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Integrated Urban Agricultural Systems

by gmoke Wed Feb 29th, 2012 at 10:23:46 PM EST

On Monday January 30th, the Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA) held a public meeting at Suffolk University, halfway between the State House and City Hall, to change the Boston zoning laws to allow for agriculture throughout the city, making it easier for local residents to grow and sell fresh, healthy, foods in Boston and the greater Boston Metropolitan Area.  Nearly 300 people attended.  Boston currently has about 150 community gardens serving 3000 gardeners, the highest per capita of any US city.  Now the city is trying to figure out how to change zoning to increase urban agriculture beyond gardening and household use into businesses and economic development.

Mayor Menino, the newly appointed chair of the food policy task force for the US Conference of Mayors, opened the meeting and the keynote address was given by Will Allen, Founder and CEO of Growing Power Inc. (http://www.growingpower.org), non-profit based in Milwaukee, WI which also does work in Chicago, Detroit, Ghana, and around the world.  Growing Power addresses social justice and food access issues through building local agriculture and farm-based businesses and Mr. Allen won the 2008 McArthur Foundation "Genius" Grant for his work on urban farming and sustainable food production.  Growing Power has grown an underutilized 2-acre lot into a farm that produces enough produce, eggs, honey, fish and other meats to feed more than 10,000 local residents and employs more than 100 people on 20 farms, 13 farmstands, and a year round CSA.  

They start by growing soil through composting to replace the existing contaminated urban soils and continue with growing worms, mushrooms, sprouts, which alone provide from $5 to $50 worth of production per square foot, and fish in integrated urban agricultural systems. There are seven different levels of production in their greenhouses, some of which are heated by compost.  At their main farm, a quarter of their electricity comes from solar electric panels and 70% of their hot water is solar heated.  They also have an anaerobic digester for methane production and electricity.  

Growing Power also provides hand's on education and summer jobs for children planting flowers by sidewalks and corners, a measure which actually reduces crime.  Green Power also has community kitchens for food preservation and processing.  They are now building a five story vertical farm at their national headquarters and planning for 15 regional centers.

Will Allen said that, since food "is the one thing we have in common," the good food movement "starts with everybody working together" and if you don't have a sustainable food system, you won't have a sustainable city.  

Video of the entire proceedings at the meeting, including the presentation by Mr. Will Allen:  http://www.cityofboston.gov/cable/video_library.asp?id=2444

The minutes of that meeting, the recommendations by the group, maps of greater Boston food resources, and information about the ongoing urban agriculture planning meetings the city is holding:

Other cities are doing the same thing:  

Seattle is planting a public food forest
http://crosscut.com/2012/02/16/agriculture/21892/Nation-s-largest-public-Food-Forest-takes-root-on-B eacon-Hill/one_page/

NYC has prepared an exhaustive assessment of their urban agricultural potential (pdf alert)

London is growing wheat for making local bread

On Sunday, February 19, 6 Cambridge residents met to talk about how Cambridge, MA (pop 100,000) could become more self-sufficient in food, following the example of Todmorden (pop 15,000) (http://www.incredible-edible-todmorden.co.uk/ and an article in the Daily Mail: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-2072383/Eccentric-town-Todmorden-growing-ALL-veg.html)

Helen Snively invited people over to her house.  Five women and one man showed up.  The ages varied from the 20s to the 60s with older outnumbering younger by 4 to 2.  Everyone was a gardener at home and in community gardens.  Among the ongoing activities of that group was participation in a yogurt coop, a group that bought milk and made fresh yogurt weekly (https:/sites.google.com/site/somervilleyogurtcoop), a web-based effort to map and encourage yard sharing in the Cambridge and greater Boston area (http://www.mycitygardens.com), fruit tree growing, and beekeeping.  There was a graduate student studying urban homesteading, a producer for "Living on Earth" (http://www.loe.org/), a syndicated radio show,  the director of the Green Streets Initiative (http://www.GoGreenStreets.org), the organizer of annual plant swaps, and the keeper of a local gardening mailing list.

Their discussion produced 3 general tasks:
Adding to an existing survey of fruit trees/bushes
Planting something to start off, possibly at City Hall on a spot where raspberries once grew
Mapping and connecting the existing local agriculture and food network to begin thinking, together, about producing 100% of our food (and fuel?) in Cambridge

Not present was a representative of the League of Urban Canners which harvest local fruits and makes jams, sauce, and other preserves from it, returning 10% of the product to the owners of the trees, vines, and bushes.  In the fall of 2011, LUrC canned over 70 pints of apple sauce and 50 pints of grape jam.  They can be contacted at leagueofurbancanners@gmail.com

There is also a Boston Sustainable Food Meetup

Other resources include
Boston Food System mailing list bfs@elist.tufts.edu, https:/elist.tufts.edu/wws/subrequest/bfs
Northeast Food mailing list  nefoods@elist.tufts.edu, https:
And the national local food system mapping system

The informal Cambridge 100% local grown food group will meet again in March.  Another local food event in March is

Growing Civic Fruit

7pm, Tuesday, March 27
Rm 110 School of Hospitality Adminstation
928 Commonwealth Ave, Boston, MA
Urban agriculture has captured the imagination of artists, architects and designers all over the world in recent years. Please join us for a cross-disciplinary discussion on the intersection of art, urban agriculture, and civic engagement - fertile ground for sowing seeds that remind us of our interdependent relationship with nature and each other.

The conversation will follow a screening of the new Boston Tree Party short documentary film.

Panelists will include artist Lisa Gross, founder of theBoston Tree Party, art critic Nicole Caruth, and Rachel Black, professor of Gastronomy at Boston University. The conversation will be moderated by Dina Deitsch, Associate Curator of Contemporary Art at the deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum.

The discussion will be followed by an apple cider reception in celebration of the launch of the second Boston Tree Party planting campaign.

About the project

The Boston Tree Party (http://www.bostontreeparty.org/) is a participatory public art project, a performative re-imagining of American political expression, and an urban agriculture project. At its core, the Party is a diverse coalition of communities from across the Greater Boston Area coming together in support of Civic Fruit. Communities ranging from elementary schools to assisted living centers, universities, churches, and more have each committed to planting and caring for their own pair of heirloom apple trees. Together, these trees form a decentralized public urban orchard that symbolizes a commitment to the environmental health of our city and the vitality and interconnectedness of our communities.

The structure and design of the Party is a playful re-imagining of patriotic and political language, imagery, and forms of association. Over forty communities from across Greater Boston are currently participating as "Tree Party Delegations." Each pair of trees creates a new gathering place and opportunities for learning, exchange, and participation. The project seeks to catalyze a lasting engagement with the issues of food access, health, environmental stewardship, biodiversity, public space, and civic engagement.

The Party launched in April 2011 with the Boston Tree Party Inauguration on the Rose Kennedy Greenway. A new planting campaign will begin in April 2012.

More on this theme:
Occupy Green
Urban Fruit Harvesting
Raspberry Gobble
City Sunday Garden Story
Recycled Solar Garden Cloche
How to Heal the World

More integrated urban agricultural systems?
. yes 100%
. no 0%
. not yes 0%
. not no 0%
. neither yes nor no 0%
. both yes and no 0%
. don't understand the question? 0%
. none of the above 0%

Votes: 5
Results | Other Polls
We're working on a set of projects in the Columbia River Gorge area that encompasses much of the same range as you describe. We are mostly rural, but we have contacts within the Portland metropolitan area, which is definitely a target market, too.

Currently, we have Gorge Grown (support and coordination for local ag with emphasis on organic), Dirt Huggers (for-profit compost, currently at 3,800 tons per year), a couple of food co-ops, Riverhours (local currency project), MARS (Mt. Adams Resource Stewards - a forest products incubator), and a number of other complementary projects (e.g., CSAs, Firewise wood-waste chipper program, Collaboratives on the local National Forests).

The 'City' of Stevenson is working on a local compost program - possibly a Dirt Huggers' franchise. Part of the idea is to reduce the organics load in the sewer treatment systems for two towns.

I'm writing a feasibility study for a woody biomass CHP system that will supply heat and electricity to at least a greenhouse system for late Autumn, Winter, and Spring, plus an industrial wood products business in the Summer and Autumn. Focus is to maximize efficiency via a narrow range of design for energy outputs correlated to a narrow range of energy requirements of the 'customers'.

Meantime, I will send the link to the growingpower.org to the local participants and to the Portland-based co-ops and government stakeholders.

paul spencer

by paul spencer (spencerinthegorge AT yahoo DOT com) on Thu Mar 1st, 2012 at 01:04:57 PM EST
This is one reason why I wrote this piece.  Still collecting information on urban ag resources.

Solar IS Civil Defense
by gmoke on Fri Mar 2nd, 2012 at 06:05:52 PM EST
[ Parent ]
This is good work.  It is hard to argue with efforts that make productive use of local real estate for something as basic as producing healthy food.

But one has to question whether land is really a limiting factor in local food production compared to other graver limitations such as inexpensive water, phosphorus and potassium nutrients, none of which are solved by just urban farming. For example, the farms mentioned here produce fruits/vegetables and animal products.  Vegetables and fruits  are insignificant uses of farmland worldwide compared to grain production -- the critical source of energy and protein for human and animal consumers alike.  An intensively farmed two-acre plot of animal agriculture is using many more acres of farmland outside of the city to produce enough grain and protein for animal feed rations, and nothing about the urban location of the farm is necessarily helpful to the sustainability of equally intensive grain and oilseed production.

by santiago on Thu Mar 1st, 2012 at 10:31:34 PM EST
I've just been reading Small-Scale Grain Raising by Gene Logsdon.  I agree, small scale grain is lower yield typically (due to various economies of scale, cost of shipping bulk goods, etc).  However, the author argues that fresh grain is much better for you (because it does not have to have the germ and stuff removed for storage) and more importantly, tastes much nicer.

I've grown wheat at home (as a green manure) and it is easy to grow (easier than lawn).  The nutritional yield is commensurate with fruit and veggies when used as part of a crop cycle, particularly when overlapping cropping is used (grow tomatoes, then seed with grain when the tomatoes are fruiting).

So yes, most of our calories come from grain (actually, most of mine come from root vegetables these days) and urban farming can only be part of the food story.  But urban farming can use space which is otherwise unused, or worse, has the same resources spent on maintaining worthless 'green space'.  It also connects people with their support systems.

by njh on Thu Mar 8th, 2012 at 09:19:53 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Good points, but green space isn't necessarily worthless. Green space, properly done, ideally without the addition of very much fertilizer or chemical inputs, filters lots of harmful toxins and nutrients that contaminate water systems.  If everyone was also applying nitrogen or other inputs to make their backyard wheat yields better, the results might be worse than just letting urban space go to grass or other non-economic purposes.  

I think there is a place for urban farming and it should be encouraged more, even of some grains, but it since urban space takes up such a small proportion of total arable land area (even with its huge expansion in recent decades) it's just not feasible to conclude that urban farming could ever replace more than a tiny niche of total food production.

by santiago on Thu Mar 8th, 2012 at 12:48:51 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Recently read an offline article about a group on Swedish workfare - fas 3 as it is called here - who got together with a community college and started a community garden. As far as the state sees it, they are doing workfare, but as they see it they develop their community.

Sweden's finest (and perhaps only) collaborative, leftist e-newspaper Synapze.se
by A swedish kind of death on Fri Mar 2nd, 2012 at 07:43:09 AM EST
That'll have to be stopped. They're driving out agricultural industry.
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Fri Mar 2nd, 2012 at 07:45:13 AM EST
[ Parent ]
More importantly, the unemployed are not punished enough if they actually are doing something they themselves find meaningful. And then what will happen to wage suppression, er, inflation?

So if it spreads it will probably be stopped.

Sweden's finest (and perhaps only) collaborative, leftist e-newspaper Synapze.se

by A swedish kind of death on Fri Mar 2nd, 2012 at 11:43:50 AM EST
[ Parent ]
This is something on which Gandhi and Orwell agreed:

The Road to Wigan Pier by George Orwell
NY:  Berkley Publishing Corp, 1961
(80)  One thing that probably could be done and certainly ought to be done as a matter of course, is to give every unemployed man a patch of ground and free tools if he chose to apply for them.  It is disgraceful that men who are expected to keep alive on the P. A. C. [Public Assistance Committee] should not even have the chance to grow vegetables for their families.

Solar IS Civil Defense

by gmoke on Fri Mar 2nd, 2012 at 06:03:34 PM EST
[ Parent ]
For the small householder, I wonder what the best crop would be? Obviously it will depend on the location and climate, but in general does it make more sense to grow lettuce (as my SO says), or beans (traditional crop), or fruit, or something else? How do you evaluate your situation to decide that, anyway?

The seed catalogs have started coming and I need to do some planning right about now anyway...

by asdf on Fri Mar 2nd, 2012 at 11:23:14 PM EST
There are varieties suited for nearly every environment; high protein content; easily stored in one form or another; good soil amendment; easily grown.

Lettuce and herbs on your windowsill or in your planter(s). Tomatoes in planters. After that, you might want to visit some of the past ET diaries on the subject. I did a series of 3 or 4 about three years ago.

paul spencer

by paul spencer (spencerinthegorge AT yahoo DOT com) on Sat Mar 3rd, 2012 at 02:29:53 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Yours and other gardening diaries are under the heading Local in the Agriculture series.
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Sun Mar 4th, 2012 at 11:34:27 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Beans. Green beans. Please note that this is an emotional response.

I love this movement. Flowers are lovely, but so are vegetables and fruits and I wish I could see as many fruits and vegetables growing on German balconies and terraces as flowers.

'tis strange I should be old and neither wise nor valiant. From "The Maid's Tragedy" by Beaumont & Fletcher

by Wife of Bath (kareninaustin at g mail dot com) on Sun Mar 4th, 2012 at 06:21:41 AM EST
[ Parent ]
If you have a decent area to plant, and plan to consume it rather then sell I think storage is an important issue. So that would be beans. Though this might be a reflection of the short growing season here in Sweden.

Sweden's finest (and perhaps only) collaborative, leftist e-newspaper Synapze.se
by A swedish kind of death on Sun Mar 4th, 2012 at 10:23:28 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The main limiting factors are space and time - time meaning the length of the growing season in your climate. See what other people manage to do where you live, and use that to place the bounds on what you can do (without cover).

You should be able to get some variety even in a fairly small area. There's no sense really in just growing one thing. Lettuce and other salads can be grown between other plants - and anyway you don't want too many at one time because half of them will bolt before you can eat them.

In terms of stuff that will keep for the winter, we keep in a simple dry, no-freeze storage space, potatoes, onions, squash and beans (the white haricot kind, but have also done red beans or the Italian kind called borlotti). Green beans are fine in storage jars.

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Sun Mar 4th, 2012 at 11:32:37 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Kale is one of the most nutritional foods out there, according to what I've read.  It is cold tolerant and can be started early in the season and, with some protection, well into the Fall.

Solar IS Civil Defense
by gmoke on Fri Mar 9th, 2012 at 08:00:24 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I am studying greenhouse design and operation. Part of the task involves automation. Commercially available drip irrigation systems and timers seem adequate to the task, but I am currently looking for ways to automate the opening and closing of vents and the cycling of fans. I could get contact closures from the irrigation system outputs but need the actuators, or the parts to build them. Left to my own devices they might literally be my own devices. I would have fun designing and building them but it could seriously delay the projects.

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."
by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Sun Mar 4th, 2012 at 03:56:48 PM EST
A related area is the integration of temperature sensors into the above described systems. I certainly do not want to try to develop my own software. I want something easily programmable, no 'school' required. Any thing pop into anyone's mind?

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."
by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Sun Mar 4th, 2012 at 03:59:08 PM EST
[ Parent ]
It doesn't exactly pop but of course all these systems are available to professionals, just too expensive and out of scale for small amateur greenhouses. But maybe you're planning something Really Big...
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Mon Mar 5th, 2012 at 01:40:58 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Yes! I have been looking at some of the more professional systems. They look like $1,500 and up to do what I need. I am looking for some way to open and close vents at the base and ridge at predetermined intervals. I think I should be able to do that cheaper than what is commercially available. Oh, for easy access to some of the military surplus stores in LA just now. A timer, a reversible motor and some limit switches could get me started. A garage door opener is a whole lot cheaper than what they are asking.... Perhaps some stepper motors.

I have decided to start small with a hot box/germinator made of plywood and 2x2s on the bottom and back and corrugated translucent panels used for patio covers for the sloping front. If I make the back about four foot high it will work for all seedlings and can serve as a kitchen garden for lettuce, cilantro, green onions and herbs. I plan on using salvaged 2 liter soda bottles along the back wall to provide thermal mass to dampen temperature swings,  have a bunch saved up and get another about every other day. (Someone in the household has a soda habit.)

I have a south facing shop wall along which I can place it and have dropped off an irrigation stub and control wire at that location. A small, programmable drip irrigation system is well under $100 and I can get power from the shop panel. I just don't want to have to open and close the vents by hand every morning and night, depending on temperature and wind. Seems like that shouldn't cost ten times the cost of the rest of the hot box. Perhaps I can use motorized dampers from the HVAC industry, or just a fractional HP gear motor, a shaft and some pulleys. Definitely open to suggestions.

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."

by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Mon Mar 5th, 2012 at 02:21:08 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Hi ARG, I've tried all the irigation methods out there.  The best results by far for me (australian climate - water supply restricted, very hot summers) have come from flood and drain.  I use a very simple control system made from an ornamental pond pump and a digital timer.  The pump turns on and fills the grow beds to the level of an overflow.  Then after 30 minutes or whatever the pump turns off and the water drains back out through the pump.  Very cheap and very robust.

If you keep fish in your supply tank you get free symbiotic water cleaning and plant fertilization too.

With sufficient water you can even out day-night temperature swings to avoid heating and cooling.  You can heat the water rather than the air in the greenhouse and thus reduce losses from the glazing (because you keep the roots warm but let the leaves cool down).  watering the roots rather than top watering of course reduces fungal problems.

Then I have a simple wax piston type vent opener for super hot days.

This system has been running almost maintenance free for 5 years (the inlet occasionally gets roots in it).

Spending more on glazing insulation (adding an extra layer of plastic film on the inside, or using triple rather than double wall PC) is typically better value than spending more on the control system.

by njh on Thu Mar 8th, 2012 at 09:31:37 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I have no experiences of green-houses but I have heard that fungus is a big problem. Is that always the case or is there somethng simpla that can be done about it?

Sweden's finest (and perhaps only) collaborative, leftist e-newspaper Synapze.se
by A swedish kind of death on Thu Mar 8th, 2012 at 01:44:19 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I use lots of fresh air when I can, and sunlight helps (UV), and air movement in general (people often add fans).  There are fungucides, but they are rather close to humanicides.
by njh on Fri Mar 9th, 2012 at 12:54:22 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The best thing with greenhouses is not that you can grow things in them, but that you can stay out eating and drinking for several extra months per year!

Peak oil is not an energy crisis. It is a liquid fuel crisis.
by Starvid on Fri Mar 9th, 2012 at 10:39:51 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Any information you can send me on the wax piston vent opener would be appreciated. My address at my signature line works. I would e-mail you, but... A lot of the info I have read has been developed in Australia.

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."
by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Sun Mar 11th, 2012 at 07:44:16 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I found some products that seem to be what you described. They use a temperature sensitive paraffin foam to actuate an arm that can be adjusted for the desired temperature. Thanks for the tip.

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."
by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Sun Mar 11th, 2012 at 07:56:23 PM EST
[ Parent ]
by njh on Sun Mar 11th, 2012 at 09:47:08 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Thank you. I 'knew' something like that existed and it is available from a supplier in a neighboring state.

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."
by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Mon Mar 12th, 2012 at 12:54:35 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Beyond `ruin porn': Film gives farm's-eye view of Detroit | Grist

What happens to a post-industrial city? How does it revive itself amidst the ruins of a disappearing way of life? In Detroit, modern America's favorite example of urban decay, the auto industry left behind pockets of resilience: "Growtown" is full of urban farms flourishing in backyards and abandoned lots, like wildflowers sprouting from the ash of a charred forest.

Detroiters have practiced urban agriculture for decades, but the city's economic decline -- which has been dragging on since long before the worldwide financial collapse in 2008 -- serves as a catalyst for gardening's explosive growth in this town that most of the country still sees as a poster child for inner-city ruin.

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Mon Mar 5th, 2012 at 02:24:28 PM EST
Thanks for all the great resource links.

With only about 3 days' supply of products in city supermarkets people have little awareness of how vulnerable they are to supply disruptions.

NVA, a viable option when the political process fails.

by NorthDakotaDemocrat (NorthDakotaDemocrat at gmail dot com) on Wed Mar 7th, 2012 at 12:23:02 AM EST

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