|[Image from Shelby Farms Park proposal, by Tom Leader Studio]|
Sunday, April 21, 2013
Thursday, February 21, 2013
The California Food Policy Council, a collaborative group of local food policy organizations, has approved a working vision of a governing document called 'A Vision for a Healthy, Vibrant, Equitable Food System'. The document consists of ten points, covering labor, health, environment and education among others, as the fundamental building blocks of a new food policy.
"Food and agriculture has a profound effect on the health and well-being of our communities and our natural environment. The goal of California's food and agriculture system must be to achieve greater health, equity and prosperity for our diverse communities and natural ecosystems. "
Read the full document here. Great map of where the good food movement is headed!
Thursday, February 14, 2013
|[Eagle Street Rooftop Farm, Brooklyn, NY]|
|[Typical green roof section]|
Soil-based roof gardens are classified as either extensive or intensive. Extensive gardens have very shallow soil profiles (2" or less) and can only support small, shallow-rooting plants like succulents. Extensive roof gardens mitigate urban heat effects and slow and store stormwater runoffs, but cannot support larger vegetation. Intensive gardens have deeper soil profiles, sometimes to several feet depending on the structural capabilities of the building and the plant material desired. Intensive gardens can support edible plants, shrubs and even trees depending on how they are designed. Sometimes these two are differentiated as greenroofs (extensive) and roof gardens (extensive). Planted roof systems typically consist of a number of layers designed to protect the roof itself from water intrusion, and vary most in the design of the growing medium, which must be both lightweight and able to hold water effectively. Rapid water loss to evaporation is one of the major challenges to roof garden plants. Other options for roof-gardens include planter boxes, hydroponic systems, and greenhouses.
|[Gary Comer Youth Center edible roof garden, Chicago, IL]|
Thursday, January 31, 2013
On the top level of a downtown Vancouver parking garage, North America's first commercial vertical farm has set up shop. 'Local Garden' converts an impermeable, polluted, heat-generating and underused urban surface into arable 'land', and plans to grow an estimated 150,000 pounds of greens and herbs for the local market this year.
The humble exterior of the structure that houses the facility does nothing to hint at the sci-fi, high-tech interior, which resembles a food production unit on the set of a 1950's futuristic film. Trays of hydroponic growing medium, stacked twelve high, are in constant motion along a conveyor belt, and the aesthetic is minimalist white to the max. Each tray is tufted with its crop, be it kale, spinach, arugula or basil. The produce is packed on site and delivered to market the same day.
The project works skillfully with the site's constraints, converting obstacles into opportunities. The sixth floor location maximizes exposure to sun, which is often an issue for gardens or farms in central urban areas, and mitigates wind effects (increased water loss) through the use of a protective greenhouse.
Friday, December 28, 2012
|[Experimental LSC greenhouse at UC Santa Cruz Arboretum]|
story and photos by Daniel Tran
Imagine if you could attach tiny photovoltaic cells along the edge of your old drafting triangle (mine was pink) and generate electricity while while you were drafting. You can. Luminescent Solar Concentrator (LSC) technology isn't much different in theory and has been around 1970's but has faced major obstacles in terms of cost and long term durability of the plastics and dyes required. Recent advances in the automotive industry have led to plastics and dyes resistant to long term solar exposure while advances in the solar industry have lead to more affordable hardware. These breakthroughs coincide with emerging horticultural practices that explore the health and performance enhancing effects of color filters on plant photosynthesis.
At the UC Santa Cruz Arboretum, university scientists and researchers are embarking on intersectoral 'cutting edge/growing edge' research into how LSC can be best adapted to new systems of greenhouse production. The research project just finished its first season comparing crop trial performance in two different greenhouses: one conventional and one retrofitted with an experimental LSC system that incorporates red light filters and produces 800w in full sun (50w per sqm) . Of the several different crop varieties, solanums (tomatoes, peppers, eggplants) in particular are know to benefit from red light. Meanwhile solar energy is collected from the rest of the color spectrum in the embedded concentrators via refraction within the red LSC sheets. Incidentally, solanums are also primary cash crops for many greenhouse and high tunnel productions in cold and marginal climates like Santa Cruz. Crop production data is yet to be released.
|[Views inside the experimental greenhouse]|
Another aspect of the research is a series of interviews and workshops that Ian Carbone and Derek Padilla will be conducting with small farms in Santa Cruz County in which they hope to address the following questions:
-Can the solar greenhouses be used to help smaller or more environmentally conscious farms become more competitive in California food systems?
-How can we develop a design process that takes into account the conscious and also unforeseen needs of small-scale Santa Cruz County farmers?
-Who do we want to include in the design process and to what extent?
They further hope to start a non-profit organization to facilitate the next phases of collaborative design and implementation of LSC greenhouses.
Aside from the potential of providing small scale farmers with new affordable means of sustainability, grid parity and energy independence, there is also great interest in how LSC applications could enable large scale greenhouse producers to double as large scale renewable energy producers while enhancing their plant production within same footprint. While standard PV panels cost $1/watt and produce 200w/sqm, LSC panels can produce 50w/sqm at a $0.50/watt cost and alllow light transmittance below.
Meanwhile the many potential applications of LSC in the city for both city growers and city dwellers alike remain to be explored....
Friday, December 7, 2012
Barbara Kingsolver has said: "At it's heart, a genuine food culture is an affinity between people and the land that feeds them." Which describes well the impulse behind the current urban farm/backyard food garden/farm-to-fork movement. In our madly urbanizing world, whole generations of people who have always lived in cities, have felt the call to connect with the land.
But what about those still tied to the land, and to traditional farming practices? For such peoples it is probably not about a food culture, but it is the very basis of existence, their society and culture that relies on such an affinity. In this vein, I highly recommend Khadak, a beautiful surreal narrative film in the tradition of Tarkovsky and Sergei Parajanov, that examines the social and spiritual effects of official relocation programs on Mongolian herders.
The film moves from the stark, vast landscape of the Mongolian steppes, to the 'drosscape' of a coal mine and finally into the modern Chinese city. It is an open critique of political and social policies towards farmers and ethnic minorities - and it is an accidental critique of land use policies and centralized planning efforts. The effects of the mandatory 6-8% growth rate on the Chinese landscape cannot be understated, and this film is a great essay on lost agrarian landscapes and the attitudes and policies behind that loss. It is also a glimpse into the changing landscape, it's design and values.
all images are film stills from Khadak
Thursday, November 1, 2012
Last year GrowCity reported on the urban agriculture talks at the ASLA conference, taking the pulse of the professional conversation around implementing and conceptualizing edible landscapes This year I wasn't able to attend but am happy to feature a guest post by Jessamyn Lett, a landscape designer at Middlebrook Gardens, and a recent graduate of the U C Davis landscape architecture program. Her senior project focused on 'The Role of Desingers in Urban Agriculture' and you can check it out through this link - http://lda.ucdavis.edu/people/2012/JLett.pdf.
Food has always been an interest of mine and at the ALSA conference in Phoenix I went to two of the education sessions that focused on food production; ‘Opportunities to Design and Build Eco-Learning Labs on School Campuses’ and ‘Beyond Food Production: Agriculture and Landscape Architecture in the 21st Century’.
‘Opportunities to Design and Build Eco-Learning Labs on School Campuses’ was a presentation by Alrie Middlebrook (my boss), head of Middlebrook Gardens, and president and founder of the California Native Garden Foundation (CNGF). During this presentation Middlebrook presented a model for school campuses called the Environmental Laboratory for Sustainability and Ecological Education (ELSEE). This model promotes landscaping that is 66% native plants and 33% edibles. The ELSEE model incorporates active, outdoor learning and provides lesson plans and activities that educate children about ecosystem services, interconnectedness, and stewardship, while meeting the California Science Standards.I found it interesting that although a large part of this model promotes edible plants, native plants, and native edibles, the title does not mention the words edible, food, or agriculture. This seems to be a path that urban agriculture is taking - where it is not a separate thing, but rather integrated into landscape architecture and urban landscapes.
|[Current ELSEE campus]|
|[Design proposal for future ELSEE campus]|
Middlebrook first spoke of the importance of designers as educators. She emphasized that it is not enough to design, but we must understand the lessons our design is conveying. The presentation was formatted to talk about specific design elements within the ELSEE model, and the lessons they taught, both to the children who learn from them, and to the parents, teachers, administrators, and anyone using an ELSEE site. The overarching lessons were the importance of ecosystem services, the interconnectedness of everything, and the need for stewardship of our earth.
Sunday, October 28, 2012
The food most often associated with Halloween is candy - the individually-wrapped mini chocolate bars, lollipops and fruit chews that make up a lucky kid's stash, to be hidden under the bed and visited time and again. Overlooked, but present everywhere, is the true food* of Halloween- the pumpkin. Throughout our cities and suburbs globes of orange and deep green decorate front porches and stoops, mantles and windows. While rarely is a whole pumpkin used for cooking anymore (besides roasted seeds), it is an agricultural product, with its own cultural requirements and historical significance. And it stars in a special type of themed local food 'agri-tainment' shared only by the Christmas tree and perhaps the apple - the family pilgrimage to the nearest 'countryside' available to pick one's own pumpkin from the field, while partaking of an ever-growing array of entertainment options like corn mazes, hay rides, haunted houses and petting zoos. Or a simulacra of the pumpkin patch that finds its way onto a vacant city lot, where dried corn stalks line the fenced perimeter and stacks of hay are artfully arranged in mis-en-scene.
In this way the unassuming pumpkin is a fascinating paradox for the local food movement - an agricultural product that as a food is consumed largely as a processed import, but that as a decorative element is most prized when it can be found locally.
Ninety percent of the pumpkins grown in the U.S. are grown within a 90-mile radius of Peoria, IL, for processing as canned pumpkin and pie filling. Considering the national harvest is worth $113 million, this fact brings to my mind's eye an image of Peoria floating like the Emerald City in a fairy-tale field of pumpkins stretching to the horizon in all directions, through which a brave heroine must make her way. Concentrated growing patterns are not unusual - think of California artichokes or Michigan cherries. But what is unusual in this case is that pumpkins can be grown almost anywhere in the country, whereas other regionally concentrated crops are more dependent on a specific local climate or soil.
So why is it so important that the pumpkins we don't eat come from somewhere nearby, that we can 'pick' them ourselves even if its from a city lot decorated like a farm? Perhaps it is some latent impulse of the harvest time, forgotten but still pulsing within our post-agricultural society's veins. As the days grow shorter and the air crisper, does the urge to harvest call? Do we long to feel a sense of shoring up against the winter or of tangible accomplishment after a long summer?
The pumpkin patch is an intriguing micro-model in the world of farming. Pumpkins are heavy feeders and need lots of water (an inch per week), so in a way its a shame to use them only as decoration. They also take up lots of room and have a fairly long growing season of four to five months. Some pumpkin patches operate as hobby farms, growing only pumpkins and focusing on creating additional revenue from on-farm entertainment options. Other farms dedicate acreage to the seasonal crop while having a year-round agricultural operation as well. Estimated yields are 1000-2000 pumpkins per acre for large carving varieties. Because of the profitability in the model, pumpkins are becoming a popular fund-raiser for churches and schools.
|[Distribution of pumpkin patches or farm locations, via mapmuse]|
What does this mean for landscape? Perhaps we'll see more and more urban pumpkin farms sprouting up - with guaranteed income, high profit margin and simplified single-crop planting plan (albeit with a high nutrient input need) it's not a bad idea. Or perhaps the rural margins of cities will continue to evolve into a littoral zone where entertainment and simplicity meet, a low-tech carnival atmosphere that speaks to the allure of old country fairs and travelling church meets. The pumpkin has long been a symbol of power through transformation, from the Celtic tradition of carving gourds to communicate with the dead, to Cinderella's pumpkin carriage - the true beauty in the thing being what it can become, not what it is.
* if by 'food' you mean "that may nourish a person" (via dictionary.com)
top image via http://www.mrpepperspumpkinpatch.com/
Friday, October 19, 2012
|[Map section:Urban Agriculture Projects in San Francisco, via Food:An Atlas]|
Place is a central concern in the practice of landscape architecture, from the genius loci of a site to more contemporary concerns that contextualize a site within larger operational networks. In practice we seek to be informed about the way a site works, and the forces that work upon it: wind, solar patterns, transportation networks, hydrology etc. Less often, but no less importantly, we work in reverse and question how a place affects its context - either social, economic or environmental. Food:An Atlas is a work belonging to the last category of place-making. A "cooperatively-created, crowd-sourced project of guerrilla cartography" and the brainchild of Darin Jensen and Molly Roy at U.C. Berkeley's Department of Geography's CAGE LAB, the sixty-map volume is currently seeking publishing funds on Kickstarter.
[Full disclosure: I am the proud co-author of one of the maps, an experimental work that maps not only the present, but also a speculative future scenario of food resilience and it's relationship to architecture, planning and landscape. We began with the question of how the practice of landscape architecture intersects with food, and chose one of the threads we discussed to map. I'll have more to say about that in a future post.]
|[Map sections via Food:An Atlas]|
Other maps examine global almond distribution, beersheds, the geography of taco trucks, the rise of food banks, farmers market access and other food-related visualizations from around the world. Food, at least in our original understanding of the word, is always place-based, as it comes from the land. Any story about food is also a story about how we relate to land and place. In this way the atlas tackles all the topics that we are beginning to face as a culture (and by implication as designers) - how do we understand place in relationship to food? In an urbanizing world, what are the operative realms for food-placemaking? Are they inclusive? Will they be based in traditional culture, commerce, grass-roots efforts or a combination? Will our food production remain obscured by global trade networks, or happen right next door?
The project has been getting lots of great press, including a great interview with Darin at EdibleGeography that is worth checking out. As he points out, the Atlas is about asking questions and contributing to the dialogue. I'm looking forward to seeing all the maps!
The Atlas is going to absolutely provoke more questions than it provides answers, but that’s fantastic, because that’s what we should be doing as scholars: getting people to think about these kinds of issues.
Friday, September 28, 2012
This is an old one, but new to me (& I hope to you). A student design-build project by a University of Colorado Denver architecture studio, the urban farm structure is built of recycled shipping pallets and gabion walls of recycled concrete. The structure serves as a gathering space, iconic entry way, and milking barn for FEED Denver, a non-profit educational urban farm. The transformation of reclaimed utilitarian building materials into a floating modern pavilion is remarkable without being overwrought, and an object lesson in revaluing throw-away materials. The students' goal was to "generate public awareness about design and architecture by constructing unique and functional places" - one I would say they have met. You can read more about the studio and see drawings here.
photo credits (top to bottom): uncredited via inhabitat.com; Nathan Jenkins via archdaily.com; uncredited via inhabitat.com; Nathan Jenkins via archdaily.com,