Category Archives: agriculture

Hemp to the Rescue

We’ve heard of many plants that have phytoremediative qualities, that is, the properties that can absorb and neutralize toxic substances in soils.   For all the versatility of hemp, I hadn’t thought of it as possessing that ability until I read recent post on Roads and Kingdoms entitled Hemp and Change.  The crux of the story is one of pollution and the potential for Hemp as one of those plants that can aid in cleaning up our dirty messes.

The Italian town Taranto in Puglia, which like many areas had a rich agricultural and gastronomic history, specifically cheeses and other dairy products.  A large steel plant was constructed nearby in the 1960s, which was led to degradation of air and soil that led to conditions where animals were no longer fit for consumption.  There are also indications that the residents have and continue to suffer from ill effects of the plant.


:: image via Roads & Kingdoms

The issue is that the plant serves as the major source of jobs, so it’s a double-edged sword where residents are both in need of the economic benefit but suffer from the ill effects.  The plant owners were later charged with a number of crimes for the health and environmental issues, but beyond the legal culpability, there still remains the need for a viable clean-up of the sites, which is often too expensive and long term.

Thus phytoremediation provides a viable strategy for clean up of the toxic sites, with the potential to restore Taranto back to it’s agricultural glory.  A group called CanaPuglia and their founder Claudio Natile, who describes hemp and its use as a continuation of an Italian tradition.

“Hemp was a major Italian agricultural crop for hundreds of years. In the 1950s, the country was the second-largest hemp producer in the world after the Soviet Union. Italian hemp seeds provided some of the most resistant fibers, which were turned into clothing. However, with industrialization and the advent of synthetic fibers such as nylon, hemp started to disappear.”

They’ve planted 300 hectares of low THC hemp, which is also harvested to make a range of products, further providing economic vitality and helping to pay for the cleanup.  In this case, the toxicity doesn’t persist in the fibers, so it can be used, however there could be toxicity in the seeds so the hemp is not sold for food consumption.  The article doesn’t get too far into how hemp is working for pollution reduction, but offered a few links to explore.

According to the Huffington Post, in addition to hemp being a low-input and easy to grow plant, it “…was used at Chernobyl to harmlessly extract toxins and pollutants from the soil and groundwater. Hemp actually absorbs CO2 while it grows through natural photosynthesis, making it carbon-negative from the get-go.”

Commercial hemp, Darlingford, Manitoba, Canada.
Commercial hemp, Darlingford, Manitoba, Canada.

:: image via Huffington Post

The use a variety of plants for phytoremediation of toxic sites, including Brassicas, corn, tobacco, sunflowers and trees, to name a few, all are viable methods to uptake and capture pollutants.   The site explains that Phytoremediation is a process that takes advantage of the fact that green plants can extract and concentrate certain elements within their ecosystem. For example, some plants can grow in metal-laden soils, extract certain metals through their root systems, and accumulate them in their tissues without being damaged. In this way, pollutants are either removed from the soil and groundwater or rendered harmless.


:: image via McGraw Hill – Botany Global Issues Map

The use of hemp is explained in a bit more detail “In 1998, Phytotech, along with Consolidated Growers and Processors (CGP) and the Ukraine’s Institute of Bast Crops, planted industrial hemp, Cannabis sp., for the purpose of removing contaminants near the Chernobyl site.”  The uptake of pollutants at Chernobyl included cesium and strontium, which was bio-accumlated in root structures at high concentrations.  While some toxins are broken down in soil and plants, high-grade elements like radioactive waste are pulled from soils into plants, so there is obviously the issue of proper and safe removal of this biomass after this process has taken place.

One interesting link on the larger concept is from the United Nations Enviornment Programme, a site called “Phytoremediation: An Environmentally Sound Technology for Pollution Prevention, Control and Remediation. ” which does offer a primer on the topic.  Contrasting it with traditional remediation, the site explains: “Remediation of contaminated sites using conventional practices, such as ‘pump-and-treat’ and ‘dig-and-dump’ techniques, is often expensive, has limited potential, and is usually only applicable to small areas. Additionally, these conventional approaches to remediation often make the soil infertile and unsuitable for agriculture and other uses by destroying the microenvironment. Hence there is the need to develop and apply alternative, environmentally sound technologies (ESTs), taking into account the probable end use of the site once it has been remediated.”

The process happens in multiple ways, but essentially has two methods – the first is breaking down and degrading organic pollutants; the second is to trap  metals or non-organics so they cannot move to other animals or areas.  The roots are the main source of phytoremediation, being in contact with pollutants directly through the extensive below-grade surface area.  When areas of contamination are deeper, trees are often used where their more extensive rooting systems can go further down than herbacous plants and shrubs.   There are also cases where water can be pumped from below grade and then treated on the surface using plants.


:: image via Intech

As the above graphic shows, there are many methods at work with the phytoremediation process, many of which are working on the ‘soil-root’ interface.  There are a number of compounds released by the plants, “root exudates” that activate microorganisms that can extract, stablilize, degrade and stimulate toxics.  This changes the bioavaiability of the toxins through, as the UNEP site states “changes in soil characteristcs, release of organic substances, changes in chemical composition, and /or increase in plant-assisted microbial activity.”

There are over 30,000 sites in the US that require hazardous waste treatment, and many more worldwide.  While many plants that are viable for phytoremediation are available, many of these cannot be used for consumption because of issues with possible contamination. Hemp is perhaps one to consider as the fiber used can still be processed into useful, saleable products,  that could potentially fund the cleanup as well.  As marijuana legality relaxes somewhat, it may be more possible to use this plant to make our world a cleaner place.


Moon Gardens

Spaced based gardening?  As a test of the harshest conditions for supporting life, NASA is planning on experiments to grow cress, turnips and basil on the moon.  The challenge – a temperature differential of +150° F on the sunny side and -150° F on the dark side of the moon.  Via NPR, quoting NASA plant scientist Bob Bowman: “This will be the very first life science experiment performed in deep space… Our goal is to show that the living organism can thrive in what really is a hostile environment.”  Experiments have already been conducted on the Space Station, as seen below:


The ability to germinate (seeds on nutrient rich ‘paper’ media – plus air and water) and continue to grow, may give some indication of survivability on other worlds, while also potentially providing a diversion from freeze dried food for long-term stays.  The pods of contained terrariums will be lifted in the Moon Express lander, and monitored for the above germination, as well as phototropic qualities and a new term for me, circumnutation, which “shows that Earth-normal endogenous growth patterns and growth rates are expressed in lunar conditions”

750108main_Lunar_plants  750109main_lunar_plants_lander

Check out a video here, a brief story from NPR here, and the official NASA statement. which explains they are:

…constructing a small technology demonstration unit to study germination of plants in lunar gravity and radiation on the Moon. The self-contained habitat will have a mass of about 1 kg and would be a payload on a commercial lunar lander – the Moon Express lander, part of the Google Lunar X-prize competition. After landing in late 2015, water will be added to the seeds in the module and their growth will be monitored for 5-10 days and compared to Earth based controls. Seeds will include Arabidopsis, basil, and turnips. This will be the first life sciences experiment on another world and an important first step in the utilization of plants for human life support. Follow up experiments will improve the technology in the growth module and allow for more extensive plant experiments.


Aquifers not Aquitards

From the recent post on watershed boundaries, a reader mentioned the concept of underground aquifers and their relation to geographical boundaries and .  My title is in jest (sort of) referring to ‘Aquitards’ which according to Wikipedia is “a zone within the earth that restricts the flow of groundwater from one aquifer to another“, but I thought an apt metaphor for our overuse and depletion of these amazing resources.  So in a crude analysis, the map of US aquifers is pretty amazing (here’s a comparison of ‘watersheds’ and ‘aquifers’ in two maps with some context of states and cities (images from National Atlas mapping tool)



While many aquifers develop in tandem with surface waterways, others are disconnected from these sources giving them different patterns.  Ancient sources are often tapped, with draw-down causing these to be depleted much faster than they are recharged.  One of the most familiar, the 10 million+ year old Ogallala Aquifer (synonymous with ‘High Plains Aquifer’) that supplies water to the agricultural bread-basket of the world – centered in Nebraska and spreading from the southern tip of South Dakota into the northern panhandle of Texas.  

:: image via Wikipedia

I hadn’t considered the number of aquifers and their distribution (another great tool is an online mapping application from National Atlas, found here), but it’s interesting to see the difference between more broadly based, central aquifers (not specifically linked to a river) like the Ogallala, or in Oregon the Pacific Northwest Basaltic rock aquifers (unlike the Columbia River based systems to the north.  These more agriculturally oriented aquifers can be compared to small scale aquifers like the Biscayne which supplies drinking water to much of Central Florida.

:: image via USGS

The interactive mapper allows you to zoom in on state & county boundaries, as well as locations of significant cities, to see the relationship of urban agglomeration to aquifers, for instance a closer look at the area centered on Chicago (mapped from the National Atlas).

The cause and effect of cities and aquifers is probably more significant in the impacts of urbanization on water supplies (both through depletion and pollution) and the delicate interaction between surface and subsurface conditions.

:: image via Wikipedia

While subsurface conditions do exist separate from visible surface conditions, there are impacts as many rivers as charged with these underground sources, and depletion (and diversion) has caused some rivers to no longer reach the oceans – such as the Rio Grande and the Colorado (anyone guess the reasons) or the filling of traditionally large reservoirs like Lake Mead and Powell – creating significant water scarcity issues in certain metropolitan regions.  Another great lens to look at cities, so more on this to come… seems the hydrological cycle is tied to everything we do.

:: image via EDRO

Bio-luminescent Trees: WTF?

Bad idea of the week?  The Inhabitat story “Gold Nanoparticles Could Transform Trees Into Street Lights” mentions new research:  “A group of scientists in Taiwan recently discovered that placing gold nanoparticles within the leaves of trees, causes them to give off a luminous reddish glow. The idea of using trees to replace street lights is an ingenious one – not only would it save on electricity costs and cut CO2 emissions, but it could also greatly reduce light pollution in major cities.”

:: image via Inhabitat

Is there something inherently wrong with this, or is it just me?  Another case of techno-madness seeking to solve a problem by asking a wildly misguided question?  I see future cross-pollination of ‘modified’ species, mixing with other hardy invaders to provide glowing urbanscapes – a perpetual daytime that messes with the diurnal cycles of humans and other species, until we, madly, run from cities into the wilderness – but find our way lit like a runway with the dull glowing of plantings from city, to suburb, to wilderness… 

On Agrarian Urbanism

An opportunity for point-counterpoint on the topic of Agrarian Urbanism – one that, with the recent explosion of discussion and interest in urban agriculture – is vital to discussing the place of food in the city, and what impact this will have on the form and function of our urban agglomerations.  The topic is poignant here in Portland, as it is both a hotbed of urban agriculture, as well striving for density through urban growth boundaries (UGBs) to protect adjacent farmland.  The question becomes one of spatial configuration – as space within cities can be allocated in whatever configuration we choose – but this does have implications on the overall spread.  I’m amazed with the ability to drive 10 minutes and find working farms – (while also looking around my neighborhood and finding working produce, poultry and other small-scale productive urban gardens).  Both of these will contribute to a final spatial arrangement of the city.

:: image via OregonLive

More on this urban/rural – inside/outside dichotomy, but for now a few bits of related reading.  Charles Waldheim has a recent post on Design Observer: Places, ‘Notes Toward a History of Agrarian Urbanism‘, which is excerpted from the recent issue of Bracket: On Farming‘ and takes a mentioning Wright’s Broadacre City, Ludwig Hilberseimers ‘New Regional Pattern’ and Branzi’s Agronica  (a great article, once you translate from Italian here) which is great as a social critique, if not in its formal design qualities.  Looking backwards to see the future, the idea is to think about these not in terms of individual interventions, but with an eye on holistic urbanism.  From the article.

“To date the enthusiasm for slow and local food has been based, on the one hand, on the assumption that abandoned or underused brownfield sites could be remediated for their productive potential; and on the other it has been based on the trend toward conserving greenfield sites on city peripheries — on dedicating valuable ecological zones to food production and to limiting suburban sprawl. But these laudable goals are not much concerned with how urban farming might affect urban form.”

:: image via Places
As a historical overview, Waldheim’s thesis (the point) is to understand some of this utopian precedents, 
Broadacre City as a vision is appalling, but as a futurist prediction of auto-dominated sprawl, it may not be that far off.  To augment the examples mentioned, I would add Le Corbusiers’ Radiant City – perhaps with a less modernist blank green space but as dense spires amidst farmland… Both this and Broadacre City are equally dispiriting, but in polar opposite ways.  In the abstract – both could be vehicles for agricultural urbanism that will appeal to a particular urban/suburban demographic of the population.

:: image via Brian’s Culture Blog

The Howard-esque Garden City/Greenbelt City  is another integrated agro-urban example, focused more on concentration of uses (focused urban density) than full integration.  Similar to the drivers of Portland’s UGB, there is clear compartmentalization of agriculture from city – keeping it in proximity but also at arms length… to connect the urban dweller to the rural worker in physical and cultural ways – at least in the abstract.

 :: image via Cornell Library

All the examples are not urban per se (as in densely agglomerated), but rather suburban (dependent on continued decentralization) in their contexts (or at least in their location of agricultural uses) – but do tell us much about the cooperative potential of the urban and the agricultural… perhaps the connection between the desire for land and space (our roots) and the historical suburban dispersion.  It was less about a 19th century model of  fleeing the ills of the city, as it was about recapturing some of our agrarian ideals.  The problem therein, lies in really tackling this in a truly urban form not the quasi-middle ground of suburbia (although a ripe ground for re-purposing to include agricultural uses, for sure). 

:: image via Places

The point is that it is fundamentally about what we want in cities (the actual urban parts, not the sprawling metropolitan statistical areas) – monocentric agglomeration and density or polycentric dispersion and space?  The point being, when looking at the ‘landscape’ of cities – the spaces for non-building, road, etc. there is opportunity (Mason White’s ‘Productive Surface‘?) available at a variety of scales, where ‘agriculture’ amongst other uses (programmed and other) can exist within cities.  This may be the simplistic, Thus the continuum of spaces is not specifically relegated to the dispersed – large tracts of agricultural land in cities (reducing density, likely leading to sprawl) or the hyper-dense (and I say neo-utopian) vertical farms (technological solutions at exorbitant cost – although I hear they may save the world).

:: image via Treehugger

It’s obvious that industrial agriculture is undergoing a necessary shift, and that some space is necessary for food production in the city, but the extent and shape of this (both spatially and culturally) is yet to be determined.  This differs (and influences) urbanism in many ways, depending on what you believe, where you live, and what you grow – amongst myriad other variable.  But is on the minds of many.  These are leading to both inventive proposals, the provocative, the cute and ephemeral, the strange, or the already tried and true – yet somehow new ideas, in the name of agriculture made urban.

The historical account of Waldheim may be compared to (the counterpoint), a similar crop of recent writings by Andres Duany on the same topic, particularly the New Urbanist recent interest in Agricultural Urbanism – which spawned a very NU-centric book (but mostly referenced by Duany as the same ‘Agrarian’ moniker).   As mentioned on Planetizen, this is to become an emphasis:

“At the 18th Annual Congress for New Urbanists, Andres Duany announced ‘Agrarian Urbanism’ as his new planning emphasis. He believes that the success of New Urbanism has stultified its progress and reduced its potential…  Agrarian urbanism is a society involved with the growing of food,” explains Duany. He now aims to create a locavorous community where the resident is responsible for designing his “own utopia.” Greg Lindsay believes the ideas could be attractive to the Whole Foods demographic but is unsure if they are ready for the hard work involved with growing food. Duany concedes that his agrarian communities would still “end up hiring Hispanic laborers to do the dirty work,” but that these laborers would have a closer relationship with their employers.”

For some of Duany’s view on this topic (echoing the above quote) you can turn to Fast Company,  New Urbanism for the Apocalypse, a snapshot of the CNU annoucement, particularly how this viewpoint fits into the NU paradigm.  From the article:

“Agrarian urbanism, he explained, is different from both “urban agriculture” (“cities that are retrofitted to grow food”) and “agricultural urbanism” (“when an intentional community is built that is associated with a farm).” He was thinking bigger: “Agrarian urbanism is a society involved with the growing of food.” America abounds with intentional communities, he pointed out — golf course communities, equestrian ones, even the fly-in kind. So why not build one for locavores? And they can have as much land as they like — it’s just that they would have gardens instead of yards, or community gardens and window boxes if they choose to live in an apartment. Their commitment to “hand-tended agriculture” would be part of their legally binding agreement with the homeowners’ association. “You design your own utopia,” he said. Instead of a strip mall in the town square, there’s a “market square” comprised of green markets, restaurants, cooking schools, an agricultural university, and so on. “This thing pushes buttons like mad,” he said. “The excitement this triggers — they get as excited about this as they did in the old days about the porch and the walkable community.”

:: Agricultural Transect – image via Fast Company

I particularly enjoy the idea of writing this into the CC+R’s of a community (above underlined passage) a sort of ‘thou shall farm’ edict that allows you to design your own utopia, as long as it fits within certain cultural and community expectations as defined and dictated those in power.  Is this the small-scale version of hobby-farming to the suburban masses – because it isn’t really a model of truly ‘urban’ development?

Another, from Houston Tomorrow, sums up a recent presentation on ‘Agricultural Urbanism: Transects & Food Production‘ with a focus on the recent NU-inspired Southlands project in BC .  Picking up the thread of CNU18, Kunstler shows he may be on board, quoted  on Clusterfuck Nation echoing the need for this return to the farm as also a response to impeding climate change related disruption. (underlined quote mine)

“Among other things, the most forward-looking leaders in the New Urbanist movement now recognize that we have to reorganize the landscape for local food production, because industrial agriculture will be one of the prime victims of our oil predicament. The successful places in the future will be places that have a meaningful relationship with growing food close to home. The crisis in agriculture is looming right now — with world grain reserves at their lowest level ever recorded in modern times — and when it really does hit, the harvestmen of famine and death will be in the front ranks of it.”

The Houston article links to the long presentation by Duany about the topic, via YouTube – although I haven’t had a spare two hours to check it out yet… anyone will to summarize, let me know.

For some related content, one must delve into the interesting concept of CPULs.  Also check out the project ‘Garden Block‘ project by Daniel Nairn, which has garnered praise for it’s plausibility from Smart Growth advocates like Kaid Benfield (‘Agricultural Urbanism that actually is urban’) who have been critical of some urban agriculture proposals.  As an object of defined spatial arrangement incorporating density and agriculture – it seems to work for this block (one that would attract some, but not all urban agrarians).  I expect and desire more models, both the practical to the sublime, from NU/LU/EU and other ‘U’s – investigating codified solutions and abstract indeterministic ones – giving plenty of fodder for discussion on the future of food in the city.

:: image via Grist

The question of this not just as a site or district image, but as it relates to the overall structure of how we plan and shape cities – is a much larger question indeed.  Looking at utopian precedents, and site specific examples, we have opportunities for not just the physical integration of agriculture into cities, but a clear picture, good and bad, of what some of the consequences may be. 

Restoring the Garden of Eden

A great feature from Spiegel Online covers the work of Azzam Alwash, a US/Iraqi hydraulic engineer aiming to restore what were once vibrant wetlands flourishing in the cradle of civilization through an organization called Nature Iraq. While most news coming from the region focuses on bricks and mortar rebuilding, it’s important to note the power of restoration of ecosystems in rebuilding efforts. The connection between people and land is vital.

:: image via Eden Again

The area was originally marshland fed from the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. From the article: “Only 20 years ago, an amazing aquatic world thrived in the area, which is in the middle of the desert. Larger than the Everglades, it extended across the southern end of Iraq, where the Tigris and Euphrates rivers divide into hundreds of channels before they come together again near Basra and flow into the Persian Gulf.”

This is especially evident in satellite photos of the region from 1976 and 2002, showing the widespread ecosystematic destruction of the marsh.

:: images via Spiegel Online

From the article, the motivation is clear:

“The official explanation was that the land was being reclaimed for agriculture. The military was sent in to excavate canals and build dikes to conduct the water directly into the Gulf. The despot, proud of his work of destruction, gave the canals names like Saddam River and Loyalty to the Leader Canal.

In truth, Saddam was not interested in the farmers. His real goal was to harm the Madan, also known as the Marsh Arabs. For thousands of years, the marshes had been the homeland of this ethnic group and their cows and water buffalo. They lived in floating huts made of woven reeds and spent much of their time in wooden boats, which they guided with sticks along channels the buffalo had trampled through the reeds. They harvested reeds, hunted birds and caught fish.

When the fishermen backed a Shiite uprising against the dictator, the vindictive Saddam turned their “Garden of Eden” into a hell. He had thousands of the Marsh Arabs murdered and their livestock killed. Any remaining water sources were poisoned and reed huts burned to the ground. Many people fled across the border into Iran to live in refugee camps, while others went to the north and tried to survive as day laborers. By the end of the operation, up to half a million people had been displaced.

Within a few years, the marshland had shrunk to less than 10 percent of its original size. In a place that was once teeming with wildlife — wild boar, hyenas, foxes, otters, water snakes and even lions — the former reed beds had been turned into barren salt flats, poisoned and full of land mines. In a 2001 report, the United Nations characterized the destruction of the marshes as one of the world’s greatest environmental disasters.”

The use of ecosystems as essentially a weapon against people is striking – a much more appropriate usage of the term eco-terrorism (versus it’s common parlance) or at the very least eco-despotism… (although a quick google search of that term yields a totally different meaning). A future post at least on the linguistics of that one I imagine 🙂

The view from 1976 shows what was once a thriving ‘human ecosystem’ supporting wildlife as well as economies of small reed farmers, fisherman and shrimpers… followed by a representative shot of the area prior to any restoration activities.

:: images via Spiegel Online

The restoration is ongoing, and an amazing story of folks (Alwash and others) risking their lives to restore the ecological and cultural heritage of a vital global region – folding in conservation and humanitarian needs to offer an alternative scenario to ‘rebuilding’ after devastation occurs. While public works, dams, roads, electrical grids, and schools offer much by way of infrastructure to support a society in transition, the ecological is an important aspect not to be overlooked. There are lessons here that perhaps we can implement in our own disasters (both ‘natural’ and man-made) and remember the connections between resiliency in the human as well as the ecological systems.

Check out the rest of the article here.

Branden Born on Urban Ag

Cascadia Region Green Building Council:
Transformational Lecture Featuring Branden Born

Tuesday, June 15
White Stag Building
70 NW Couch

Urban Food & Agriculture: Making the Jump in Sustainability
Dr. Branden Born, Assistant Professor of Urban Design and Planning from the University of Washington, will offer his thoughts on how we can make the connection between equity and sustainability in regards to urban food systems in the Pacific Northwest. Branden, who recently featured as an expert panelist at the Living Future session Food for Thought: A Conversation On the Urban Agriculture Movement, published the study Avoiding the Local Trap: Scale and Food Systems in Planning Research.

Ephemeral Urban Gardens: Installations

Examples of ephemeral productive agricultural landscapes give an indication of the possibilities of occupation of urban sites for education and growing food.


A recent installation called Landgrab City as part of the Shenzhen & Hong Kong bi-city Biennale of Urbanism/Architecture. Designers Joseph Grima, Jeffrey Johnson and José Esparza have created a farm in the middle of an urban square in Shenzhen, China. (via Inhabitat / Dezeen).

:: image via Dezeen

Not just an urban farm, the project is a metaphor for local agricultural production. “Conceived as an experimental investigation into the full extent of Shenzhen’s spatial footprint, the installation is comprised of two parts: an map of one of the city’s dense downtown area, home to approximately 4.5m people, and a plot of cultivated land divided into small lots.”

:: image via Dezeen

More from Dezeen: “This land is a representation, at the same scale as the map, of the amount of territory necessary to provide the food consumed by the inhabitants of the portion of city sampled in the map, projected to 2027 (the year China is expected to overtake the US as the world’s leading economy).”

:: image via Dezeen

“Landgrab City is an attempt to visually represent the broader spatial identity of the 21st century metropolis; it proposes a new spatial definition of the city and thereby a more complex understanding of urbanism, one that no longer considers city limits as the boundary of its remit, but instead looks beyond – even across international borders – to the spatial, social, economic and political implications of the planet’s rapid urbanization.”

:: image via Dezeen

The educational aspects are evident – even if the overall metaphor is less visible. The connection of people to knowledge of the foods they consume is necessary as we move from agriculturally focused living to the majority of people living in urban areas. This confrontation of the site right in a dense urban area gives a powerful statement as a visible connection of farm to city.

:: images via Dezeen

A second proposal, via VULGARE, is a “City Eco Lab together was l’Ilot d’Amaranthes,a five-year-long project in which St Etienne designer Emanuel Louisgrand, in partnership with Galerie Roger Tator, has created productive gardens on abandoned sites in different parts of Lyon.”

:: image via VULGARE

The site specificity of each intervention allows us to apply concepts that fit the context and needs based on the surrounding areas and the site characteristics: “L’Ilot d’Amaranthes is a perfect model of the kind of activity that we need to see in every city and town. What shines out from the project is that each intervention is unique to that place and that time. This is a sustainable way of thinking: Understanding what makes each place unique, and then defining tools and infrastructures that can be adapted to it.”

:: image via VULGARE

Ephemeral Urban Gardens: Temporality + Mobility

The last remnants of ephemera sitting around the archives is under the auspices of terrestrially based gardens within the foodsheds of our cities, and – and the need to address the issues of permanence (both the pros and cons). One option is to incorporate food production within our permanent landscaping by using the principles of permaculture to imbue these spaces with productive elements. While gardens in our cities that are permanent fixtures are a necessary element to complement density, parkland, and natural open spaces, there are hundreds of acres of available land and other spaces that can be utilized for growing food – to both take advantage of the temporary availability, and make urban agriculture visible to city dwellers.

:: image via Inhabitat

The use of brownfields brings up many issues (read about Portland’s issues here) – but are for the most part compatible with . Check out this EPA report on brownfields and urban agriculture for some data on the subject. In addition, many recent proposals aim to and have the ability to provide temporary occupation of sites – requiring the mobility necessary to move sites on a yearly or short term basis without issues of displacement – maximizing the return on investment by being nimble – a very anti-slow food ideaology – but a necessary one to benefit our cities in productive ways.

:: Garden to Go – image via Designboom

The visible aspect of gardens can take on elements of public art, such as the Sharecropper Micro Farm project – and art installations in NYC cultivating heirloom vegetables at multiple, simple locations through the City.

:: image via Inhabitat

Small modular ideas abound such as the 10×10 project from MIT and Columbia University ‘Urban Design Labs’, a modest proposal via City Farmer “To help production, the group advocates widespread adoption of small-scale innovations such as “lawn to farm” conversions in urban and suburban areas, and the “10 x 10 project,” an effort to develop vegetable plots in schools and community centers. Lawns require more equipment, labor and fuel than industrial farming nationwide, yet produce no goods. But many vegetables, including lettuce, cucumbers and peppers, can be grown efficiently in small plots.”

:: image via City Farmer

This simple planter based idea from Tokyo Green Space highlights the ability to grow food in simple containers and small spaces – in this case neighborhood rice – which are easy to multiple to scale production.

:: image via Tokyo Green Space

Small scale interventions also can include such expanded ideas as aquaponics, such as these personal solutions from Aquaponics USA. Beyond small (which is preferential for mobility), actual transportation and movement of planters is often problematic, as the building of soil along with community is an aspect of gardens we seem conflicted about – and often reduces our ability to occupy any spaces. We need to re-frame the temporal notions of occupation of spaces – and also what’s allowed in cities.

:: image via Inhabitat

A couple of recent ideas come from both two North American cities. First, from San Diego, is The Farm Proper, a “…mobile, urban farm under development in the lot behind THE BAKERY, the Set & Drift and mi-workshop collaborative studio space in Barrio Logan. The Farm Proper is an experimental project created by a collaborative of artists, designers, and backyard growers to inspire urban cultivation and pocket farms. Using abandoned/defunct shopping carts as our medium, we have designed a scenario to take over a temporarily available industrial lot to provide the community with organically grown food.

:: image via City Farmer

Another is called the ‘Mobile Food Collective’ which is a student project from Archeworks: “The students envision the Mobile Unit as the place where communities will come together and participate in their food heritage. At the Mobile Unit people can gather for discussions, to archive recipes, exchange seeds, share meals and participate in demonstrations on planting, growing and cooking their own food. A fleet of bikes with custom trailers accompanies the Mobile Unit. The bikes carry farming and gardening tools and transport the “mods,” the nesting storage bins below the table, which house programming material. The accompanying bikes can also be used to deliver CSA boxes and are dispersed throughout a community to alert and direct residents to programming happening at the Mobile Unit.”

:: image via Mr. Brown Thumb

This FEMA trailer offers a mobile brand (via Treehugger) – similar to the food cart/mobile restaurant phemomenon – also included with the Truck Farm in Brooklyn, and this mobile greenhouse. Another is “The Armadillo, a FEMA trailer that was transformed into a mobile, vertical community garden by MIT students and faculty.”

:: image via Treehugger

Bagsacs are one example – shown recently on Designboom – offering mobility and temporary placement:

:: image via Designboom

A few variants include more temporary bags – such as these in Kenya to combat hunger issues and lack of farmland.

:: image via City Farmer

Or suitcase ‘gardens’ with built in portability, via Moco Loco.

:: image via Moco Loco

The temporality is an issue worth exploring, and the ideas of ephemeral spaces such as Pop-Up Parks or other Pavement to Parks initiatives and give some precedence that can be applied to urban agriculture: An example from the NY Times for an irregular-shaped parcel on loan for a finite time and used for an art-space. “Appropriately — given that the lot is on loan for about three years from developers who had hoped to build there by now — the project will be called LentSpace.” There is not reason this couldn’t be a model for agriculture instead of just ornamental plantings.

:: image via NY Times

From a farming perspective, this offers opportunities even without the investment of raised planters, such as Hayes Valley Farm in San Francisco, which is a vacant parcel that will be occupied for 2-5 years depending on the eventual development path of the site (i.e. a building).

:: image via Inhabitat

Mobility also includes mapping – which offers great promise for access to food – such as online resources for gleaning – such as the ‘Find Fruit’ app for I-phone.

:: image via People and Place

Finally, perhaps it bleeds into concepts of maintenance, as large swaths of rooftop greening could support herds of urban sheep that can be moved around periodically, and also be used for sustainable production of wool and eventually meat. The possibilities, as they say, may be endless.

:: image via Gardenvisit

Rooftop Agriculture

I’ve purposely steered away from the pure rooftop farms in discussions of vertical farming solutions recently featured (here, here, here, and here). This isn’t due to any particular reason other than I think that rooftop farms area a separate typology in it’s own right – as it is focusing on a separate area of emphasis including horizontality and openness to sun and air. For instance I mentioned the greenhouses at Zabar’s – but there is also a significant amount of traditional rooftop agriculture.

:: image via City Farmer

Otherwise, plenty of proposals abound for rooftop planters on housing, and event making it’s way into corporate campuses for use by workers. One example is the simple Sophos Vancouver Rooftop Community Garden – implemented on an office rooftop.

:: image via City Farmer

Recent proposals (and there have been many along with a lot of press) incented me to look through a number of these rooftop examples past and present as a way of rounding out the vertical farming survey. First, via The Architect’s Newspaper: “The Fifth Street Farm Project has it all: It addresses childhood obesity, stormwater runoff, and climate change. Conceived by a grassroots organization of teachers, parents, and green-roof advocates, the project’s plan calls for a roof farm atop the Robert Simon Complex…”

:: image via The Architect’s Newspaper

A troubling quote I think brings up some inherent issues as we drive towards implementation of rooftop farms – and some of the challenges that are necessary to address. As quoted in the article: “In spite of all the good intentions, there are formidable technical hurdles and political challenges to building a farm on top of a school. “There’s a lot of bureaucratic craziness,” said Susannah Vickers, director of Budget and Grants in the office of Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, “…Things as arcane as the warranty of the roof—they have to do boring samples and engineering reports—and oftentimes the roof substructure is not able to support the new use.”

:: image via The Architect’s Newspaper

These aren’t arcane or minimal issues – but fundamental to proper technical installation that meets project goals while protecting the health, safety and welfare of the community – and specifically the kids at these schools. A recent example of a project gone awry in Vancouver, and a related story of the Brooklyn Grange installation in Queens getting a stop-work order for not filing necessary permits reinforces the need for these project to both have the energy of urban farmers, but also the technical backup and processes necessary to ensure they are appropriate. (The stop-work order has subsequently been lifted after permits were filed and a fine paid, which is good news as this project is gonna be pretty awesome).

:: image via Brooklyn Grange Farm

The Brooklyn Grange Farm was preceded by the amazing Greenpoint, Brooklyn rooftop farm ‘Eagle Street Rooftop Farm’ – which features 6000 s.f. of rooftop growing and 200,000 pounds of soil – not in containers, but as monolithic soil based growing – lessening initial investment and maximizing productivity.

:: image via NY Magazine

A local precursor on the west coast isn’t the Rocket in Portland – but rather the Fairmont Hotel in Vancouver, B.C. which has been in operation since around 2000 – making it one of the very first examples – and also one with some good economic data: “Hotel accountants say the roof garden produces fruits, vegetables, herbs, and honey worth about $16,000 annually.”

:: image via City Farmer

:: image via City Farmer

Japan has been looking at rooftops, as limitations in the amount of arable land . City Farmer shows a photo of one example: “Wasted space in the modern metropolis may become productive “farmland” thanks to advances in waterproofing green roofs. Some of the rice used to brew Japan’s popular Hakutsuru sake grows atop the company’s Tokyo office.”

:: image via City Farmer

The first issue of Bracket with the topic ‘On Farming’ offered some One of these is Long Island City: Farming Park.
A bit of project description:

“All too often we see land being taken away for parking and at the same time the reclamation of abandoned parking lots to turn into viable land, specifically farms in urban environments. The project, which is a park and ride facility and urban agricultural farm attempts to combine these two typologies to co-exist on one site, bringing the process of food production and consumption in contact with a major multi-modal transfer point between the car and NYC’s existing public transportation network. The project will provide an alternative option for those accessing NYC by car and also challenge the conventional function of a park and ride facility to provide a greater good for those users and the surrounding neighborhoods; connecting Long Island City and Sunnyside Queens with a much needed public green space. “

:: image via Bustler

As [BRKT] showcases, there are plenty of zoomy architectural options out there – some of these simple and brilliant, others a bit overwrought with possible maintenance and installation issues. One very cool example (that may lean towards the overwrought side of the perspective) – comes via Pruned is Taebeom Kim’s Gastronomic Garden – including: “…allotment gardens hovering over — perhaps are even propped up by — compost tanks used for recycling garden scraps as well organic waste of local residents.”

:: image via Pruned