Thursday, November 1, 2012

ASLA 2012 - Urban Agriculture as a Way to Educate

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  -

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.