Urban Agriculture


City Gardens Abound In Cuba, Where 70% Of Vegetables And Herbs Are Local And Organic

HAVANA, June 4, 2008

(CBS/ Reinaldo Gil)

(CBS) This story was written by CBS News producer Portia Siegelbaum in Havana.
“Buy local. Eat seasonal. Eat organic.” All now commonplace admonitions in the United States.

But while none of these slogans are household words in Cuba, 70 percent of the vegetables and herbs grown on the island today are organic and the urban gardens where they are raised are usually within walking distance of those who will consume them. So in one blow Cuba reduced the use of fossil fuels in the production and transportation of food. And they began doing this nearly 20 years ago.

The island nation’s move to organic and sustainable farming did not arise from its environmental consciousness, although there was an element of that also. The main reason was the beginning of the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989, Cuba’s only source of petroleum and main trading partner at that time.

Overnight long lines formed at gas stations that all too often ran out before all their customers could fill up. Traffic was virtually non-existent. Chinese “Flying Pigeon” bicycles replaced both private and public transportation.

“Puestos” as Cubans call the produce section of their rationed grocery stores displayed only empty bins as agriculture ground to a halt. Chemical pesticides and fertilizers vanished. Tractors became relics of a former time. Oxen pulled the plows that furrowed the fields.

Finding food for the dinner table became a day-long drudge. Cubans visibly lost weight. The communist youth daily, Juventud Rebelde, ran articles on edible weeds. Daily caloric intake dropped to about 1600 calories.

Organic agriculture “made its appearance at that moment as a necessity and that necessity helped us to advance, to consolidate and expand more or less uniformly in all 169 municipalities,” says Adolfo Rodriguez. At 62, he is Cuba’s top urban agrarian, with 43 years experience in agriculture.

He says there are now 300,000 people employed directly in urban agriculture without counting those who are raising organic produce in their backyards as part of a State-encouraged grassroots movement. In all, Rodriguez claims nearly a million people are getting their hands dirty organically.

With 76 percent of Cuba’s population of just under 11 million living in cities, the importance of this form of farming cannot be over emphasized, says Rodriguez.

I think that Cuba’s urban agriculture has come to stay.
Adolfo Rodriguez, urban agrarian
The urban gardens have been dubbed “organoponicos.” Those located in never-developed empty lots primarily consist of raised beds. More complicated are those created in the space left by a collapsed building, not uncommon in cities like Havana where much of the housing is in a very deteriorated state and where all it takes is a heavy tropical rainfall followed by relentless sunshine to bring down a structure.

“We have to truck in the soil,” before anything can be planted, explains Rodriguez. “The basic issue is restoring fertility, the importance of producing compost, organic fertilizers, humus created by worms,” he says.

In a majority of cases the fruits and vegetables are freshly picked every morning and go on sale just with a few feet of where they grew. Only in exceptional cases, such as the densely population municipality of Old Havana (as the colonial section of the capital is named) do the organic fruits and vegetables travel a kilometer or so by a tricycle or horse drawn cart to reach consumers.

Havana residents line up at the organoponico at 44th Street and Fifth Avenue, which grows a wide variety of vegetables, fruits and herbs. (CBS/Manuel Muniz)

Lucky are the Havana residents who live near the organoponico at 44th Street and Fifth Avenue. Occupying nearly an entire city block, it grows a wide variety of vegetables, fruits and herbs, as well as ornamental plants. It will even sell fresh basil shoots for customers to plant in their own herb garden. On a recent day, customers were offered the following fresh produce at reasonable prices: mangos, plantains, basil, parsley, lettuce, garlic, celery, scallions, collard greens, black beans, watermelon, tomatoes, malanga, spinach and sweet potatoes.

Luckily for Cubans in general, organic here is not equivalent to expensive. Overhead costs are low. The produce is sold from simple aluminum kiosks, signs listing the day’s offer and prices are handmade, electricity is used only for irrigation, and no transportation other than walking from the raised beds to the kiosks is involved. The result? Everything is fresh, local and available.

Convincing Cubans to buy this produce, especially the less familiar vegetables, so as to prepare earth friendly meals, presented a hurdle. The ideal meal on the island includes roast pork, rice and beans and yucca. A lettuce and tomato salad was popular. But the idea of vegetable side dishes or an all vegetarian meal was inconceivable to most.

“We’re cultivating some 40-plus species but you have to know who your customers are,” says Rodriguez. “We can’t plant a lot of broccoli right now because its not going to sell but we’re making progress.” For example, he notes, in the beginning practically no one bought spinach. Now, all the spinach planted is sold. Persuading people to eat carrots, according to Rodriguez, was an uphill battle. “We had to begin supplying them to the daycare centers,” so as to develop a taste for this most common of root vegetables.

The “queen” of the winter crop is lettuce. The spring/summer “queen” is the Chinese string bean. Cuba’s blazing summer sun doesn’t allow for growing produce out of its season, even under cover, except in rare circumstances.

The saving of heritage fruits, vegetables and even animals has also gotten a boost from the urban agrarian movement. The chayote, a fleshy, pear-shaped single-seeded fruit, had virtually disappeared from the market. Now, Rodriguez says, 130 of Cuba’s 169 municipalities are growing the fruit that many remember from their grandmother’s kitchen repertoire in which it was treated as a vegetable, often stuffed and baked.

“We are working to rescue fruit orchards that are in danger of extinction,” stresses Rodriguez. “We’ve planted fields with fruit species that many of today’s children have never even seen, such as the sapote. To save these species we’ve created specialized provincial botanical gardens,” he explains.

Similarly, the urban agrarian movement is rescuing native animal species such as the Creole goat and the cubalaya chicken, the only native Cuban poultry species.

Currently spiraling global food prices are hitting the island hard. Cuba has been importing just over 80 percent of the food consumed domestically. The government is making more land and supplies available to farmers and this may well include chemical fertilizers and pesticides in an attempt to greatly reduce this foreign dependency.

Adolfo Rodriguez, Cuba’s top urban agrarian (CBS/Reinaldo Gil)

Rodriguez does not believe this push to quickly increase agricultural output will negatively impact on the urban organic movement. Even during the 1990s, known in Cuba as the “Special Period,” he says, the potato crop continued to receive chemical pesticides and fertilizers. And even today, the 30 percent of the non-organic produce includes, for example, large-scale plantings of tomatoes for industrial processing.

“I think that Cuba’s urban agriculture has come to stay,” concludes Rodriguez. “That there is a little increase in the application of fertilizers and pesticides for specific crops is normal but that’s not to say that the country is going to shift away from organic farming, to turn our organic gardens into non-organic ones.”

Seattle, known as the emerald city to some, has urban agriculture popping up all over the place.  I’m actually going there in the fall to work with Seattle Youth Garden Works as one of their AmeriCorps garden coordinators.  I’m so excited!  I can’t wait to be part of this awesome community.  Here’s an article that was recently in the PI about urban gardening and food security in Seattle.  Below that are a ton of links to urban gardening stuff in Seattle.  Enjoy!

Gordon, a lead gardener at Seattle Youth Garden Works, holds up the bucket of compost he’s been speading. 

 

Written by Jennifer Langston

for the Seattle Post Intelligencer (June 3, 2008)

Instead of fighting hunger with grocery-store handouts, some see part of the solution in gardens, apartment balconies and front yards.

Over the past five years, the amount of fruit and vegetables grown or harvested in Seattle neighborhoods for food banks and meal programs has doubled to more than 44,000 pounds.

Though just a fraction of what fuels the emergency food pipeline, it will help meet unprecedented needs this summer, given rising prices and lines of low-income people that have ballooned since the holidays.

“It’s really key to our success,” said Rick Jump, executive director of the White Center Food Bank, which has seen its weekly demand increase by nearly 40 percent in the past several months. “We’re all out there striving to find resources.”

Soon, the food bank will start getting apples and plums from West Seattle yards — part of a neighborhood fruit tree harvest program pioneered four years ago by Solid Ground, a social service organization.

There will also be fresh vegetables from gardens worked by Community Harvest of Southwest Seattle, a new volunteer group also offering canning, gardening and tree-care classes at senior centers and local grocery stores.

“We’re trying to increase access to local fresh fruits and vegetables, not only by providing them, but also by teaching people how to grow and preserve their own,” said founder and West Seattle resident Aviva Furman.

At City Hall, conversations are under way to figure out how to expand programs enabling low-income gardeners to sell produce directly to urban consumers.

Generally, it’s illegal to sell from city P-patches, except for a small-market garden program allowing immigrant farmers in public housing developments to sell weekly bags of greens and produce.

Even foodies are struggling to shed some of the movement’s preciousness — peopled by those with the time to debate local vs. organic, or make handmade truffle pasta from scratch — and become more egalitarian.

“Unfortunately, people can get really snotty about where their food comes from,” said Willi Galloway, a Seattle Tilth board member who has worked to spread organic gardening to lower-income communities.

 

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“It’s something that’s fun that everyone can do, and I hope our city becomes a place where everyone has a place to grow their food, regardless of income.”

At a recent container-gardening class at the White Center Food Bank, Regina Bash scooped dirt from the bed of a pickup truck with a yogurt cup and poured it into a bucket.

She planted a sturdy tomato plant in one pot, with salad greens, carrots and radishes sharing another. There were discussions on the best way to pick sweet peas (often) and protect roots (carefully). Experts answered questions on the science of propagation and the art of watering.

At the end, Bash carefully loaded one pot in a backpack, stuffed the other in a rolling duffel bag and headed toward the bus stop.

“I’ve always wanted cherry tomatoes because I love them,” said Bash, who lives in an apartment with no yard. “But I have a balcony … so my little patio is waiting for me when I get home.”

A few blocks away, at newly renovated White Center Heights Park, 17 virgin garden plots will be tended by local residents and food bank clients this summer.

Katie Rains, a former Rat City Rollergirl, has volunteered to grow vegetables and herbs specifically for the food bank.

“They get a lot of produce donations,” said the 25-year-old Evergreen State College student. “But the things they’re not getting are more of the cultural foods — bok choy, Chinese cabbage, cilantro, peppers, eggplant.”

Immigrant farmers at Seattle Housing Authority developments such as New Holly and High Point have been selling produce out of community gardens there for the last decade.

Now, the city neighborhoods department that oversees P-patches and community gardens is considering how to widen the program to include other low-income gardeners.

That could involve making more land available, or creating farm stands or other means to distribute local produce. But a major expansion would likely require partners from the private sector, said Rich MacDonald, the P-patch program manager.

One complication is a state ban on allowing people to profit from public resources. That’s why some have entertained creating market gardens or urban agriculture training programs on private land owned by churches, individuals or other community organizations.

“It’s a nice stable little program, but it’s little,” MacDonald said of the market garden program. “And it’s hard to imagine without a lot of resources that it would get much bigger.”

Paul Haas, development director for Solid Ground, has just that kind of ambitious goal: Acquire 100 acres over the next 10 years for food bank, low-income and immigrant farmers.

“The thing that’s been lacking in this is a great tangible vision, like the Kennedy space program,” he said. “It starts with ‘here’s two acres, we have this site, let’s do it.’ ”

Last week, Emiko Keller stopped by West Seattle’s High Point Market Garden on the first day of the season, picking up a bag of parsley, spinach, tah tsoi greens, radishes, bok choy and salad fixings.

High Point Market Garden

Her family splits a half “share” — which costs $310 for roughly four months — with a neighbor down the street.

“I like the feeling of this kind of community,” she said, after giving gardener Hien Vinh Nguyen a warm hug. “And I like the fact that I get … things I don’t normally see at the store.”

The garden’s proceeds will be split among five families this year, including Nguyen’s. A former South Vietnamese army officer, he spent 13 years in a Hanoi prison where he grew beans, rice, potatoes and vegetables on the prison farm.

In 1994, he immigrated to Seattle and helped build two community gardens at High Point.

“It’s extra money for the low-income people … and the customers are so happy,” he said. “It’s good for all the residents.”

 

Related Articles:

Urban Farming Sprouts in Seattle: Overlooked nooks and crannies colonized to grow food

 

Urban Agriculture in Seattle:

Longfellow Creek Garden

Growing Washington

Seattle Youth Garden Works

P-Patch Community Gardens

Seattle Tilth

WA Food System Wiki

Veg Seattle

Pick Your Own

Marra Farm

Community Harvest of Southwest Seattle

High Point Market Garden

Seattle Green Map Project

Seattle Farmers Markets

Seattle Urban Farm Company

Urban Garden Residence

Ballard Farmer’s Markets

Common Ground

Laughing Crow Farm

Farmhouse Organics

Eat Local Now!

100 Mile Diet- Sustainable Ballard

Sustainable Communities All Over Puget Sound (SCALLOPS)

Puget Sound School Gardens Collective

Lettuce Link

Growing Food, Growing Community

Seattle Dirt

Seattle Green Schools

Abundant Yards

Community Fruit Tree Harvest

Northwest Harvest

Cultivating Youth

Green Seattle Guide

“The Green Book”

Sustainable West Seattle

 

22 MAY 2008

  

about good farm movement (found on COMFOOD)

I’m glad to find other people who are into art focused on food and gardening in cities.  This blog isn’t very big yet, but it will grow, I mean doesn’t everyone want to look at cool art with good food their belly?

 

Good Farm Movement is the art of the urban agrarian. we are a visual art blog that showcases and celebrates the agrarian avant-garde—the forward thinking farmers, cooks, eaters, educators, activists, and artists reclaiming our land, our communities, and our health.

we believe thought provoking visual art is a powerful means for examining the relationship between people and food in society. therefore, we draw on the visually dynamic mediums of design, photography, film/video, painting, and drawing as wellsprings of education and inspiration.

our ambition is to grow an informal collective of contributors who shift and shape the visual commentary regarding the political, economic, cultural, and social issues of food and farming. every contribution is open for commenting, and hopefully will produce critical thought and meaningful dialogue on and away from the site.

we welcome all well composed contributions for consideration. please send your piece to goodfarmmovement@gmail.com.

 

other interesting art exhibits:

fallen fruit

 

edible estates

Hot Summer of Urban Farming

Victory Gardens 2007+

Future Farmers

 

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Photo by Kym Pokorny from her blog “Dig in with Kym”.

 

“If you look around and see all the flat roofs, you can start to imagine a food-sustainable city,” says Marc Boucher-Colbert, one of the partners who contracts with Rocket restaurant to design and maintain the garden. “We’ve taken away all this space, but we can reclaim it.”

 

Click here to read the article at City Farmer News

 

Here are some designs for crazy urban agriculture from the past, present, and future

We always laugh at ideas from the past-

 

This page from the 1982 book, Our Future Needs (World of Tomorrow) by Neil Ardley,  describes a world in which we eat factory waste that has been processed into food by genetically modified bacteria.  Click here to read the actual article. Taken from Paleo-future.
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This image appears in the 1984 book The Future World of Agriculture and illustrates futuristic farming techniques near a sea city. (Taken from TreeHugger)
Robots tend crops that grow on floating platforms around a sea city of the future. Water from the ocean would evaporate, rise to the base of the platforms (leaving the salt behind), and feed the crops.
In the 1982 book Our Future Needs (World of Tomorrow), robots grow and harvest oranges in a desert.  No humans are needed!  Click here to read the article. (From Paleo-Future)
Today vertical farming seems like a possibility.

           Advantages of Vertical Farming

Year-round crop production; 1 indoor acre is equivalent to 4-6 outdoor acres or more, depending upon the crop (e.g., strawberries: 1 indoor acre = 30 outdoor acres)
No weather-related crop failures due to droughts, floods, pests
All VF food is grown organically: no herbicides, pesticides, or fertilizers
VF virtually eliminates agricultural runoff by recycling black water
VF returns farmland to nature, restoring ecosystem functions and services
VF greatly reduces the incidence of many infectious diseases that are acquired at the agricultural interface
VF converts black and gray water into potable water by collecting the water of
evapotranspiration
VF adds energy back to the grid via methane generation from composting non-edible
parts of plants and animals
VF dramatically reduces fossil fuel use (no tractors, plows, shipping.)
VF converts abandoned urban properties into food production centers
VF creates sustainable environments for urban centers
VF creates new employment opportunities
We cannot go to the moon, Mars, or beyond without first learning to farm indoors on
earth
VF may prove to be useful for integrating into refugee camps
VF offers the promise of measurable economic improvement for tropical and subtropical
LDCs. If this should prove to be the case, then VF may be a catalyst in helping to reduce or even reverse the population growth of LDCs as they adopt urban agriculture as a strategy for sustainable food production.
VF could reduce the incidence of armed conflict over natural resources, such as water
and land for agriculture
vertical-farm.jpg
A design from Work AC for a vacant lot on Canal Street in New York City
“We thought we’d bring the farm back to the city and stretch it vertically,” says Work AC co-principal Dan Wood. “We are interested in urban farming and the notion of trying to make our cities more sustainable by cutting the miles [food travels],” adds his co-principal (and wife) Amale Andraos. Underneath is what appears to be a farmers market, selling what grows above. Artists would be commissioned to design the columns that hold it up and define the space under: “We show a Brancusi, but it could be anyone,” says Wood. ::New York Magazine

methun1cropped2.jpg

A “Center for Urban Agriculture” in Seattle designed by Mithun Architects.
This masterpiece won the “Best in Show”  at the Cascadia Region Green Building Council‘s Living Building Challenge.  Designed for a .72-acre site, that includes fields for growing vegetables and grains, greenhouses, rooftop gardens and even a chicken farm.” (Click here to read a great article about this farm idea at Jetson Green)

methun2.jpg

According to CEO Washington, The building also would run completely independent of city water, providing its own drinking water partly by collecting rain via the structure’s 31,000-square-foot rooftop rainwater collection area. The water would be treated and recycled on site. And photovoltaic cells would produce nearly 100 percent of the building’s electricity. (From TreeHugger)

torontoskyfarm.jpg

 This is Gordon Graff’s Sky Farm proposed for downtown Toronto’s theatre district. It’s got 58 floors, 2.7 million square feet of floor area and 8 million square feet of growing area. It can produce as much as a thousand acre farm, feeding 35 thousand people per year and providing tomatoes to throw at the latest dud at the Princess of Wales Theatre to the east, and olives for the Club District to the north. Thankfully it overwhelms the horrid jello-mold Holiday Inn to the west. (From TreeHugger)

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One of my personal favorites…

 

 

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Daekwon Park, seen in the 2008 Evolo skyscraper competition, is a way to reunite the isolated city blocks and insert a multi-layer network of public space, green space and nodes for the city.

elevation-park.jpg

Daekwon Park clips on to the exterior of existing buildings a series of prefabricated modules serving different functions would be stacked on top of each other, adding a layer of green space for gardening, wind turbines or social uses to make new green façades and infrastructures.

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 There are modules for vertical gardens and connections to other buildings through a network of skywalks;

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Wind turbine units and program units that could serve many public functions.

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The concept of adding a layer of complexity and usefulness to the under-insulated glass dinosaurs that are sprouting up everywhere may save them and their owners from the inevitable hike up 24 flights of stairs with their meagre rations. via ::Prunedand ::Archinect

There are lots of awsome skyscraper designs at Evolo

 

Last but certainly not least, is the Vertical Farm project

Several of the designs we have looked at  come from the Vertical Farm project, which promotes local fresh and healthy foods in gravity defiying ways.  This project was started by a professor at Columbia, Dr Dickson Despommier.  His theory, that ‘skyscraper farms’ could provide plentiful food organically, without herbicides, pesticides or fertilisers, has attracted venture capitalists and scientists from around the world, intent on making the theory into reality within 15 years.

Designed by Chris Jacobs for the Vertical Farm Project.  Check out this great article in the New York Magazine for lots of pictures, interviews, and breakdowns of the design.

Links to cool things on the Vertical Farm website

The Vertical Farm Essay by Dickson Despommier

Vertical Farm designs

Materializing the Idea: Innovative Solutions for the Vertical Farm A study conducted by: Leslie-Anne Fitzpatrick Rory Mauro Kathleen Roosevelt Athina Vassilakis

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“The tests were performed as part of the health department’s analysis of soil samples from all of Montreal’s nearly 100 community gardens. Beausoleil said about 30 gardens city-wide are contaminated. However, only 11 gardens have been closed – nine of them last year. The other affected gardens will be made public this year by the boroughs in which they are located, Beausoleil said.

“We can tell you right now, there is no worry for your health as a result of eating vegetables from this soil,” Monique Beausoleil, a toxicologist with the department — She explained that most of the contaminants were found in soil lower than the roots that most typical vegetables grow, so their absorption rate was very low.”

Montréal Gazette article, April 1, 2008.

Links to official tests and reports.

Montréal’s community gardening program – description, 14 page PDF.

Accra.jpg

IDRC Photo: Monica Rucki
Urban Farming in Accra

“While we in the urban West congratulate ourselves on innovations like the 100-Mile Diet and eating food raised close to home, much of Africa has been quietly surviving on the 100-metre version.

“Their produce isn’t trucked halfway across the continent. Some of it grows in greenspace hacked right out of city landscapes.

“That’s why you’ll see lettuce under power lines, and cassavas in the culverts.
“But harvesting the cities may not just be practical. In times of soaring food prices, it might help make the difference between a stable society and civil unrest.

“So you have to wonder; why is it still such a struggle? Canadian journalist Kim Brunhuber began his quest for answers in Uganda.

Listen to Kim’s story on Dispatches.
See Contents May 12/18 2008.
11 minutes 33 seconds.

Books about African Urban Agriculture:

URBAN AGRICULTURE IN WEST AFRICA
Contributing to Food Security and Urban Sanitation

CITIES FEEDING PEOPLE
An Examination of Urban Agriculture in East Africa

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