order to better achieve more meaningful outcomes and real results.

FULL PROGRAM DESCRIPTION

Framing: Welcoming: 1:00-1:05 p.m.

Plenary Address: Edie Stone, Director, Greenthumb, NYC Parks 1:10-1:20 p.m.

Opening Presentation: Novella Carpenter 1:20-2:00 p.m.

A narrated slide show entitled “One Woman’s Descent into Urban Farming Madness,”

Talk Back Panel: Where you growing? 2:00-2:30 p.m.

Megan Paska, Brooklyn Homesteaders and Karen Washington, NY Community Gardening Coalition react to Carpenter’s presentation. Questions from audience and from web considered for discussion.  Dialogue encourages sharing of experiences growing food in unusual urban places.

BREAK                                                                                                                        2:30-3:00 p.m.

PechaKucha*: 20 x 20: 11 Visionary Urban Agriculture Projects 3:00-4:10 p.m.

10 presentations: 20 slides show for 20 seconds each. 6 minutes & 40 seconds total.

  • Dan Wood, Artist/Architect, Work.AC – P.F. 1 and Brooklyn Edible Schoolyard
  • Francesca Miazzo, Planner/Professor, CITIES the Magazine – Farming the City
  • Mary Mattingly, Artist – The Waterpod and A.S.A.C
  • Meredith TenHoor, Writer – Farm Cities: History of Urban Utopianism
  • Jennifer Nelkin, Farmer, GothamGreens.com
  • Gita Nandan, Architect/Planner, ThreadCollective.com – FiveBoro Farm
  • Daniel Bowman Simon – Advocate – WHO Garden and People’s Garden NYC
  • Mara Gittelman, Cartograper/Project Director  – Farming Concrete
  • Stacey Murphy, Farmer/Architect, Bk Farmyards
  • Adam Prince & Christina Wiles, Artists/Writers – Artistic & Social Practices in Urban Farming
  • Saranga Nakhooda & Devin Lafo, Architects, Growing Cities

* devised and shared by Klein Dytham architecture.

Lightning Skill Share: How does your garden grow? 4:10-4:30 p.m.

Moderator takes one question for each of the ten presenters from the audience.

BREAK                                            4:30-5:00 p.m.

Crowd Source Panel: Envision Urban Agriculture in 5 Years 5:00-6:30 p.m.

Moderator: Majora Carter, President of the Majora Carter Group, LLC, MacArthur Fellow & Founder of Sustainable South Bronx

  • Christina Grace, Urban Food Systems, NYS Dep’t of Agriculture & Markets
  • Maria Aiolova, Architect, Terraform ONE
  • Rev. Robert Ennis Jackson, Farmer/Community Organizer – Bed Stuy Farm – Brooklyn Rescue Mission
  • Tattfoo Tan, Artist, Sustainable Organic Stewardship (S.O.S.)
  • Annie Novak, Farmer/Founder, Eagle Street Rooftop Farm
  • Ian Marvy, Farmer/Co-Founder and Executive Director, Added Value, Red Hook Community Farm
  • Jacquie Berger, Executive Director, Just Food

Breakout Discussions 5:30 – 6:00 p.m.

Panelists each create a small discussion group in the audience to feed knowledge back to the general group.

Wrap Up & Review: Amanda McDonald Crowley 6:30 -7:00 p.m.

Farm City TALK!

FarmCity.US created a web-based knowledge-sharing so that interested parties can discuss proposed topics prior to the Forum.

  1. Questions to be posed at each of three sessions.
    1. Where are you growing? Experiences growing food in unusual urban places.
    2. How does your garden grow? Real or imagined strategies farming the City.
    3. c. What is your vision for urban agriculture in 5 years?
  1. Ask the Author? Questions for Novella Carpenter, author of Farm City.
  1. Open Studio – Submit a real or imagined idea for enhancing urban agriculture and building a sustainable food system.

FARM CITY TALK: http://farmcityinfo.tumblr.com/

Single Discussions: $10 FIAF Members, $15 Non-Members
All Discussions: $20 FIAF Members, $30 Non-Members

SPECIAL STUDENT DISCOUNT – ALL DISCUSSIONS $10.00!!!



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Brooklyn Utopias: Farm City Opening 09.16.10 @ 6P

Posted: September 14th, 2010 | Author:

Photo by Dan Sagarin

Please join me at the OPENING RECEPTION for

BROOKLYN UTOPIAS: FARM CITY

THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 16, 2010 6-8PM

OLD STONE HOUSE
2nd FLOOR GALLERY AND WASHINGTON PARK
336 Third Street (Inside the Park!)
Fifth Avenue between 3rd & 4th Street, Park Slope
F/R to 4th Avenue/9th Street or R to Union Street

What would a Brooklyn Utopia look like?

Brooklyn Utopias: Farm City invites artists to respond to urban agriculture as a “utopian” solution for Brooklyn, considering the borough as a case study for future “farm cities”.

Brooklyn already is home to a fertile cross section of both traditional and experimental urban farming methods. Home-grown food and a DIY culture are on the rise. Brooklyn has a rich agricultural history settled by Dutch farmers who created the Nation’s most productive farms until 1920s. Now, its soil is presumed toxic waste.

How can the real or imagined Farm City catalyze new visions for social and environmental change that may bring about a “Brooklyn Utopia?

ARTWORK

Artists are increasingly incorporating farming, landscaping, and ecology into their practice. The predominance of environmentally concerned exhibitions at contemporary art institutions is one mark of the shift of environmentalism from a marginalized grassroots and activist effort to a more institutionalized and popularized subject that infiltrates every sector of society.

The artworks range from symbolic and visionary to living and earthy. Christina Kelly’s process-work, Maize Field, re-fertilizes Brooklyn neighborhoods once tilled by Native Americans. Jess Levey and Katherine Gressel also ponder the connection to Brooklyn’s agrarian past juxtaposing colonial, present, and future imagery of the Old Stone House and creating a site-specific and localized entry point to contemplate “Utopia.”

A futuristic video by Work.AC and never-before shown plans and drawings by Mary Mattingly predict more sustainable futures for land, water, and air use in the context of Brooklyn’s fate as sea levels steadily rise around it. Eric Sanderson is also focused on the future — contrasting imaginary and actual digital maps of Brooklyn drawn from his 2009 bestseller Manahatta , combining the present with an idealized agrarian aerial view of the borough in 2409.

Mimi Oka and Doug Fitch’s satirical Land of Cockaigne depicts a sybaritic depiction of heaven of effortless consumption that eerily tracks our own current dystopian abundance of cheap, fattening and false foods.
Scott Nyerges, Kate Glicksberg, and Dan Sagarin use photopgrahy and blogging to capture existing newly-green farm oases hidden in unusual places throughout Brooklyn’s endless hardscape — from fire escapes to rooftops.

L-A-W-N by Tattfoo Tan

Kim Holleman and Tattfoo Tan explore the edible and educational potential of mobile farms, joined by Ian Cheney and Curt Ellis presenting Truck Farm at our Opening Party on 09.16.10 — on display throughout the weekend.

In another amazing temporary installation on 09.18.10, The Greenhorns (a collective of Young Farmers and Artists) erect FARM FORT, an interactive multi-media camp that will show films and hold discussions in a 10 x 10 tent.

Eve Mosher’s mini plant “modules” demonstrate her use of social networking to link and multiply Brooklyn’s smallest farms while Hernani Dias employs technology to link Brooklyn to urban farms overseas, displaying the vital signs of new potatoes to a shared website interface — like a Facebook stauts update for plants.

Andrew Casner and Hugh Hayden demonstrate how art itself can be made from Brooklyn’s rejuvenated organic material, including compost and live insects. Outside, Mathilde Roussel-Giraudy’s human body sculptures of growing edible plants, Ça Pousse!, bring new meaning to the phrase “You are what you eat!”

SUMMARY

Not-to be missed temporary outdoor installations opening weekend, Sept 16, 18-19:
Ian Cheney & Curt Ellis (Truck Farm) (on view Sept. 16, 18-19)
The Greenhorns (FARM FORT, an outdoor farm information tent) (Sept 18-19 ONLY!)
Kim Holleman (Trailer Park) (Artist talks Sept. 16, 6-8pm; Sept. 18 & 19, 1-2pm and 5-6pm)
Tattfoo Tan (S.O.S. Mobile Classroom): (Artist presentation Thurs, Sept. 16 6-8pm; and SUNDAY ONLY, Sept. 19, 10-2pm)

SPECIAL! OPENING NIGHT ONLY:
Video projections by Jess Levey
Live musical performance by the People’s Champs

Featuring artwork by:
Andrew Casner, Hernani Dias, Kate Glicksberg, Katherine Gressel, Hugh Hayden, Kim Holleman, Christina Kelly, Jess Levey, Mary Mattingly, Eve Mosher, Scott Nyerges, ORPH, Mathilde Roussel-Giraudy , Dan Sagarin, Eric Sanderson, Tattfoo Tan, Work.AC

PARTNERSHIPS

Brooklyn Utopias: Farm City will correspond with Crossing the Line: Farm City, a comprehensive 3-week exploration of urban agriculture through markets, workshops, tours, films and discussions running from September 12-25, 2010 at the French Institute Alliance Francais, and Open House New York Weekend, a citywide architecture and design tour October 9-10, 2010 organized by Openhousenewyork, Inc.

ABOUT THE CURATORS

Brooklyn Utopias: Farm City is a mash up of two curators’ related projects devoted to exploring the relationship between art and place. Last year, Katherine Gressel launched Brooklyn Utopias as an annual exhibit in which artists consider differing visions of an ideal city through the “concrete” example of Brooklyn. This year, Derek Denckla initiated FarmCity.US, a broad-based, long-term action-research project that aims to engage public enthusiasm for environmental change through transformative collaborations between arts and urban agriculture.

GALLERY INFORMATION:

The Old Stone House is symbolic of Brooklyn’s gradual return to its agricultural “roots.” Originally a Dutch colonial farmhouse, OSH now boasts five community gardens and corresponding arts and environ mental education programming — providing food for artists’ boldest thoughts of an entire future city that can again help feed itself.

The Old Stone House of Brooklyn is a modern reconstruction of the Vechte-Cortelyou House, a 1699 Dutch stone farmhouse that was the site of the largest battle of the Revolutionary War and the original home of the Brooklyn Dodgers. The Old Stone House is dedicated to creating a strong sense of community through history, environmental education and the arts.

Brooklyn Utopias: Farm City
EXHIBITION DATES: SEPTEMBER 16-DECEMBER 12, 2010
GALLERY HOURS: SATURDAY & SUNDAY, 11am-4pm OR BY APPOINTMENT

Filed under: Urban Agriculture | 1 Comment »

TheGreenest.Net and Thread Collective Win the One Prize!

Posted: July 20th, 2010 | Author:

Brooklyn-based architecture collective Terreform ONE announced that the design team — consisting of TheGreenest.Net and architecture firm, thread collective – have been selected as winner of the first annual ONE Prize of $5,000 sponsored by the American Society of Landscape Architects and NYC Department of Parks & Recreation!

On July 29, 2010 at 6:30 pm, One Prize will host an awards ceremony and cocktail reception that launches an on-going exhibition of the winning designs at Trespa/Arpa Design Centre,  62 Greene Street in SOHO. Please RSVP to info.ny@trespa.com or register here.

The winning team, consisting of Derek Denckla from TheGreenest.Net and Gita Nandan and Elliott Maltby from thread collective, came together to respond to the call for proposals on the theme “Mowing to Growing: A Design Competition for Creating Productive Green Spaces in Cities.”

The competition drew 202 teams and 850 team members from more than 20 countries and five continents.

“We were really excited when it was announced that we made the list of 30 semi-finalists earlier this year.” said Nandan, “Looking at the other semi-finalists –and the quality of their projects — I was really honored. Our proposal was in some seriously accomplished company. That’s why it’s all-the-more thrilling that we were selected as the model project.”

Our team hashed out a few prototype designs together until we settled on Naturally Occurring Retirement Community (NORC) Farms.  The concept of the NORC  is simple: to connect aging New Yorkers with inaccessible lawns that surround public housing complexes in order to create and cultivate farm plots and social spaces.  NORC FARMS would use urban agriculture to transform grass into a socially, ecologically, economically productive space; activate older New Yorkers, and transforming public housing into local agriculture; where the Corbusier “tower in the park” becomes the sustainable tower in the farm.

“We took a bit of a risk when we submitted the NORC Farms proposal.” said Elliott Maltby. “Let’s face it, aging is a critical social issue but not usually the subject of high-concept design. Furthermore, the traditional entry in a design competition emphasizes strong forms that depict a robust design sensibility. Instead, we decided to focus our proposal more on investigating the nature of spatial relationships and how slight but significant changes in use can radically transform community.”

“Originally, the prize was to be $10,000 for one winner,” said organizer Maria Aiolova of Terreform, “but we quickly began to see that there was two stand-out proposals: one that emphasized community planning and another that was more design-driven. So, in the end, we decided to split the $10,000 prize to honor both of these impulses that initially motivated the competition.”

“NORC Farms obviously was our choice for the community proposal.” Aiolova added. “We really feel that NORC Farms addresses a serious community need with an elegant and creative solution. It made us really pleased that a few days before we announced the winners, the NY Times ran a front page story about cities (including NYC) launching design accommodations for their aging populations.” (See “NY Aims to Improve the Lives of the Elderly,” Anemona Hartocollis, 7/18/10, NY Times).

The ONE Prize competition called for technical, urbanistic, and architectural strategies not simply for the food production required to feed the cities and suburbs, but the possibilities of diet, agriculture, and retrofitted facilities that could achieve that level within the constraints of the local climate and conditions.  The entries ranged from vertical farms, neighborhood farms, farming on vacant lots and buildings, abandoned infrastructure, front lawns, strip malls, roof tops, river barges and inside trailers.

As Terreform ONE cofounder Mitchell Joachim puts it: “We want to break the American love affair with the suburban lawn.” In a country that today squanders some seven billion gallons of water every day watering its 40,000 acres of suburban lawns—and in which only two percent of food is grown locally—Mowing to Growing challenged architects to devise workable means for growing more of America’s food closer to more of America’s communities, and to do so at less expense to our economy and our environment.

Terreform ONE [Open Network Ecology] is a non-profit design group that promotes green design in cities. Since 2006, the group has been a pioneer in ecological design and sustainable construction technology. With visionary proposals in the fields of public transit, waste reuse and community development, as well as lectures, workshops and exhibitions, the Terreform ONE team has pushed the conceptual envelope for ecological architecture and urban design.  The One Prize is the group’s latest initiative to advance the burgeoning environmental movement by encouraging designers to imagine new solutions for conservation and renewability, and then giving those designers a platform for their ideas.

The design team that shared the winning award of the One Prize was AGENCY architecture LLC, USA (Ersela Kripa, Stephen Mueller). This project proposes a global system of levees, serving also as a new  brand of urban farms at the city’s edge, preserving local ecologies while protecting cities from emerging dangers.  Each stage of the levee supports the next.  Clippings, compost, and surplus crops from farming levels are used as nutrients and food for a series of fish farms, marshes, and restorative dune ecologies.  Waste from marine life and nutrients from algal habitats are then used to fertilized farm levels, making the levee a complete ecology.


The Jury consisted of a distinguished panel of thinkers and designers, including:
• Cameron Sinclair, Founder, Architecture for Humanity
• Adrian Benepe, Commissioner, NYC Department of Parks and Recreation
• Ben  Schwegler, Jr., Ph.D., Chief Scientist of Walt Disney Imagineering
• DJ Spooky, AKA Paul D. Miller, electronic and experimental musician,  producer and author
• Dickson Despommier, Ph.D., Professor in the Department of Environmental Health Sciences at Columbia University and Director of the Vertical Farm Project
• Carol Coletta, president and CEO of CEOs for Cities, Host and Producer of the nationally syndicated public radio show Smart City
• William J. Mitchell, Professor of Architecture and Media Arts and Sciences at MIT, Director, Media Lab’s Smart Cities research group at MIT

Filed under: Urban Agriculture | 1 Comment »
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