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.”

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)

torontosection.jpg

One of my personal favorites…

 

 

2008-03-23_090444-Treehugger-skyscraper-additions.jpg

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.

units1.gif

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

units2.jpg

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

park-tower.jpg

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

Charles Fox/Philadelphia Inquirer

Kacie King checked honey production at the North Philadelphia farm, Greensgrow, which provides fresh food where it is rare.

Published in the New York Times: May 20, 2008

PHILADELPHIA — Amid the tightly packed row houses of North Philadelphia, a pioneering urban farm is providing fresh local food for a community that often lacks it, and making money in the process.

Greensgrow, a one-acre plot of raised beds and greenhouses on the site of a former steel-galvanizing factory, is turning a profit by selling its own vegetables and herbs as well as a range of produce from local growers, and by running a nursery selling plants and seedlings.

The farm earned about $10,000 on revenue of $450,000 in 2007, and hopes to make a profit of 5 percent on $650,000 in revenue in this, its 10th year, so it can open another operation elsewhere in Philadelphia.

In season, it sells its own hydroponically grown vegetables, as well as peaches from New Jersey, tomatoes from Lancaster County, and breads, meats and cheeses from small local growers within a couple of hours of Philadelphia.

The farm, in the low-income Kensington section, about three miles from the skyscrapers of downtown Philadelphia, also makes its own honey — marketed as “Honey From the Hood” — from a colony of bees that produce about 80 pounds a year. And it makes biodiesel for its vehicles from the waste oil produced by the restaurants that buy its vegetables.

Among urban farms, Greensgrow distinguishes itself by being a bridge between rural producers and urban consumers, and by having revitalized a derelict industrial site, said Ian Marvy, executive director of Added Value, an urban farm in the Red Hook section of Brooklyn.

It has also become a model for others by showing that it is possible to become self-supporting in a universe where many rely on outside financial support, Mr. Marvy said.

Mary Seton Corboy, 50, a former chef with a master’s degree in political science, co-founded Greensgrow in 1998 with the idea of growing lettuce for the restaurants in downtown Philadelphia.

Looking for cheap land close to their customers, Ms. Corboy and her business partner at the time, Tom Sereduk, found the site and persuaded the local Community Development Corporation to buy it and then rent it to them for $150 a month, a sum they still pay.

They made an initial investment of $25,000 and have spent about $100,000 over the years on items that included the plastic-covered greenhouses and the soil that had to be trucked in to cover the steel-and-concrete foundation of the old factory site.

“The mission was: How do you take postindustrial land and turn it into some kind of green business?” said Ms. Corboy, an elfin woman with the ruddy cheeks of someone who works long hours out of doors.

She approached her early lettuce-growing operation with conventional business goals and little thought for what an urban farm could achieve.

“I thought you didn’t have to have a relationship with the community,” she said. “You would just be a business person.”

Customers said the farm was a breath of fresh air in a gritty neighborhood.

“It’s a little piece of heaven,” said Janet McGinnis, 47, who lives on nearby Girard Avenue. “We live in the city, and it makes me feel good to wake up and see flowers.”

Ms. McGinnis said she could buy herbs, bread and produce elsewhere but did so at Greensgrow because it is part of the community. “We’ve got to keep it in the community,” she said. “We have to give back.”

Despite the community goodwill, the farm lives with urban problems like theft and violence. “I have gone through every tool in the box eight or nine times,” Ms. Corboy said.

Although no one at Greensgrow is getting rich from the operation — after 10 years’ work, Ms. Corboy is making an annual salary of $65,000 — there is a sense that their time has come.

“Ten years ago when I said we were going green, people thought we were out of our minds,” Ms. Corboy said. “Now we are top of the party list.”

“Carrots!” says this young intern from FoodShare, a Toronto non profit urban agriculture program
FoodShare is an organization that take a broad look at the entire food system – how food is produced, distributed and consumed.
How people get their food is also important. Food distribution systems that involve communities and help to create neighborhood leaders have a great potential to enhance individual and community empowerment, by leading people to feel that they have some control over this very basic part of their lives. Again, because of its material, cultural and social importance, food is special in its power to mobilize people to action. All our programs are based on this community building principle.
FoodShare tries to take a multifaceted, innovative and long-term approach to hunger and food issues. This means that we’re involved in diverse actions: grassroots program delivery, advocacy for social assistance reform, job creation and training, nutrition education, farmland preservation and campaigns for comprehensive food labelling are just a few examples of the areas we work in.
FoodShare was started in 1985 by the Mayor of Toronto and many citizens concerned about the growing hunger issues of the city. Since then, they have been actively involved in tons of projects all over the city, it is part of the school system, the farmers markets, and food banks of the city as well as host a hunger hotline, cooking classes, gardens and garden education, and healthy food choices classes. 
The Field to Table Urban Agriculture Project, founded by Annex Organics, has been home to a sprouting business, a rooftop greenhouse and garden, living machines, and a composting system. It now also includes honey bee hives and, off site, the Sunshine Garden, a 6000 sq ft market garden. Click here for a flier about the Sunshine Garden.
They also have a program called Good Food Boxes started in 1994, which runs similarly to a large buying club. The project distributes boxes of fresh (and often local) food throughout the city for either $12 or $32 depending of the version they choose.

Professional evaluation of The Good Food Box shows that participating in the program helps people access a more nutritious diet. It is now thought that up to 70% of deaths result from diseases that have a diet-related dimension, and there is mounting evidence that eating enough fruit and vegetables is key to preventing disease. Not only is it a matter of justice that everyone should have access to the food they need to keep them healthy- it also makes sense because of the enormous costs to the health care system that result from treating these diseases.

The Good Food Box makes top-quality, fresh food available in a way that does not stigmatize people, fosters community development and promotes healthy eating.

 

The Salad Bar program is a Farm to School program aimed at getting fresh vegetables to school children in Toronto.  Modeled after salad bar programs from the US, this program aims to get kids excited about fresh, local food.  Click here to see what kids said about the Salad Bar at their school.

Portland Fruit Tree Project provides a valuable service that helps communities benefit directly from local resources. Fresh fruit that grows on neighborhood trees is collected by volunteers, and dropped off at local Food Banks for distribution to those in need. The great thing about this program is beneficial to their health!

02/05/2008 

There are huge opportunities to grow more food in our cities, a new report by Sustain[1]  shows.  Edible Cities,[2]  looks at examples of urban agriculture projects in cities including New York, Milwaukee and Chicago and identifies a series of opportunities that other cities could be adopting. 

Edible Cities reportBen Reynolds, one of the authors of the report explains: “We are all familiar with allotments, and the odd community garden as features of the city landscape, but more often than not a lot of space is wasted, where with a little support we could see projects like this in the UK, where salad crops, vegetables and even fish are produced commercially within the city.”

One project in Milwaukee, Growing Power,[3]  has set up a fish farm as part of a river ecosystem where they are able to harvest watercress and fish to sell to local restaurants. This holistic system goes one step further, by feeding some of the fish on worms that are produced as part of a large scale composting enterprise on site.

The report is the result of a visit by a group of London officials, supported by the US Embassy.  Amongst the visitors[4]  was Colin Buttery, Deputy Chief Executive of the Royal Parks.  Colin commented: “We saw some really inspiring initiative in the States. In Chicago, they were growing food amongst the ornamentals flower beds in the central park.  There were no fences, and yet there was no vandalism, with the harvested produce sold at a nearby market .[5]  It would be great to see some of these ideas adopted in London and cities across the UK.”

The report draws many parallels with the situation in London, where food growing, despite being a genuinely successful way of bringing the capital’s diverse communities together, is often forced to the extremities of neighbourhoods rather than celebrated and built into the heart of an area.

Many of the opportunities[6]  identified by this report are going to be explored at the Growing Food for London conference in City Hall on the 30th June,[7] where it is hoped the city’s planners, architects, growers and policy makers will buy into an edible vision for the Capital’s future. Watch this (green) space…

ENDS

Press contact: Ben Reynolds, London Food Link project officer, tel (work): 020 7837 1228; (mobile): 07939 202711. Ben@sustainweb.org

Notes

For copies of the report or photos please contact Ben Reynolds.

  Sustain: The alliance for better food and farming represents around 100 national public-interest organisations, Sustain (a not-for-profit organisation) advocates food and agriculture policies and practices that enhance the health and welfare of people and animals, improve the working and living environment, promote equity and enrich society and culture. http://www.sustainweb.org

  Edible Cities: A report of a visit to urban agriculture projects in the U.S.A is launched on April 29th 2008. It is available at www.sustainweb.org/publications (for press copies please contact Ben Reynolds above).

  For more information on the Growing Power centre in Milwaukee visit www.growingpower.org/

  The four visitors included; Colin Buttery, Royal Parks, www.royalparks.org.uk/; Tony Leach, London Parks and Green Spaces Forum www.lpgsf.org.uk/; Catherine Miller, Federation of City Farms and Community Gardens (London officer), www.farmgarden.org.uk/london-pages.html; Ben Reynolds, London Food Link, part of Sustain,www.londonfoodlink.org.

  The organisation Growing Power, established the potager kitchen garden in Grant Park, downtown Chicago in 2005.  The food growing plots replaced a formal annual bedding area, so that park users do not realise at first sight that planting is entirely made up of over 150 varieties of heirloom vegetables, herbs and edible flowers.  For more information see www.growingpower.org

  The main opportunities the report identifies for growing more food in London can be summarised as follows:

  • Planting more fruit and nut trees in parks and along routeways 
  • Planting beds of edibles instead of traditional ornamental plants in bedding in parks 
  • Grow more food in under-utilised spaces, setting up community gardens in parks, derelict council facilities, social housing land and unused private gardens. 
  • Alternative food production such as mushroom growing, bee-keeping and planting edibles on roves and window boxes. 
  • Re-establish food growing as a major land-use on the green belt/urban fringe.

  The Growing Food for London conference is an all day event held at City Hall, on Monday 30th June.  Booking is necessary.  Speakers include Tim Lang (City University), Joe Nasr (author of Urban Agriculture: Food, Jobs and Sustainable Cities), Fritz Haeg, (author of Edible Estates: Attack on the Front Lawn) and Ian Collingwood (Middlesborough Council regeneration, and lead on the Middlesborough Urban Farming project). The event, which is jointly organised with the London Parks and Green Spaces Forum, is part of the London Festival Architecture

This is an excerpt from the Agriburbia™ website…

The Agriburbia™ Concept   

http://www.agriburbia.com/  

 

Agriburbia™ is an innovative and growing design movement that integrates aspects of agrarianism with land development.  Agriburbia™ includes characteristics of New Urbanism, modernism and historic preservation, and other environmentally sustainable principles of real estate development.

Agriburbia™ combines the positive social, cultural, physical and financial characteristics from both the urban and rural lifestyles to create an entirely new landuse concept.  Agriburbia™ integrates food production as an integral element in the community design, social network, and financial viability of the neighborhood.

Agriburbia™ promotes and supports the following policies and principles in each mixed-use community:

  • Agricultural Production:  No loss of agricultural value or revenue (“Green Fields” development), or production of 30% of dietary requirements of the project or equivalent cash from sales crops, or combination thereof.

  • Locally Grown Food:  Production of a significant portion (30 to 50%) of dietary requirements grown within or in the immediate surrounding area of the community

  • Conserves and Promotes Natural Resources:  Appropriate and efficient use of natural resources to provide housing, transportation, recreation and fresh food through creative, harmonious land planning and landscape architecture for the community.  This includes use of alternative energy sources as well as land and water.

  • Self Sufficiency:  Provide a commercially viable opportunity for enhanced self- sufficiency for community residents, tenants, and guests.

  • Sustainable Energy Practices :  Integrate solar and geothermal technology to provide sustainable energy sources for the community.
  • Financing:  Incorporate established entities (Metropolitan Districts, HOAs) to finance both traditional infrastructure (streets, water, sewer) and environmentally friendly agricultural infrastructure (drip irrigation)

 

Example Agriburbia Design Project An example of the Agriburbia™ land planning design is this 640-acre parcel in Southern Weld County, Colorado.  It includes for 980 homes, including multi-family town homes to two (2) acre permaculture home sites.     

Each Agriburbia™ mixed-use campus is centered on an agrarian concept where traditional suburban landscaping and open space is replaced with orchards, vineyards, and other perennial crops for the benefit of the neighborhood and surrounding communities. A limited amount of active recreation area is provided. The balance of the open space is designed as productive organic agricultural landscape. These lands will be owned and actively managed by the Home Owner’s Association (HOA) or Metropolitan Districts. Private farm contracts will be awarded for these prime, organic agricultural parcels. It is anticipated thatAgriburbia™ will provide agricultural opportunities within and outside the community.

In addition to this shared resource, each mixed-use campus is designed to have a significant number of home sites capable of useful agricultural production. Infrastructure such as non-potable water will be provided for these privates home sites. The home owner will have the option to participate in the community agriculture production. The positive and productive results of and Agriburbia™ mixed-use campus will be the combination of public and private production of agricultural products for the community and neighboring communities.

 

 

So what do you think about Agriburbia™?

Is this a good thing?  The next step to getting local agriculture to suburban neighborhoods or is this just a good ol’ American quick fix?  I mean, its even two words glued together- American dream style. My instinct tells me anything that’s trademarked probably is corporate, money grabbing, and something I want to stay away from, but I’m interested in this concept.  

I got the Agriburbia™ idea from the awesome community food listserve. Rob Jones, of Loudoun County, VA, responded to the email raising questions about the proposed project.  Is this concept truly trademark-able considering the many, many times that gardens have been planned into communities in the past? What about the water supply for this new community and its farms and gardens.  Would water rights need to be bought?  If so, the community can certainly not be called self-sufficient.  He also wondered about wastewater and the effects of disturbing the native soils, all valid concerns.  Finally, He maintain “A major component in all of this is a government with a balanced, progressive vision, as all of us have surely experienced on some level.”  Bravo Rob, I agree with you entirely.

As for me, I have to wonder about the whole thing.  Agriburbia™ is just a concept to bring agriculture to suburbia, it is a temporary solution. I think that it could have to potential to contribute to suburban sprawl. Suburban neighborhoods are often defined by low population density and a few pedestrian routes.  Wikipedia actually has a pretty good site about suburban sprawla.

I think the main problem is that we Americans are caught up in the idea of suburbia, just as were are in love with the idea of the lawn which I talk about in my article about Fritz Haeg.  What we need is to get away from suburbia and from lawns. We need to stop sprawl, consolidate and use all of the spaces in the urban centers before we continue to grow outward.  One way to do this is to plan urban growth boundaries into cities.  

An urban growth boundary is a regional boundary, set in an attempt to control urbanization by designating the area inside the boundary for higher density urban development and the area outside for lower density rural development. Right now Oregon, Washington, and Tennessee require that their cities create urban growth boundaries.  Thats not very many cities.  Also, Boulder, CO; Twin Cities, MN; Virginia Beach, VA; Lexington, KT; and San Francisco Bay area, CA have urban growth boundaries of one sort or another.

People living in cities have a smaller carbon footprint than those living in the country- they often do no have or use vehicles regularly, their houses are smaller, meaning less heat and electricity per space, and they live in much more tightly packed spaces.  Also, if people were concentrated in urban centers than food distribution (hopefully local) could be more efficient.

Of course, its easy for me to say that people should live in more tightly packed communities, I was privileged enough to grow up on a farm in rural Maryland.  How can I, who grew up with 6 fields, orchards, and a creek, judge people who just want to get out of the city and have a front yard for their children?  Where do we draw the line between happiness and sacrifice for the environment (and our future generations)?  How about healthier and better planned cities!

Check out this PDF about urban growth boundaries in California.

Here’s the website for Greenbelt Alliance of the San Francisco Bay area.

Click here to learn more about the urban growth boundary around Portland, OR.

Portland, OR is pretty amazing in terms of city planning.  I’ve talked with an alum of my school who is an urban planner out there.  She worked on the Diggable City, a planning project that plans urban agriculture into urban communities.  Check it out- its amazing!  It deserves a post of its own when I find out more about it.

Here’s the final report on the Diggable City Project.

 

And here’s some more links about cities, urban planning, carbon footprints, and all the rest.

Cyurbia, an urban planning community.

Urban and Ecological Footprints.

Carbon Footprints.

Ecological Footprint 2.0