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.”

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IMMEDIATE RELEASE: May 29th 2008

CONTACT: Holly Freishtat, 360-391-2888, holly@cultivatehealth.com

Seattle Hospitals Purchasing Local, Sustainable Food: National Report Outlines Leading Trends in Health Care Sector

127 Hospitals nationwide are buying healthier food to promote public health

(5/29/08 – Seattle, WA) 

For 127 hospitals across the United States, the words “hospital food” and “healthy communities, healthy environment” are one and the same, according to a new report released by Health Care Without Harm (HCWH)  today. The Healthy Food in Health Care Report outlines concrete steps being taken by hospitals regionally that support the national trend to change their food buying practices towards more sustainably produced, healthier choices for patients, staff and visitors.

Eight Seattle area hospitals out of the 127 facilities, in 21 states across the country, pledged to source local, nutritional, sustainable food. “When hospitals sign and implement the Healthy Food in Healthcare Pledge they redefine healthy food beyond nutrition to include community and environmental health. Hospitals are changing the culture of food in healthcare by sourcing local produce, hormone-free milk, meat without hormones or antibiotics, sustainable seafood and through hosting farmers’ markets, community- supported agriculture boxes for employees,” says Holly Freishtat, Sustainable Food Specialist for Washington Physicians for Social Responsibility (WPSR), a  member organization of HCWH. 

The Healthy Food in Health Care Pledge outlines the steps to be taken by the health care industry to improve the health of their patients, local communities and the environment. This Pledge Report details the concrete food purchasing steps these facilities are making. For example:

·         80 facilities (70%) are purchasing up to 40% of their produce locally

·         Over 90 facilities (80%) are purchasing rBGH-free milk

·         100% have increased fresh fruit and vegetable offerings

·         50 facilities (44%) are purchasing meat produced without the use of hormones or antibiotics

·         63 facilities (60%) are composting food waste

Seattle area hospitals have been leaders in the movement of providing healthy sustainable food. The eight hospitals that have signed the Healthy Food in Healthcare Pledge are; Seattle Children’s Hospital and Regional Medical Center, Overlake Hospital Medical Center, Northwest Hospital and Medical Center, University of Washington Medical Center and MultiCare Health System that includes Good Samaritan Hospital, Tacoma General Hospital, Mary Bridge Children’s and Health Center, and Allenmore Hospital. Each of the facilities is implementing their Pledge commitments in various ways. They are rolling out new patient menus featuring healthier selections, purchasing locally grown produce when possible, and increasing the amount of organic sustainable foods. A few highlights include:

  • Food Composting: Four hospitals composted a total of 310 tons of food compost in 2007, two more hospitals are planning to compost by the end of 2008
  • Farm Stand and/or CSA: three hospitals have a farm stand and/or a CSA, thus increasing the access of organic fruit and vegetables to over 14,000 employees
  • Nutritional Quality: All the hospitals are decreasing the amount of processed foods and Transfats while increasing whole grains and fruits and vegetables

Hospitals around the country are linking their operations to impacts on human and environmental health, and an emerging part of this trend is increased attention to food service.   Health Care Without Harm (HCWH) is joined in its work to encourage support for local, sustainable food by major medical associations.   In 2007, the American Public Health Association recognized the urgency of transforming our food system and passed a policy to promote environmental sustainability, improve nutritional health and ensure social justice.  That same year, the California Medical Association passed a resolution that encourages hospitals to adopt policies that increase the purchasing and serving of local, sustainable food .

“When hospitals serve and promote nutritious, local, sustainably grown food to patients, families, staff and visitors, hospitals are modeling preventive medicine,” stated Sue Heffernan, RN, MN, Clinical Nurse Specialist at Seattle Children’s Hospital. Across the country, pledged hospitals are continuously working to address the public and environmental health impacts from current industrialized food production practices by sourcing nutritious, local sustainable food.

For more information and expert list please contact:

Holly Freishtat, WPSR Sustainable Food Specialist, Food & Society Fellow

360-391-2888, holly@cultivatehealth.com

Heath Care without Harm, an international coalition of more than 473 organizations in 52 countries, is working to transform the health care sector, without compromising patient safety or care, so that it is ecologically sustainable and no longer a source of harm to public health and the environment. For more information on the healthy food pledge seehttp://www.noharm.org/us/food/pledge.

To learn more about HCWH’s work on food and other issues related to health care www.healthyfoodinhealthcare.org

To view the Healthy Food in Healthcare Pledge Report:

 


 The 2007 California Medical Association resolution encourages hospitals to adopt policies and implement practices that increase the purchasing and serving of food that promotes health and prevents disease. Included are meat and dairy products produced without non-therapeutic antibiotics, meats derived from non-CAFO sources such as free-range animals, food grown on non-industrial agricultural operations such as small and medium-sized local farms, and food grown according to organic or other methods that emphasize renewable resources, ecological.

 


 The 2007 American Public Health Association policy “Towards a Healthy, Sustainable Food System” urges support of environmentally sound agricultural practices to reduce contamination, resource use, climate change, in addition to improved food labeling for country-of-origin and genetic modification, and a ban on non-therapeutic antimicrobial and arsenic use. It recognizes the urgency of transforming our food system to promote environmental sustainability, improve nutritional health, and ensure social justice.

Portlandroof.jpg

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

 

 
Urban agriculture could be one of many solutions to the imminent global food crisis.

I’ll start this article out with some little blips from NPR about the global food crisis and the riots they have sparked in Haiti this week.

Rising Food Prices Spark Growing Concern

Haitians Tense after Food Prices Spark Riot

The hand of a woman is covered in mud as she makes mud cookies on the roof of Fort Dimanche, Nov. 30, 2007.  (ABC News)

They’re eating mud?

Does no one remember the Universal Declaration of Human Rights made in 1948?

Article 25 states:

Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.

Last year on World Hunger Day (October 16) the FAO released a press release to remind us of this human right.

Eleven years after the 1996 World Food Summit the number of undernourished people in the world remains unacceptably high, with 820 million in developing countries, 25 million in countries in transition and 9 million in industrialized countries. As a result, promoting the right to food is not just a moral imperative or even an investment with huge economic returns, it is a basic human right, according to FAO. –FAO NewsRoom

Sixty years after this Declaration was signed by General Assembly of the United Nations, study after study show that we do produce enough food to feed the world over- its poverty thats the real problem.

The world produces enough food to feed everyone. World agriculture produces 17 percent more calories per person today than it did 30 years ago, despite a 70 percent population increase. This is enough to provide everyone in the world with at least 2,720 kilocalories (kcal) per person per day (FAO 2002, p.9).  The principal problem is that many people in the world do not have sufficient land to grow, or income to purchase, enough food.-worldhunger.org, 2008

Not only that, but a University of Michigan study from 2007 shows that “low-intensive food production systems (including organic and other natural approaches)” could sustain the current world population and maybe even more.  Here’s the abstract.

Check out the proceedings from this FAO Conference on Organic Agriculture and Food Security from 2007.

Earlier this year the UN released a statement admitting that it no longer has the money to keep malnutrition at bay this year.  

“We will have a problem in coming months,” said Josette Sheeran, the head of the UN’s World Food Programme (WFP). “We will have a significant gap if commodity prices remain this high, and we will need an extra half billion dollars just to meet existing assessed needs… This is the new face of hunger. There is food on shelves but people are priced out of the market. There is vulnerability in urban areas we have not seen before.”

Its budget for 2008 was $2.9 billion dollars, which includes voluntary contributions from wealthier nations.  “But with annual food price increases around the world of up to 40% and dramatic hikes in fuel costs, that budget is no longer enough even to maintain current food deliveries (Borger).”

What are the main causes of these incredible hikes in food costs?

Recently, land and resources taken up by biofuels has been blamed for raises in cost. Joachim von Braun, the head of the International Food Policy Research Institute, says that this counts for about 30% of the raises in cost.  Another 50% comes from the sharp growth in demand from a new middle class in China and India for meat and other foods, which were previously viewed as luxuries.  Filling in the gaps are losses in world levels of grain storage due to erratic weather-induced changes…. And climate change will only become a greater issue over time. (Borger)

So what does all of this have to do with urban agriculture?  TONS!

Urban agriculture enables individuals and families feed themselves on a very small-scale production.  This agriculture can take place in open lots, on balconies, old tires, bags, baskets, rooftops, and around the perimeters of cities.  the FAO realizes the value of urban and peri-urban (a silly name for agriculture on the edges of cities and other similar areas) agriculture.  You can check out their websites here:

Food to the Cities

Urban/Peri-Urban Agriculture

And one of the most instrumental advocates for urban agriculture, Jac Smit, had written tons and tons on sustainability through urban agriculture.  Check some of his papers out here:

Farm the City

From the Desk of Jac Smit– tons of his papers in a big bundle

Urban Agriculture: Food, Jobs, and Sustainable Cities. UNDP, Habitat II Series, 1996.

Another great resource for information on how great urban agriculture is in the International Development Resource Centre.  They have an exhaustive list of books you can download for free from their rather confusing website.

Here is the page of books about agriculture and development, many of them about urban agriculture.

Luc J.A. Mougeot works for them and is an INCREDIBLE person.

Lastly, a great website with lots and lots of documents is Resource centers of Urban Agriculture and Food Security (RUAF).

 

 
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Fritz Haeg. artist, architect, gardener, superhero.

Today for $29.95 you can can join the 3.5 million families and businesses getting everlasting happiness from their Trugreen lawns. Every month a man will come to your house and spray a delightful mixture of toxins and fertilizers to kill anything that might live in your lawn and green the stuff thats too dumb to die. (Incidently at the bottom of the Trugreen website a little blurb reads, “TruGreen ChemLawn is now TruGreen, because one word is all you need for a great lawn. We have shortened our name to make it easier for you to remember that we are the experts of lawn care. While we are known as “TruGreen”, the name ChemLawn will always be a part of our Company.” trugreen.com)

Sheep on the White House lawn during Woodrow Wilson’s Administration

The American lawn has been an institution in suburbia since suburbia began. Historians believe that this preocupation with low growning, uniform turf grass stems from 17th century Europe, when the ruling royals flaunted their wealth by surrounding themselves with lawns “Lawns did a great job of showing off castles and manor homes. They also let the neighbors know that the lawn owner was so wealthy that he could afford to use the land as a playground, rather than a source of food. Thus, the lawn became a status symbol.” (Donaldson). They are the sign of wealth, materialism, order, and perfection that America thrives on. When the push mower came on the scene in 1870, suddenly almost any property owner who wanted to could have a lawn. So the lawn became a symbol of the American dream, the land of wealth and prosperity, where anyone can have a lawn not used for practical purposes. The USDA and Garden Clubs of America pushed the lawn by holding best-kept lawn contests and writing about the desire to conform and achieve status through a beautiful lawn. The land of wealth and prosperity became the land of excess, wastefulness and materialism. When chemical pesticides and fertilizers came onto the market after World War II, lawns got artificially greener and began to pollute landscapes everywhere. Fertilizer run-off created problems in all waterways and disrupted the balance of ecosystems. For a long time is was thought that agriculture was the main source of pollution to waterways. Only recently did scientists realize the extent to which individually fertilized lawns affected the ecosystem.

Algal bloom caused by fertilizer runoff on the James River in Virginia.

Haeg has been traveling around the country on a crusade against the American lawn in his project, Edible Estates. Instead of these scary unproductive barren patches that we all insist on keeping in front of our homes, Haeg creates beautiful organic edible landscapes that will liven up the whole neighborhood and hopefully make your neighbors jealous. When I think of the words “edible landscape”, an a Charlie and the Chocolate Factory image appears in my head of carefully sculpted unicorn topiaries made out of strawberry plants or at least a giant bush shaped like a yorky terrier similar to the one outside the Guggenheim in Bilbao.

Puppy by Jeff Koons

Puppy By Jeff Koons outside the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain

As far as I know, Haeg has never made an edible landscape of that sort. His are beautiful, productive, well organized, and lasting. Unlike Trulawn, they invite creatures of all sorts into the front yard, don’t dump toxic chemicals into local waterways, and produce lots of good things to eat. “Haeg is taking over one domestic front lawn at a time… in an attempt to completely overthrow the American institution of front lawns by creating a living exhibit that reflects his personal concerns about our environment and the effort that needs to go into protecting it (Thornton).”

Edible Estate #3 in Maplewood, New Jersey (Photo by Fritz Haeg)

“I’m interested in what happens when a garden is placed in a location where it becomes a threat to the industrial/commercial system that we are embedded in.” Said Fritzy in an interview with Creative Time, “For some neighborhoods, it is a very provocative gesture that is upsetting. I think that a society that cannot grow it’s own food or that is threatened by a garden is in deep trouble. Most American homes will hide their kitchen garden in the backyard, if they have one at all. This project gets them out in front, a display created in an attempt to demonstrate the aesthetically pleasing aspects of pratical gardening. And it works. Haeg’s gardens do just what they set out to do, and sometimes I wonder why he doesn’t have a million screaming fans following him everywhere.

Stan and Priti Cox stand in front of their suburban home with Edible Estate #1 in Salina, Kansas.

To represent America as a whole, Haeg decided he wanted to build gardens evenly all over the country. He started in pretty much the geographic center on the country: The first edible estate was built in Salina, Kansas in 2005. Since then five other gardens have been built in Lakewood, California (Southwest); Maplewood, New Jersey (Northeast); London, England; Austin, Texas (South); and Baltimore, Maryland (East) respectively. There is also a demonstration garden in Descanso, California.  Not only does Fritz Haeg build and advertise the edible estates that he designs and creates, but he also encourages others to do the same. His website has an entire section titled “how to make you own” with plans, costs, advise, and references.In a way, the edible estates Fritz has created are advertisements for vegetable gardening in suburbia. “Haeg calls his Estates “franchise projects” because they can be applied anywhere. They’re the product of a sort of global localism that draws its meaning from the indigenous.” (Metropolis)

Haeg’s garden design for Edible Estate #6 commissioned by The Contemporary Museum in Baltimore

Haeg came to Baltimore to plant an edible landscape for The Contemporary Museum’s exhibit Cottage Industry. Many home owners applied for the privilege of having an awesome garden planted in their front yard by a group of eager volunteers from all around the area. To know about the selection process listen to the radio article by Maryland Morning below. So an apparently awesome couple, Clarence and Rudine, were chosen to have Edible Estate #6 planted the front yard of their suburban house and The Contemporary Museum paid for everything. On Thursday, Fritz gave a talk at the museum about the Edible Estates project.

Clarence and Rudine, happy caretakers of Edible Estate #6 in Baltimore

Then on saturday, a whole hoard of volunteers showed up to help and they got the entire garden finished in one day. I found out that the project was happening on saturday afternoon as the last veggies were planted. My bad luck. But I did get a nice email saying I could come check out the garden anytime… Well, at least it saved me the embarrassment of screaming and running around after Fritz Haeg, or fainting on the spot, or being otherwise unable to control myself in his presence…

The happy Baltimore volunteers minus a certain student of urban agriculture who should have been there. (April 11, 2008)

An addition to the wonderfully successful Edible Estates projects, Fritz Haeg has other programs.  In 2001, Haeg created the GardenLab on-campus community garden program at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena to get art and architecture students and faculty more in touch with their environmental surroundings. “Faculty, students and staff were encouraged to claim one of 30 designated plots within the school’s 175 wooded acres and use it as “a laboratory for messy experimentation and observation of natural cycles.” (Morgan) Haeg’s new Animal Estates project connects city-dwellers with wildlife.  There is currently an Animal Estate exhibit at the Whitney Museum, in New York City. He just published about book about Edible Estates from Metropolis Books. A native Minnesotan, graduated from Carnegie Melon in 1992 with a Bachelors of Arts in Architecture and now lives in Los Angeles.

The man himself: Fritz Haeg ( Photo by Christopher Krieling)

Haeg says, “I like the idea that my projects are better known than I am. More people probably know what the Edible Es-tates project is than who I am, which inverts what’s more common today, where you can know someone really well but have no idea what they’ve ever done.” In an era that loves to make stars, “artists are going to want to circumvent that and posit alternative ways of making art or being creative—for example, does art always have to be solitary?” (Metropolis)

 

Click Here to hear a good article about Fritz Haeg and his Edible Landscapes on Baltimore station WYPR’s Maryland Morning.

Curbed LA: Architect Fritz Haeg Explains His Edible Estates

Here’s more pictures of Edible Estate projects

Planting the Baltimore garden on Saturday.

Edible Estate #4, London, England.

 Commissioned by Tate Modern for the exhibtion “Global Cities” opened June 19th in the Turbine Hall.

 

Edible Estate #2 in Lakewood, California

 

Edible Estates #5 in Austin, Texas

Edible Estates Demonstration Garden: Descanso Gardens, California

 

Obsessed with lawns or Fritz Haeg? check out these sites.

American-lawns.com

Jenkins, Virginia Scott. 1994. The Lawn: A History of an American Obsession. Smithsonian Institution Press: Blue Ridge Summit, PA. 246 pp.

Donaldson, Cameron. History of the American Lawn. Guide for Real Florida Gardeners.

Chemical Contaminants-Bay Pressures-Chesapeake Bay Program.

Urban and Suburban Lands-Bay Pressures-Chesapeake Bay Program.

Thornton, Stephanie.”Edible Estates Coming to Baltimore“. City Paper.

Creative Times Presents: Iterrogating Public Space. An interview with Fritz Haeg, July 2007.

Edible Estates Official Website

Haeg, Fritz. 2008. Edible Estates: Attack on the Front Lawn. Metropolis Books.

Fritz Haeg’s Edible Estates homesteading on the suburban lawn. Culiblog.

Whitney Biennial 2008

Chang, Jade. March 2008. Greening the Edges. Metropolis.

Morgan, Susan. 2008. A Fertile Imagination. The New York Times Magazine.

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