Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Planting Design: Mixed Edibles

[The Herb Garden - beds of basil and onion, pear trees espaliered on the garden fence]

The Herb Garden at the beautiful Olbrich Botanical Gardens in Madison showcases beds of edibles herbs, teas and vegetables, mixed with ornamental plantings. The formal layout of the garden, with brick walks and trellises, contrasts nicely with the exuberant mix of colors and textures, and the sprawling habit of many of the edibles. Great inspiration for planting design, especially for small spaces. 

['Summer Beauty' ornamental onion, garlic chives, and fennel interspersed with orange zinnia]

['Purple Flash' pepper (Capiscum annum) and parsley, mixed with an ornamental grass]

[Horseradish (Amoracia rusticana) and Chinese Five Color Pepper]

Friday, August 24, 2012

Foto Friday: Agricultural High School In Norway - A Language of Person and Place

A farm-school cooperative program in Aurland, Norway, located in a Western fjord. This school was an early pilot program (est. 1996) for the country's farm-school program, and now serves as a model for other communities developing 'place-based learning programs'. The land serves as an outdoor classroom for a 10-year program that begins in elementary school and continues through university. In the words of the school, the value lies in the developmental effect on the students:

"Our findings show that in the practical tasks at the farm, t
he pupils experience themselves as capable and needed at the same time as they acquire insight into 
connections and processes. In this way, the loss of meaning which many children and youth experience today is counteracted."

The structure of the curriculum is unique in that: 

"In contrast to what school-farm connections have been in the past, this was not seen as an opportunity to disseminate information about farming. Nor was the goal to let the children see a demonstration of agricultural work and life. The emphasis was placed on participation over time that allows for a greater identification and provides an alternative arena for children with differing capabilities to use their talents."

In other words, instead of focusing on pre-determined goals, they focus on a patient unfolding of what is true for each child. What a great model for refining our own edible schoolyard curricula! The program also seeks to help students develop an idea of place. Which, of course, is the goal of many a landscape architecture project. Makes me think that there may be more to edible schoolyards than health and nutrition alone. Engaging the land over time may be one key to helping develop a language of place for our cities. 

Read more about the program here. Photos by Jacqueline Ruben. 

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Native Edibles and Urban Agriculture

What food plants did California offer before we seeded acres upon acres of tomatoes, artichokes, oranges and almonds across the land? Do we still consider those plants food? Could they be re-introduced as part of a sustainable food culture? 

Alrie Middlebrook, a landscape designer and native plant expert (co-author of Designing California Native Gardens), has been researching this question at the Environmental Laboratory for Sustainability and Ecological Education (ELSEE), her brainchild in San Jose. The ELSEE Garden is located on a former parking lot, transformed over the past decade into a mosaic of major plant communities of the state. Interspersed in the beds are edible plants, both familiar - kale, tomatoes, summer squash- and unexpected - huckleberry, quail bush, nettles and wild grape. Alrie has identified over one thousand native edible plants, and of these she focuses on a smaller list of plants that thrive in gardens, have high nutritional value and hold the best chances of being accepted by the modern palate.

[Summer squash intermixed with native poppies and festuca]
[Clockwise from top right: Mixed native flower bed; view from the office; installation in the chaparral garden]

Spending the day with Alrie was a whirlwind of information on native edibles, and highly inspirational. One of the most interesting things I learned was about food diversity - the native California diet consisted of 1000 foods, of which 60-70% were plant based. By contrast the modern American diet typically includes only 40 plants. 

[View of the gardens, and the experimental edible tower]

[Clockwise from top left: the outdoor kitchen; the wild grape arbor: the native plant nursery; an edible native shrub]

The ELSEE Garden is also an active outdoor classroom, hosting groups of students from local elementary and middle schools, teaching them gardening, native plants, hydrology and sustainable systems. One current project for the classroom is building an aquaponics pond, to demonstrate closed loop systems for the students, and develop a replicable system that can be installed in edible schoolyards. 

[An tank filled with water hyacinth, at the garden of an aquaponics consultant we visited for ELSEE]  

Beautiful, useful and experimental, the ELSEE Garden was an enlightening field trip. Visit the California Native Garden Foundation website for recipes using native edibles (elderberry flower fritters, anyone?) and the blog My Back 40 which has a well organized recap of a talk Alrie gave on native edibles. Do you grow or design with native edibles, in California or elsewhere? Leave a comment, I'd love to hear from you!

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Two for Tuesday

Two upcoming events I wanted to share with you all:

An intriguing conference held by the Biodynamic Farming & Gardening Association in November called 'Sacred Agriculture' asks 

"how do we restore life force in our food, on our farms and in our communities? how do we revision the economics of agriculture? how do we create farms & gardens ... that can serve as vehicles of social & ecological .. transformation?"

Sessions topics include urban agriculture, healing gardens, on-farm habitat and solar energy based farming. For more information check out their website.  I am hoping I can make it there, and report back on what promises to be some very cool perspectives on the potentials of agriculture in our communities. I met some of the members of the association back in 2010 when I attended Eco-Farm, and they seem like an awesome, dedicated group. 

I am very excited that a map I created with Claire Napawan-Seybert on alternative food infrastructures in San Francisco's Bay Area will be featured in Food: An Atlas, a guerilla cartography project by CAGE Lab (part of UC Berkeley Geography Department). I'll be sharing the map, and more about the research behind it, once the atlas is published. In the meantime, check out CAGE Lab's previous publication 'Mission Possible' which features guerrilla mappings of the Mission District neighborhood in San Francisco. I'm also looking forward to seeing all the other food related mappings in the atlas. Stay tuned!

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Eat, Share, Grow- at Gathering Together Farm

[Field at Gathering Together Farm, image by Camille Storch / Gathering Together Farms]

One of my first farm stops during my recent road trip in the Pacific Northwest was Gathering Together Farm,  located just outside Corvallis, OR. I was drawn by their unique model - a farm that serves its own food! The farm stand store sells seeds and produce, along with fresh farm-baked pastries and breads (the potato doughnut was delicious, I am happy to report!). They also serve full lunch and dinner menus on the charming patio restaurant attached to the farm store, with a menu based, of course, on the fruits of the farm's labors. Rounding out the integration of production and consumption is farm lunches - where three times a week the kitchen cooks up a meal for the whole crew and everyone comes in from the fields to eat together. Their blog features a beautiful story on the farm lunches if you want to read more - here. Finally Gathering Together Farm is a great example for urban agriculture in their physical structure. Located on multiple small plots (from 1 to 5 acres each) the farm successfully aggregates 50 acres total. Thinking in small multiples helps urban farmers expand and increase their business on the land available to them. Cooking and serving their produce helps a farm increase revenues (from locals and ag-tourists), but even more important, creates an integrated culture of food - a place to experience the food cycle in full. 

[Dining room at the farm stand]
[Wildflower bouquets in the dining room]

Friday, August 3, 2012

Hanging Gardens of Seattle- Urban Agriculture Art

Walking near the Olympic Sculpture Park in Seattle I came across a fun urban ag installation. Unsigned and anonymous these hanging gardens swing from tree to tree along the street, happy just to be. Tomatoes, lettuce and herbs sprout up from plastic milk jugs and an innovative drip irrigation scheme is tucked into the street trees. I assumed the garden was a guerrilla art work, until a little research this morning enlightened me - it's a project of the Office of Arts & Cultural Affairs. Still I loved that it had no signage - such a nice change to see something stand for itself, in contrast to so many urban ag projects that seem to be more about their creator than the thing created. More on the project can be found here.