By Rina Chandran
This story was originally published on Reuters on April 7, 2020. Data and statistics reflect numbers at that time.
Coronavirus lockdowns are pushing more city dwellers to grow fruit and vegetables in their homes, providing a potentially lasting boost to urban farming, architects and food experts said on Tuesday.
Confirmed cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, total more than 1.3 million, with about 74,000 deaths worldwide, according to a Reuters tally.
Panic buying in some countries during the crisis has led to empty supermarket shelves and an uptick in the purchase of seeds, according to media reports.
"More people are thinking about where their food comes from, how easily it can be disrupted, and how to reduce disruptions," said landscape architect Kotchakorn Voraakhom, who designed Asia's largest urban rooftop farm in Bangkok.
"People, planners and governments should all be rethinking how land is used in cities. Urban farming can improve food security and nutrition, reduce climate change impacts, and lower stress," she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
More than two-thirds of the world's population is forecast to live in cities by 2050, according to the United Nations.
Urban agriculture can be crucial to feeding them, potentially producing as much as 180 million tonnes of food a year - or about 10% of the global output of pulses and vegetables, according to a 2018 study published in the journal Earth's Future.
The coronavirus outbreak is not the first time that concerns about food security have led to more kitchen gardens.
During World War One, U.S. President Woodrow Wilson asked Americans to plant "Victory Gardens" to prevent food shortages.
The effort continued during World War Two, with vegetable gardens in backyards and schoolyards, on unused land, and even the front lawn of the White House.
In recent decades, the fast pace of urbanization in developing countries is causing urban malnutrition, the Food and Agriculture Organization said, calling on planners to become "nutrition partners" and pay attention to food security.
Despite pressure on land to build homes and roads, there is more than enough urban land available within UK cities to meet the fruit and vegetable requirements of its population, researchers at the Institute for Sustainable Food at Britain's University of Sheffield said in a study last month.
In tiny Singapore, one of the wealthiest nations in Asia that imports more than 90% of its food, urban farming including vertical and rooftop farms, is fast becoming popular.
The city-state, which ranks on top of the Economist Intelligence Unit's global food security index for 2019, aims to produce 30% of its nutritional needs by 2030, by increasing the local supply of fruits, vegetables and protein from meat and fish.
On Monday, Singapore lawmaker Ang Wei Neng said that during the coronavirus outbreak, "it would be wise for us to think of how to invest in homegrown food."
For Allan Lim, chief executive of ComCrop, a commercial urban farm in Singapore, the pandemic is a reminder that disruptions to food supplies can take place at any time.
"It has definitely sparked more interest in local produce. Urban farms can be a shock absorber during disruptions such as this," he said.
This story originally appeared in Reuters.
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By James Clasper
A dozen children are sitting in a circle when the bell rings. Instead of rushing to their next class, the children close their eyes.
"Raise your hand when you can no longer hear a sound," said their teacher, holding a pair of bronze cymbals — the kind you might find in a Buddhist temple. One by one, their hands go up.
At the Green Free School (Den Gronne Friskole), in Copenhagen, educating children for a world affected by climate change begins with putting them in the right frame of mind — literally. Classes here include urban farming and often start with mindfulness training.
"We thought about what kids need to learn to take part in the green transition we're going to go through," said Phie Ambo, a Danish filmmaker who founded the school in 2014 with American translator Karen MacLean. "They need to learn to be courageous and take risks. And they need to learn some basic things about the planet and how we as human beings exist together. I couldn't really see that happening in the Danish school system."
Rethinking the Syllabus
Unlike the country's regular state-funded schools, the Green Free School — which has 200 pupils aged six to 15 — puts sustainable living at the heart of its syllabus.
At first glance, there's nothing unusual about the Green Free School. It occupies four inconspicuous buildings in a post-industrial neighborhood southeast of Copenhagen's center. Only a woodshed flanking a paint-daubed playground hints at a different kind of institution.
Its main building — made entirely of sustainable materials — houses a workshop where pupils learn to sew and use materials such as wood, clay, wax, felt, metal and plastic. They also learn to compost, repair bicycles and collect rainwater.
In shaping the syllabus, founder Ambo drew inspiration from "systems thinking" — a way of looking at the world in terms of its underlying patterns and interrelated systems. Pupils are encouraged to think about these systems through time spent outdoors exploring the world and gaining hands-on experience growing vegetables, while learning about edible plants and climatic conditions.
One 12-year-old pupil said she was "a little nervous about the future" because of the climate crisis, but felt she learned a lot at the school.
According to deputy principal Suzanne Crawfurd, the school's teaching method combines "project-based learning and design thinking." In other words, you won't see teachers at blackboards or children in front of screens. Instead they do hands-on projects that are supervised by several teachers and span different subjects. For example, the children might learn how to forage edible mushrooms, then practice drawing them, before heading into the kitchen to make mushroom soup.
Despite its alternative approach, setting up the school was easy, Ambo says. While most schools in Denmark are publicly run, anyone can set up a private "free school," with the state covering about three-quarters of its costs and the rest being made up by fees.
Tuition at the Green Free School costs 2,600 DKK a month (about €350, $380) — and it sets aside at least 5% of its budget to provide bursaries to children whose parents can't afford the fees. That means its pupils come from "a wide range of socioeconomic backgrounds" in Copenhagen, said Ambo.
By law, a "free school" must follow the national curriculum. In addition to learning to read and write, they study history, maths and science. But otherwise it's permitted to devise its own syllabus, allowing the Green Free School to teach subjects like urban farming and greenwashing. "They [the pupils] need to learn to grow their own food and they need to be able to see through companies that claim they are sustainable — because we don't have time for that," Ambo said.
The Danish Green Free School isn't the only educational institution in Europe with an "eco-friendly syllabus." Berlin's Hagenbeck high school, for instance, teaches students about the importance of species and ecosystems, successfully incorporating biodiversity throughout its hands-on curriculum.
Ambo said she hopes the Danish school will inspire young teachers to apply its approach in other schools in a country where climate change is becoming a growing political focus. Last December, the Danish parliament passed a climate law committing the country to reduce carbon emissions to 70% below 1990 levels by 2030.
Green Transition and Its Challenges
Still, the school's founders have faced hurdles. The site that Ambo and MacLean chose for it was polluted with chemicals used to clean ships — a drawback they turned to their advantage. "It used to be one of the most toxic places in Copenhagen, but we decided to make it part of the curriculum," said Ambo. The school's inaugural intake of 43 pupils duly learned "what kind of trees and plants can remove chemicals from the earth and how to live in and transform places that are tainted by the old industrial way of thinking."
While the school provides more structure in its teaching today, Ambo admits it isn't ideal for children with severe learning difficulties. Moreover, its students don't sit exams. "It's definitely not for everyone," Ambo concedes. "Some parents think it sounds good and then they realize there won't be any tests or exams and withdraw their kids." At 15 pupils move on to further education at other schools, where they usually gain formal qualifications.
Freed from learning geared toward telling examiners what they want to hear, the school aims to equip students to draw their conclusions about the world. But it does have a clear aim of where those conclusions should lead. "We're saying to the students, 'Be critical, think for yourself, and do what you want — but we want you to make the green transition,'" said Dorthe Junge, principal of the Green Free School. "That's a challenge."
Reposted with permission from DW.
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The bright patterns and recognizable designs of Waterlust's activewear aren't just for show. In fact, they're meant to promote the conversation around sustainability and give back to the ocean science and conservation community.
Each design is paired with a research lab, nonprofit, or education organization that has high intellectual merit and the potential to move the needle in its respective field. For each product sold, Waterlust donates 10% of profits to these conservation partners.
Eye-Catching Designs Made from Recycled Plastic Bottles
waterlust.com / @abamabam
The company sells a range of eco-friendly items like leggings, rash guards, and board shorts that are made using recycled post-consumer plastic bottles. There are currently 16 causes represented by distinct marine-life patterns, from whale shark research and invasive lionfish removal to sockeye salmon monitoring and abalone restoration.
One such organization is Get Inspired, a nonprofit that specializes in ocean restoration and environmental education. Get Inspired founder, marine biologist Nancy Caruso, says supporting on-the-ground efforts is one thing that sets Waterlust apart, like their apparel line that supports Get Inspired abalone restoration programs.
"All of us [conservation partners] are doing something," Caruso said. "We're not putting up exhibits and talking about it — although that is important — we're in the field."
Waterlust not only helps its conservation partners financially so they can continue their important work. It also helps them get the word out about what they're doing, whether that's through social media spotlights, photo and video projects, or the informative note card that comes with each piece of apparel.
"They're doing their part for sure, pushing the information out across all of their channels, and I think that's what makes them so interesting," Caruso said.
And then there are the clothes, which speak for themselves.
Advocate Apparel to Start Conversations About Conservation
waterlust.com / @oceanraysphotography
Waterlust's concept of "advocate apparel" encourages people to see getting dressed every day as an opportunity to not only express their individuality and style, but also to advance the conversation around marine science. By infusing science into clothing, people can visually represent species and ecosystems in need of advocacy — something that, more often than not, leads to a teaching moment.
"When people wear Waterlust gear, it's just a matter of time before somebody asks them about the bright, funky designs," said Waterlust's CEO, Patrick Rynne. "That moment is incredibly special, because it creates an intimate opportunity for the wearer to share what they've learned with another."
The idea for the company came to Rynne when he was a Ph.D. student in marine science.
"I was surrounded by incredible people that were discovering fascinating things but noticed that often their work wasn't reaching the general public in creative and engaging ways," he said. "That seemed like a missed opportunity with big implications."
Waterlust initially focused on conventional media, like film and photography, to promote ocean science, but the team quickly realized engagement on social media didn't translate to action or even knowledge sharing offscreen.
Rynne also saw the "in one ear, out the other" issue in the classroom — if students didn't repeatedly engage with the topics they learned, they'd quickly forget them.
"We decided that if we truly wanted to achieve our goal of bringing science into people's lives and have it stick, it would need to be through a process that is frequently repeated, fun, and functional," Rynne said. "That's when we thought about clothing."
Support Marine Research and Sustainability in Style
To date, Waterlust has sold tens of thousands of pieces of apparel in over 100 countries, and the interactions its products have sparked have had clear implications for furthering science communication.
For Caruso alone, it's led to opportunities to share her abalone restoration methods with communities far and wide.
"It moves my small little world of what I'm doing here in Orange County, California, across the entire globe," she said. "That's one of the beautiful things about our partnership."
Check out all of the different eco-conscious apparel options available from Waterlust to help promote ocean conservation.
Melissa Smith is an avid writer, scuba diver, backpacker, and all-around outdoor enthusiast. She graduated from the University of Florida with degrees in journalism and sustainable studies. Before joining EcoWatch, Melissa worked as the managing editor of Scuba Diving magazine and the communications manager of The Ocean Agency, a non-profit that's featured in the Emmy award-winning documentary Chasing Coral.
Maskot / DigitalVision / Getty Images
In Phoenix, Arizona, a mobile app is working to connect chefs, eaters and urban farmers to make good food accessible to more people. Bites | Eat With Your Tribe is a community-driven marketplace linking foodies to local chefs to plan in-home, farm-to-table dining experiences in the foodie's own kitchen.
"We want to normalize farm-to-table for everyone, everywhere. That's why there's no tip, no tax, no service charge and it's always BYOB … so that more people can experience farm-to-table in the intimacy of their own home, as humble or as luxurious as their home might be," said Roza Ferdowsmakan, founder of Bites.
The cooks represent a wide range of professional backgrounds, including fine dining, home cooking and independent eateries, as well as 40 different world cuisines. Eaters search for cooks on the app indicating the preferred date, skill level, cuisine type and budget. The ability to curate a communal dining experience, Ferdowsmakan told Food Tank, makes Bites stand out to foodies in comparison to most farm-to-table apps.
Bites also encourages cooks to source ingredients from local urban farms. "We offer transparency in terms of where the fresh ingredients come from, as each cook's profile indicates which growers and grocers they buy from," Ferdowsmakan told Food Tank. "We really want to give visibility to urban farms, micro-farms, co-ops, backyard gardens and community gardens." By shortening the food value chain, said Ferdowsmakan, Bites can help move the needle from globalized, commercial food production to localized, sustainably sourced food.
"We wanted to create a platform that empowers those who feed us and those who can serve as the powerful glue between the growers and the eaters," Ferdowsmakan told Food Tank. "[We] offer a wide selection of cooking skill levels and … lend support for students and independent eateries — mom and pop restaurants that lend character to our cities and sense of placemaking."
Bites' grassroots-driven interface also enables cooks to go beyond farm-to-table dining services. "They can offer cooking classes in your own kitchen, drop-off meals, meal-prep services and also interactive classroom lunches for kids in schools," said Ferdowsmakan.
Since launching the app in August 2019, Ferdowsmakan works with local partners including Arizona State University to increase Bites' outreach and help people understand how the platform can support the food system — connecting eaters from all backgrounds with cooks of diverse cultures, sourcing ingredients from local urban growers. "I'm interested in leveraging the power of technology to beneficially impact people and the planet," Ferdowsmakan told Food Tank. "Bites is a tool to inspire, empower and engage people in changing the food system."
Reposted with permission from Food Tank.
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By Andrea Oyuela
The United Nations estimates that nearly 10 billion people will be living in cities by 2050. According to a recent publication by the Barilla Center for Food & Nutrition, urban eaters consume most of the food produced globally and maintain more resource-intensive diets including increased animal-source and processed foods — rich in salt, sugar and fats. At the same time, many urban populations — particularly in low-income areas and informal communities — endure acute hunger and malnutrition as well as limited access to affordable, healthy food.
But there are countless ways that cities can feed themselves and create better linkages between rural and urban food systems. In Mexico City, the organization CultiCiudad built the Huerto Tlatelolco, an edible forest with 45 tree varieties, a seed bank, and plots for biointensive gardening. In the U.S., City Growers uses New York City's urban farms as a learning laboratory for children to reconnect with nature. And in the Kalobeyei Settlement in northern Kenya, urban agriculture represents a tool for empowerment by improving food security, nutrition and self-sufficiency among refugees.
"Agriculture and forestry in the city… answer to a variety of urban development goals beyond the provision of green infrastructure and food, such as social inclusion, adaptation to climate change, poverty alleviation, urban water management, and opportunities for the productive reuse of urban waste," said Henk de Zeeuw, Senior Advisor at the RUAF Foundation.
And thankfully, there are hundreds of entrepreneurs and organizations using this opportunity to improve urban agriculture and satisfy the demands of an increasingly urban population. From high-tech indoor farms in France and Singapore to mobile apps connecting urban growers and eaters in India and the U.S., Food Tank highlights 16 initiatives using tech, entrepreneurship and social innovation to change urban agriculture.
1. AeroFarms, Newark (United States)
AeroFarms builds and operates vertical indoor farms to enable local production at scale and increase the availability of safe and nutritious food. The company uses aeroponics to grow leafy greens without sun or soil in a fully controlled environment. The technology enables year-round production while, they say, using 95 percent less water than field farming, resulting in yields 400 times higher per square foot annually. Since its foundation in 2004, AeroFarms aims to disrupt conventional food supply chains by building farms along major distribution routes and in urban areas. The company also won multiple awards, including the 2018 Global SDG Award, for its environmentally responsible practices and leadership in agriculture.
2. Agricool, Paris (France)
Agricool is a start-up that grows strawberries in containers spread throughout urban areas. The company retrofits old, unused containers to accommodate both an LED-lights and aeroponics system making it possible to grow strawberries year-round. The Cooltainers are powered by clean energy and use 90 percent less water than conventional farming. Agricool also works on building a network of urban farmers through the Cooltivators training program, aiming to open up job opportunities for city residents to work in the agricultural sector. The start-up now works on expanding operations to other cities, an effort made possible by the replicability of the container's design.
3. BIGH Farms, Brussels (Belgium)
BIGH (Building Integrated Greenhouses) Farms, a start-up based in Brussels, works on building a network of urban farms in Europe to promote the role urban agriculture can play in the circular economy. BIGH's designs integrate aquaponics with existing buildings to reduce a site's environmental impact. The first pilot — located above the historic Abattoir in Brussel's city center — includes a fish farm, a greenhouse and more than 2,000 square meters of outdoor vegetable gardens. They started in 2018 producing microgreens, herbs, tomatoes and striped bass. BIGH Farms also partners with local businesses and growers to make sure the farm's production is complementary to the existing food community.
4. Bites, Phoenix (United States)
Bites is a mobile platform working to help connect urban farmers, chefs and eaters in Phoenix through farm-to-table dining experiences. Eaters and chefs sign up and meet through the app to organize an in-home dining event. Chefs gather the ingredients from urban growers registered on the platform in an effort to promote local, small businesses. Bites was launched in 2017 by Roza Derfowsmakan, founder of Warehouse Apps, to improve accessibility to farm-to-table experiences and support urban farmers. By using technology to build culinary communities, Bites aims to change consumer choices from shipped-in, trucked-in produce to locally sourced food — involving people in the solution itself.
5. BitGrange, Multiple Locations (North America)
BitGrange is an urban farming tool and learning platform working to help educate children on food and agriculture. The BitGrange device, a hydroponics and Internet of Things-based system, produces edible plants with little water and energy. BitGrange's software evaluates environmental variables in real-time and notifies growers through a smartphone app to take necessary actions, such as adding more water or plant food. Founded in 2015 according to their philosophy, Plant-Connect-Sync-Play, BitGrange aims to inspire youth to engage in farming by gamifying agriculture. The nano-farm's design is available for download at BitGrange's website for potential growers to 3D print the device in their own location.
6. Bowery Farming, New York Metro Area (United States)
Bowery Farming, an indoor farming start-up, uses software and robotics to grow produce inside warehouses located in and around cities. By controlling every aspect of the growing process, the start-up is able to produce leafy greens and herbs using a minimal amount of water and energy per square foot. The technology also makes it possible to grow customized products for chefs and restaurants, such as softer kale and more peppery arugula. Since its establishment in 2017, Bowery Farming is now expanding operations beyond its warehouse in New Jersey to build vertical farms in other cities and, ultimately, bring efficient food production closer to consumers.
7. Farmizen, Bangalore, Hyderabad, and Surat (India)
Farmizen is a mobile-based platform renting farmland to city residents to grow locally grown, organic produce. The app allocates its users a 600 square foot mini-farm in a community nearby. Users can visit the farm anytime to grow and harvest chemical-free produce. Farmworkers look after the plots when the users return to the city, making a fixed and stable income — up to three times more than that of conventional farming. The app is live in Bangalore, Hyderabad and Surat with 1,500 subscribers and 40 acres of land under cultivation. Farmizen was founded in 2017 by entrepreneur Gitanjali Rajamani, driven by the need to create stable livelihoods for farmers and reconnect city-dwellers to agriculture and nature.
8. Fresh Direct, Abuja (Nigeria)
Fresh Direct is an impact-driven start-up using vertical farming and hydroponics to promote locally grown produce and the involvement of youth in agriculture. When young entrepreneur Angel Adelaja started engaging in eco-friendly farming, she faced multiple challenges with conventional farming practices, including access to land, water, and technology. As a response, Adelaja founded Fresh Direct in 2014 to make urban agriculture more accessible to everyone, especially youth. Fresh Direct installs stackable container farms in the city, growing organic produce closer to the market. In the future, Adelaja aims to eradicate the notion among young professionals that agriculture is a line of work for the older generations.
9. Gotham Greens, Multiple Locations (United States)
Gotham Greens builds and operates data-driven, climate-controlled greenhouses in cities across the U.S. The greenhouses, powered by wind and solar energy, use hydroponics to grow salad greens and herbs year-round using fewer resources than conventional farming. In addition to its goal of sustainable food production, Gotham Greens also partners with local organizations, schools, community gardens and businesses to support urban renewal and community development projects. Gotham Greens is also the company behind the country's first commercial rooftop greenhouse, a partnership with Whole Foods Market to operate the greenhouse located above their flagship store in Brooklyn, New York.
10. GrowUp Urban Farms, London (United Kingdom)
GrowUp Urban Farms works on developing commercial scale, Controlled Environment Production (CEP) solutions to grow fresh food in communities across London. The CEP farms use aquaponics to farm fish and grow leafy greens in a soil-less system, turning previously unused brownfield sites into productive areas. The GrowUp Box — a community farm developed together with sister organization GrowUp Community Farms — produces over 400kg of salads and 150kg of fish each year. Over the long run, the company aims to replicate the aquaponics system to build urban farms in other cities, opening employment opportunities for youth, and using agriculture as a means to make communities more self-sustaining.
11. InFarm, Multiple Locations (Europe)
InFarm, a Berlin-based start-up, develops modular indoor farming systems to bring agriculture into cities. Designed to combat the long distances food travels, the InFarms produce leafy greens and herbs using 95 percent less water than traditional farms and no pesticides. The technology, the company claims, can reduce food transportation up to 90 percent. In 2013, the company pioneered the modular system in restaurants, schools, hospitals and shopping centers. Operations have now expanded to distribute portable farms in neighborhoods and supermarkets across Germany, Denmark, France and Switzerland. The expansion, AgFunder reports, can be attributed to InFarm's decentralized, data-driven model.
12. Liv Up, São Paulo (Brazil)
Liv Up works to deliver healthy meals and snack kits prepared with locally grown food to residents of the Greater São Paulo region. The start-up sources organic ingredients from family farmers in peri-urban areas, in an effort to shorten value chains and better connect small producers to the urban market. A team of chefs and nutritionists prepares the meals, which are later deep frozen to maintain the food's integrity and extend its shelf life. Liv Up was founded in 2016 by a trio of young entrepreneurs driven by the lack of access to healthy foods in São Paulo. The start-up now operates in seven municipalities of the metropolitan area, rotating its menu every two weeks.
13. Pasona Urban Ranch, Tokyo (Japan)
Pasona Urban Ranch, an initiative of the Pasona Group, is a mix of office space and animal farm located in the heart of Tokyo's busy Ōtemachi district. The initiative aims to raise interest in agriculture and dairy farming among city residents by bringing them in close contact with farm animals. The ranch houses eight animal species, including cattle, goats and an alpaca, which are cared for by specialized staff. Visitors and employees of the building can attend seminars on dietary education and dairy farming. Previously, the Pasona Group gained worldwide acknowledgment for Pasona O2 — an underground office farm built by Kono Designs in 2010 growing 100 regional crops in downtown Tokyo.
14. RotterZwam, Rotterdam (The Netherlands)
RotterZwam, an urban mushroom farm, raises awareness on the potential of the circular economy for addressing environmental issues. The farm's closed-loop system works with used coffee grounds — collected from local businesses — to turn residual flows into food. The mushroom nursery, built out of old containers, uses solar paneling to power the farm's operations and the e-vehicles used for product delivery. The farm's team offers tours to educate citizens on circular systems and trains entrepreneurs wishing to start a mushroom farm. RotterZwam's second location in the Schiehaven area opened in mid-2019 thanks to a crowdfunding campaign to bring back the farm after a devastating fire in 2017.
15. Sustenir Agriculture (Singapore)
Sustenir Agriculture is a vertical farm working to promote high quality, locally grown, and safe food with the lowest possible footprint. The farm — located in the heart of Singapore — uses the latest technology in hydroponics and smart indoor farming to produce leafy greens, tomatoes, strawberries and fresh herbs. Starting as a basement project in 2012, Sustenir now produces 1 ton of kale and 3.2 tons of lettuce per month in an area of 54 square meters.
16. Urban Bees, London (United Kingdom)
Urban Bees is a social enterprise working with communities and businesses in London to help bees thrive in the city. Through education and training, the initiative raises awareness on how to create bee-friendly communities and on how to become responsible beekeepers. The first training apiary was established together with the Co-op Plan Bee in Battersea, South London. The enterprise also advises urban gardening initiatives, including Lush's rooftop garden, to ensure that green areas install the right forage and create healthy bee habitats. Co-founder Alison Benjamin said that city residents often suffer from nature-deficit disorder and urban beekeeping is one path to reconnect with nature in the city.
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- Cuba's Urban Farming Shows Way to Avoid Hunger - EcoWatch ›
By Paul Brown
When countries run short of food, they need to find solutions fast, and one answer can be urban farming.
That was the remedy Cuba seized with both hands 30 years ago when it was confronted with the dilemma of an end to its vital food imports. And what worked then for Cuba could have lessons today for the wider world, as it faces growing hunger in the face of the climate crisis.
When the Soviet Union collapsed in the 1990s, most of Cuba's food supplies went with it. To stave off severe malnutrition the people of the capital, Havana, found an imaginative answer: urban gardening. That's now seen as a possible blueprint for the survival of city populations in a warming world.
The Rapid Transition Alliance has published a longer account of Cuba's very fast move towards self-sufficiency as part of its series Stories of Change, which describes cases of large-scale, rapid transformation that can seem difficult to achieve but which have often worked before.
The problem of hunger for the Cubans arose because during the Cold War they had stopped producing food of their own and turned over most of their farmland to sugarcane plantations to supply the Soviet Union. In return for these mountains of sugar Moscow provided Cuba with food, chemical fertilizers and fuel oil for its cars and tractors.
The Soviet collapse brought the breakdown of this trade, and food rationing for city dwellers. And Cuba lost its main food supply while it was still coping with strict U.S. sanctions. Reverting to conventional farming would have taken time and was in any case difficult because the Soviet fertilizers, fuel and pesticides had also dried up.
So the highly-educated urban citizens, faced with rationing which reduced the average Cuban's daily calorie intake from 2,600 in 1986 to 1,000-1,500 in 1993, organized themselves to grow their own food in improvised urban allotments.
At first, struggling with little know-how and without fertilizers, their yields were low, but by producing compost and other organic growing mediums, plus introducing drip-fed irrigation, they began to see improvements.
Short of chemicals, the gardeners resorted to biological controls like marigolds (where opinions today are mixed) to deter harmful insects.
By 1995 Havana alone had 25,000 allotments tended by families and urban cooperatives. The government, realizing the potential benefits, encouraged the movement.
Soil quality was improved with a mixture of crop residues, household wastes and animal manure to create more compost and soil conditioners. The extra fresh vegetables and fruit this provided quickly improved urban dwellers' calorie intake and saved many from malnutrition.
In the Cuban climate, with irrigation changes and soils undergoing constant improvement from added organic matter, the allotments could produce vegetables all year round. Lettuce, chard, radish, beans, cucumber, tomatoes, spinach and peppers were grown and traded.
There is evidence as well that the extra exercise which these urban gardeners got from tending their allotments, plus the time they spent outdoors in the open air, benefited their health.
Eventually, realizing that self-sufficiency was the only way to feed the population, the government banned sugarcane growing altogether. Lacking fertilizer, many former plantations were turned over to organic agriculture. The shortage of oil for tractors meant oxen were used for ploughing.
Cuba's experience of urban agriculture inspired many environmentalists to believe that this is at least part of the solution to the food shortages threatened by climate change. By 2008 food gardens, despite their small scale, made up 8 percent of the land in Havana, and 3.4 percent of all urban land in Cuba, producing 90 percent of all the fruit and vegetables consumed.
As a result the calorie intake of the average Cuban quickly rose to match that of Europeans, relying on a diet composed mainly of rice, beans, potatoes and other vegetables — a low-fat diet making obesity rare.
Because of the climate, though, wheat does not grow well in Cuba, and the island still has to import large quantities of grain for bread. Meat is in short supply and also has to be mainly imported.
Despite this, Cuba's experience since the Cold War ended in the 1990s shows that large quantities of fresh food can be grown in cities and that urban agriculture is sustainable over decades.
For other countries vulnerable to sudden loss of food supplies, Cuba's experience suggests that urban farming can be one way of staving off potential famine when imports are restricted, expensive or simply unobtainable.
The Rapid Transition Alliance is coordinated by the New Weather Institute, the STEPS Centre at the Institute of Development Studies, and the School of Global Studies at the University of Sussex, UK. The Climate News Network is partnering with and supported by the Rapid Transition Alliance, and will be reporting regularly on its work. If you would like to see more stories of evidence-based hope for rapid transition, please sign up here.
Do you know a story of rapid transition? If so, we'd like to hear from you. Please send us a brief outline on [email protected] Thank you.
Reposted with permission from Climate News Network.
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Carrie Golden believes the only reason she's diabetes free is because she has access to fresh, locally grown food.
A few years after the Boston resident was diagnosed with prediabetes, she was referred to Boston Medical Center's Preventative Food Pantry as someone who is food insecure. The food pantry is a free food resource for low-income patients.
"You become diabetic because when you don't have good food to eat, you eat whatever you can to survive," Golden says. "Because of the healthy food I get from the pantry… I've learned how to eat."
Three years ago, the hospital launched a rooftop farm to grow fresh produce for the pantry. The farm has produced 6,000 pounds of food a year, with 3,500 pounds slated for the pantry. The rest of its produce goes to the hospital's cafeteria, patients, a teaching kitchen and an in-house portable farmers market.
The hospital joined a handful of medical facilities across the country that have started growing food on their roofs. The initiative is the first hospital-based farm in Massachusetts and the largest rooftop farm in Boston. The facility's 2,658-square-foot garden houses more than 25 crops, organically grown in a milk crate system.
"Food is medicine. That's why we're doing what we're doing," says David Maffeo, the hospital's senior director of support services. "Most urban environments are food deserts. It's hard to get locally grown food and I think it's something that we owe to our patients and our community."
Lindsay Allen, a farmer who has been managing the rooftop oasis since its inception, says her farm's produce is being used for preventative care as well as in reactive care. She says 72 percent of the hospital's patients are considered underserved, and likely don't have access to healthy, local organic food.
What people put in their bodies has a direct link to their health she says, adding that hospitals have a responsibility to give their patients better food.
"I generally feel that hospital food is pretty terrible and gross, which I always find ironic since that's where we are sick and at our most vulnerable and we need to be nourished," she says.
In addition to running the farm, Allen teaches a number of farming workshops to educate patients, employees and their families on how to grow their own food. The hospital's teaching kitchen employs a number of food technicians and dieticians who offer their expertise to patients on how they can make meals with the local produce they're given.
This is part of the medical center's objective to not only give patients good food, but also provide them the tools to lead a healthy life.
Golden, who has used the pantry for the last three years, says the experience has changed the way she looks at food.
"I've gone many days with nothing to eat, so I know what that feels like when you get something like the food pantry that gives you what you need to stay healthy," she says. "I appreciate all the people that put their heart into working in the garden. If only they knew how we really need them."
Reposted with permission from our media associate Modern Farmer.
By Lindsay Campbell
In 2015, Madeleine Maltby began knocking on neighborhood doors in Canada's capital city, Ottawa, with a simple proposal. In exchange for a backyard, the residents would let her grow a garden full of crops with a percentage they could enjoy.
"It was kind of like let's see where this goes and I just really wanted to grow some vegetables," she said.
The approach allowed her to acquire four separate yards in the Ottawa area.
"I would talk to the homeowners about what the parameters would be and I always asked them what their favorite vegetables are and what would work," she said.
By her side was Matthew Mason-Phillips, her partner, who she says helped her turn over her first urban garden. A year after the initial door knocking in 2016, Mason-Phillips decided he would formally join Maltby in her quest to grow food in Canada's capital city. "It felt natural to dive in," said Mason-Phillips, "especially being a naively optimistic, idealist."
Within four years the project evolved into Backyard Edibles, a popular local supplier of vegetables, microgreens and edible flowers.
The pair doubled their backyard donors from their first year, and had 20-25 members from the Community Supported Agriculture (CSA), a Canadian program that allows consumers to buy a share of grown goods from farms of their choice.
"The amount of support and demand for what we were doing in the beginning was overwhelming," said Mason-Phillips. "People were offering up their balconies, the space in their flower gardens … They were offering space from Montreal to Kingston, so that was pretty cool."
While their business took off, attracting a strong consumer base with an appetite to eat local, Maltby and Mason-Phillips had to think about how they might make a profit during the cold Canadian winters.
"The off-season was the elephant in the room," said Mason-Phillips.
After some brainstorming and experimenting with plant varieties, the two rented a warehouse in the city's downtown core where they started to grow microgreens in 2017. "It allows us to become a year-round business and to have a year-round income." said Maltby. The operation has become the backbone of their business with more than 50 local restaurants sourcing their microgreens.
Although the pair has had to scale back their number of yard donors in order to stay on top of their microgreens venture, they've still managed to maintain a piece of their original vision.
One borrowed yard full of edible flowers remains in use where its contents are sold to loyal customers. With about four years of operations behind them, Maltby said it's often difficult for her to take in what her and Mason-Phillips have been able to accomplish, but she's proud of what they've done so far.
Reposted with permission from our media associate Modern Farmer.
By Mónica R. Goya
Agricool is a Parisian urban agriculture tech start-up that recently raised $28 million to scale its business: growing strawberries in reclaimed shipping containers in central Paris using vertical farming methods. Since the plants are cultivated using aeroponics — that is, by spraying a mist of water and nutrients on the plants' exposed roots (as opposed to the plants growing in soil) — their process uses 90 percent less water than conventional agriculture. Pesticides aren't needed because they grow in a controlled environment, and their carbon footprint is almost nonexistent because the transportation radius is less than 20 kilometers. Additionally, they claim to be 120 times more productive than traditional, soil-based agriculture, and their LED lights are powered by renewable energy.
In terms of humidity, air quality and light, Agricool has created the perfect environment by growing strawberries in customized, reclaimed shipping containers. Every year, seven tons of strawberries are produced in each container. According to Agricool, these containers can yield 120 times as much as a field.
Mónica R. Goya
Founded in 2015 by Gonzague Gru and Guillaume Fourdinier — two friends who grew up on farms in the French countryside — Agricool's principles are based on sustainability without compromising profitability. Furthermore, their business model can be imitated anywhere. Proof of their scalability is that they operate a strawberry container in Dubai. With their latest round of investments, they are planning to add about 100 containers to their current fleet by 2021.
The final design of each shipping container looks modern, with its external shell covered by a wooden panel. One of the reasons why the company uses reclaimed containers is because they are weatherproof.
Mónica R. Goya
Vertical farming makes the most of available space. Also, the company designs and produces its own LED lights, which are tailored specifically to its needs.
Mónica R. Goya
When the right time comes, colonies of bumblebees are brought into the shipping containers for pollination.
Mónica R. Goya
Their strawberries can be purchased at Monoprix supermarkets, as well as La Grande Epicerie de Paris, one of the city's most exclusive food halls.
Lab tests are conducted to assess the sugar levels and nutrients of the fruit. According to Agricool's own lab tests and external tests, their strawberries contain 30 percent more vitamins and 20 percent more sugar than conventional ones.
Mónica R. Goya
Remy Faury is an engineer who works on the research and development team at Agricool. The company's R&D team makes up 70 percent of the company.
Mónica R. Goya
Maria Foncillas is a "cooltivatrice" or an urban farmer, at Agricool.
Mónica R. Goya
At Agricool, several varieties of strawberries are grown throughout the year. These ones, in particular, belong to the Magnum variety. The growing cycle of the fruit is two months from seed to harvest.
Mónica R. Goya
Reposted with permission from our media associate Modern Farmer.
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By Miguel Altieri
During the partial federal shutdown in December 2018 and January 2019, news reports showed furloughed government workers standing in line for donated meals. These images were reminders that for an estimated one out of eight Americans, food insecurity is a near-term risk.
In California, where I teach, 80 percent of the population lives in cities. Feeding the cities of the nine-county San Francisco Bay Area, with a total population of some 7 million involves importing 2.5 to 3 million tons of food per day over an average distance of 500 to 1,000 miles.
This system requires enormous amounts of energy and generates significant greenhouse gas emissions. It also is extremely vulnerable to large-scale disruptions, such as major earthquakes.
And the food it delivers fails to reach 1 of every 8 people in the region who live under the poverty line—mostly senior citizens, children and minorities. Access to quality food is limited both by poverty and the fact that on average, California's low-income communities have 32.7 percent fewer supermarkets than high-income areas within the same cities.
Many organizations see urban agriculture as a way to enhance food security. It also offers environmental, health and social benefits. Although the full potential of urban agriculture is still to be determined, based on my own research I believe that raising fresh fruits, vegetables and some animal products near consumers in urban areas can improve local food security and nutrition, especially for underserved communities.
The line still stretched around the block tonight at the #ChefsForFeds kitchen — 11,400 hot meals were served today… https://t.co/ENHGWNyNVY— WorldCentralKitchen (@WorldCentralKitchen)1548302969.0
The Growth of Urban Agriculture
Urban farming has grown by more than 30 percent in the U.S. in the past 30 years. Although it has been estimated that urban agriculture can meet 15 to 20 percent of global food demand, it remains to be seen what level of food self-sufficiency it can realistically ensure for cities.
One recent survey found that 51 countries do not have enough urban area to meet a recommended nutritional target of 300 grams per person per day of fresh vegetables. Moreover, it estimated, urban agriculture would require 30 percent of the total urban area of those countries to meet global demand for vegetables. Land tenure issues and urban sprawl could make it hard to free up this much land for food production.
Other studies suggest that urban agriculture could help cities achieve self-sufficiency. For example, researchers have calculated that Cleveland, with a population of 400,000, has the potential to meet 100 percent of its urban dwellers' fresh vegetable needs, 50 percent of their poultry and egg requirements and 100 percent of their demand for honey.
Can Oakland's Urban Farmers Learn From Cuba?
Although urban agriculture has promise, a small proportion of the food produced in cities is consumed by food-insecure, low-income communities. Many of the most vulnerable people have little access to land and lack the skills needed to design and tend productive gardens.
Cities such as Oakland, with neighborhoods that have been identified as "food deserts," can lie within a half-hour drive of vast stretches of productive agricultural land. But very little of the twenty million tons of food produced annually within 100 miles of Oakland reaches poor people.
Paradoxically, Oakland has 1,200 acres of undeveloped open space—mostly public parcels of arable land—which, if used for urban agriculture, could produce 5 to 10 percent of the city's vegetable needs. This potential yield could be dramatically enhanced if, for example, local urban farmers were trained to use well-tested agroecological methods that are widely applied in Cuba to cultivate diverse vegetables, roots, tubers and herbs in relatively small spaces.
In Cuba, more than 300,000 urban farms and gardens produce about 50 percent of the island's fresh produce supply, along with 39,000 tons of meat and 216 million eggs. Most Cuban urban farmers reach yields of 44 pounds (20 kilograms) per square meter per year.
An organic farm in Havana, Cuba, that produces outputs averaging 20 kilograms (44 pounds) per square meter per year without agrochemical inputs.Miguel Altieri / CC BY-ND
If trained Oakland farmers could achieve just half of Cuban yields, 1,200 acres of land would produce 40 million kilograms of vegetables—enough to provide 100 kilograms per year per person to more than 90 percent of Oakland residents.
To see whether this was possible, my research team at the University of California at Berkeley established a diversified garden slightly larger than 1,000 square feet. It contained a total of 492 plants belonging to 10 crop species, grown in a mixed polycultural design.
In a three-month period, we were able to produce yields that were close to our desired annual level by using practices that improved soil health and biological pest control. They included rotations with green manures that are plowed under to benefit the soil; heavy applications of compost; and synergistic combinations of crop plants in various intercropping arrangements known to reduce insect pests.
Research plots in Berkeley, Calif., testing agroecological management practices such as intercropping, mulching and green composting. Miguel Altieri / CC BY-ND
Overcoming Barriers to Urban Agriculture
Achieving such yields in a test garden does not mean they are feasible for urban farmers in the Bay Area. Most urban farmers in California lack ecological horticultural skills. They do not always optimize crop density or diversity, and the University of California's extension program lacks the capacity to provide agroecological training.
The biggest challenge is access to land. University of California researchers estimate that more than 79 percent of the state's urban farmers do not own the property that they farm. Another issue is that water is frequently unaffordable. Cities could address this by providing water at discount rates for urban farmers, with a requirement that they use efficient irrigation practices.
THE TRUTH ABOUT URBAN FARMING youtu.be
In the Bay Area and elsewhere, most obstacles to scaling up urban agriculture are political, not technical. In 2014 California enacted AB511, which set out mechanisms for cities to establish
urban agriculture incentive zones, but did not address land access.
One solution would be for cities to make vacant and unused public land available for urban farming under low-fee multiyear leases. Or they could follow the example of Rosario, Argentina, where 1,800 residents practice horticulture on about 175 acres of land. Some of this land is private, but property owners receive tax breaks for making it available for agriculture.
In my view, the ideal strategy would be to pursue land reform similar to that practiced in Cuba, where the government provides 32 acres to each farmer, within a few miles around major cities to anyone interested in producing food. Between 10 and 20 percent of their harvest is donated to social service organizations such as schools, hospitals and senior centers.
Similarly, Bay Area urban farmers might be required to provide donate a share of their output to the region's growing homeless population, and allowed to sell the rest. The government could help to establish a system that would enable gardeners to directly market their produce to the public.
Cities have limited ability to deal with food issues within their boundaries, and many problems associated with food systems require action at the national and international level. However, city governments, local universities and nongovernment organizations can do a lot to strengthen food systems, including creating agroecological training programs and policies for land and water access. The first step is increasing public awareness of how urban farming can benefit modern cities.
Reposted with permission from our media associate The Conversation.
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By Lisa Waterman Gray
On a cool September morning, Dre Taylor dodged raindrops while talking with several people tending beans, peppers, tomatillos, collards and more outside of a 4,500-square-foot building. This is Nile Valley Aquaponics, a vibrant fixture in Kansas City, Missouri's urban core. The name came from Egypt where people cultivated plants and fish thousands of years ago. Goats and picnic tables share outdoor space and offices occupy a nearby house.
Last summer (2018), Nile Valley Aquaponics grew dozens of fruits, vegetables and herbs, from tomatoes and squash to basil and sage, kale and Swiss chard. Its 100,000 Pound Food Project seeks to produce 100,000 pounds of local fresh fish, vegetables and herbs, creating greater access to healthy food choices, while providing volunteer opportunities and economic stability in the area. Health education is also important. Several October classes will address growing mushrooms, building a greenhouse for less than US$500, and building a personal aquaponics system.
Nile Valley Aquaponics' 100,000 Pound Food Project seeks to produce 100,000 pounds of local fresh fish, vegetables and herbs, creating greater access to healthy food choices.Lisa Waterman Gray
The organization operates under the 501c3 M2M (Males to Men) Community Foundation mentorship program, which Taylor launched in 2013. He also founded the Kansas City Urban Farm Co-Op whose Fruit Orchard opens on Sept. 29 in Swope Park.
Taylor's interest in aquaponics began following a Will Allen workshop by former professional basketball player and founder of Milwaukee-based Growing Power Backyard Aquaponics (the nonprofit has closed). After creating a personal aquaponics system and a 2013 visit to Growing Power Backyard Aquaponics, Taylor's dream expanded. Once he had a 378-liter (100-gallon) fish tank operating, Taylor began talking to potential funders.
Construction began in October 2015 on two vacant lots donated by long time residents and community leaders Harrel Sr. and Myrtle Johnson. Three conjoining vacant lots were also purchased from the Land Bank of Kansas City. Taylor and volunteers removed 18 trees, which became tables, benches and a desk.
By March 2017, these previously distressed vacant lots had become a welcome urban oasis. "Our goal is to grow all fish food here, by January 2019," Taylor said. "About 800 people have worked on this project. Everybody loves it and we have a lot of community support. We're building a community based on food. Kids involved during the summer received stipends funded through grant money."
Nile Valley's facilities are welcome urban oases for the community.Lisa Waterman Gray
Modern-day aquaponics facilities operate from Myanmar to Peru. Aquaponics critics fear energy consumed by these indoor farms may negate potential climate benefits and Taylor admits his monthly electric bill can top US$1,000.
But these operations typically use less water than traditional farms do. Aquaponics farmers re-circulate water while housing more fish in smaller spaces. With plants included in 'the loop' the land and water needs decrease. In Half Moon Bay, California, Ouroboros Farms circulated the same 227,125 liters (60,000 gallons) of water for a year.
Organic certification has been another sticking point. However, late last year, the National Organic Standards Board rejected a proposal prohibiting hydroponic and aquaponic farms from organic certification. Nile Valley Aquaponics isn't currently certified.
Taylor has patents pending on his state-of-the-art system. Today, approximately 30,000 tilapia thrive here, while three six-foot-deep troughs feed and water 5660-square-meters (20,000-square-feet) of indoor 'farmland' on four levels.
Taylor also created an organic pesticide liquid that should be available for sale next year. Every week three hundred pounds of coffee chaff from a coffee roaster, plus water, create 'feed' for more than a million Black Soldier Flies that eat it while breeding. This yields one ton of waste per month, making compost and releasing a natural pesticide liquid that is mixed with water before application to plants.
In 2019, a major expansion will unfold. Designed by St. Louis-based HOK (a global design, architecture, engineering and planning firm), it will incorporate two additional greenhouses, raised garden beds, a chicken coop and beehives. Sustainable materials, a wind turbine and rainwater cisterns will enhance the site, where neighbors will find community gathering and event spaces too.
"The new facility will be a sleek, new urban [agriculture] design that can be used in a mixed-use area—from neighborhoods to new developments," Taylor said. "Nile Valley is a game changer, bringing healthy food, community, education, and economic development to an underserved community."
By Steve Edgerton
The turfgrass found in lawns, parks, and schoolyards represents the single largest irrigated crop in the U.S. Across the country, turf guzzles up 34 billion liters (nine billion gallons) of water per day, demanding 31 million kilograms (70 million pounds) of pesticides and 757 million liters (200 gallons) of gasoline annually.
Edible landscaping represents a different take on how to design and interact with yards and urban green spaces. With an emphasis on native perennials and food-producing plants, edible landscapes can be a great way to create green space and provide healthy, fresh food.
Replacing just a fraction of traditional lawn with edible landscapes designed around locally appropriate plants would have numerous benefits. Edible landscapes often require little or no additional irrigation or fertilizer, can increase food production potential in cities, and can be a boon to pollinators and ecological diversity. To celebrate and explore these benefits, Food Tank is featuring 15 organizations from around the world working to create edible landscapes.
1. Backyard Abundance
Backyard Abundance is a non-profit based in Johnson County, Iowa, focusing on both the design and educational aspect of edible landscaping. Founded in 2006, Backyard Abundance prioritizes the importance of residents taking a role in the transformations of landscapes as a way to find harmony with the natural world, connect with the elements of food production, and to feel empowered by the fact that individual decisions and actions can positively influence seemingly overwhelming environmental problems.
2. Ecologia Design
Michael Judd founded Ecologia Design following years of experience implementing whole systems design and functional landscapes in Mexico and Nicaragua, in addition to studying modern landscape design principles at the New York Botanical Garden. Ecologia represents a melding of aesthetics and functionality, designing beautiful landscapes with an emphasis on food production and working in line with local cultures and ecologies.
3. Edible Estates
Edible Estates is an initiative that began in Salinas, Kansas in 2006. Its goal is to create "prototype" gardens in cities around the world, with 16 already complete. Designed with its specific bioregion in mind, each garden takes into account local geography, culture, history, and the current needs of the communities. The emphasis is on productive, edible landscapes, and each design involves partnerships with local art institutions and horticultural or community gardening groups. Edible Estates strives to inspire others to look at underutilized or misappropriated green spaces in a new light, highlighting new contexts for food production and connections to the natural environment.
4. Edible Landscapes London
Edible Landscapes London is a nonprofit that specializes in food forests; a production system that combines fruiting shrubs, trees, and herbs, with each plant playing a complementary role that contributes to the health of the whole system and maximizes productivity. They developed the first ever accredited forest gardening course in the UK, and are a leading figure in creating edible, biodiverse landscapes in London.
5. Edible Landscape Project
Born from a community event in 2012, the Edible Landscape Project (ELP) sought to transform the Great Western Greenway in County Mayo, Ireland, into an edible landscape. The ELP is now a globally recognized social enterprise, focusing on forest gardening to contribute to ecosystem health and food security throughout Ireland. They are also active in mental health advocacy, and the positive role that growing food and connecting with nature can play in cultivating healthier mental landscapes.
Foodswell is a non-profit taking on the issue of food insecurity in Australia. Their research projects often emphasize the design and community development components of food access in remote and indigenous settlements throughout the country. Foodswell implements edible landscape designs along with other novel food growing strategies that are most appropriate for the specific community, with greater access to affordable, healthy food being their guiding directive.
7. Home Harvest LLC.
HomeHarvest creates edible landscapes in the Boston area. Ben Barkan founded Home Harvest, taking his experience on 35 organic farms around the world and applying it to the urban environment, where he aspires to create regenerative ecosystems and connect people more directly to their food. HomeHarvest also has a nonprofit branch, focusing primarily on planting fruit trees as a food source for communities in need, while also teaching residents how to maintain and utilize them.
8. Incredible Edible Network
Started by a group of citizens in the small town of Todmorden in Northern England, the Incredible Edible Network set out to inspire positive community change through food, by redesigning green space into edible landscapes, building community gardens, providing training, and supporting local commerce to strengthen local food systems and community resiliency. Their small start caught on in a big way, and the network now encompasses over 100 UK towns, along with towns in Canada and New Zealand.
9. Maya Mountain Research Farm
Taking its name from the Belize Mountains that it calls home, the Maya Mountain Research Farm is a non-governmental organization and working demonstration farm. The farm primarily focuses on cultivating a productive and biodiverse tropical food forest, replicating the ecological services of native forests to sequester carbon, conserve habitat, and fight against erosion, all while boosting local food security by incorporating more edible plants into the landscape.
10. Pha Tad Ke Botanical Garden
Pha Tad Ke Botanical Garden is a regional research center in Luang Prabang, Laos. The garden brings a snapshot of the region's impressive biodiversity into the heart of the country's largest and most popular city. They leverage this visibility by creating educational programs and acting as a tourist destination to promote the incorporation of edible and local plants into urban environments and to build awareness around local environmental preservation initiatives.
11. Philadelphia Orchard Project
Working in low-income neighborhoods often characterized as food deserts, the Philadelphia Orchard Project plants orchards filled with a variety of edible plants in vacant lots, community gardens, and school parks. They work in conjunction with organizations in the community to design and implement the orchards, and train residents to care for the plants, offering accessible and affordable options for fresh produce where there often are none.
12. Sadhana Forest
Sadhana Forest is a nonprofit operating in Haiti, India, and Kenya. Their projects involve the reforestation of severely eroded landscapes with food-bearing trees, building local food security while simultaneously remediating valuable land. Founded in 2003, Sadhana Forest has already planted hundreds of thousands of food-producing trees, with many more to come.
13. Sustainable Landscaping Initiative Vancouver
Sustainable Landscaping Initiative Vancouver is a nonprofit based in Vancouver, Canada. Their mandate is to drive an industry-wide greening in the world of landscaping. This would include a shift towards native plants, edible gardens, eliminating toxic chemicals, increasing water efficiencies, zero-emissions machinery, and whole systems design inspired by local ecosystems. They provide a variety of resources to assist landscaping organizations in a green transition and to become eligible for several eco-landscaping accreditation programs.
14. Trees That Feed Foundation
Created by Mike and Mary Mclaughlin and Paul Virtue in 2008, the Trees That Feed Foundation (TTFF) promotes the integration of tree crops into the landscapes of developing countries. The benefits of food-producing trees are many, and include reducing community dependence on fertilizer, water, and other inputs for food crops, while also sequestering carbon and strengthening local ecosystems. TTFF successfully runs projects in 11 countries throughout the Caribbean and Africa. Their programs include supplying local organizations with trees and providing training in tree care to ensure the long-term sustainability and benefits of their projects.
Wayward is a landscape, art and architecture firm from London, England. Many of their projects take a creative approach to implemented food growing into underutilized urban landscapes. Often repurposing salvaged plants and local building materials, their installations offer mind-bending and inspiring takes on incorporating edible spaces into contemporary art and architecture installations.
By Brian Barth
Urban soils are particularly prone to contamination. Fifty years ago, your yard could have belonged to a farmer, who, perhaps not knowing any better, disposed of old bottles of anti-freeze or contaminated diesel in a hole out behind the tractor garage. Or perhaps the remains of a fallen down outbuilding, long ago coated in lead-based paint, was buried on your property buy a lazy contractor when your subdivision was built.
For those wanting to garden on non-residential urban property—school yards, church grounds, parks, commercial areas, vacant lots—the likelihood of contamination is even higher. There is no telling what sort of past activities took place there, all visible signs of which have disappeared. Prior the 1970s, environmental rules were very lax, and it was not uncommon for all sorts of hazardous chemicals to be dumped at any location where they were used. Many such chemicals persist in the soil for decades, if not longer.
The good news is that if the property was redeveloped (any significant new construction, demolition or change of use) since environmental laws tightened, it would have had to go through a strict assessment to determine if contamination was present. If anything unacceptable was found, the owner would have been forced to remediate the soil before starting construction. However, if the property has remained more or less as-is since the 1970s (or earlier), it is unlikely that anyone has ever investigated what might be lurking in the soil.
What Are the Dangers of Contaminated Soil?
Anyone working in close contact with contaminated soil, as gardeners do, is at risk of chemical exposure through skin absorption, as well as through inhalation of soil particles. Plants absorb chemicals from the soil—and not just in their roots, but in their shoots, leaves, fruits and seeds, too—passing on the toxicity to people who eat the produce.
Depending on the contaminant, low level exposures may result in nausea, dizziness, fatigue, headaches and rashes; exposure at higher levels can result in neurological conditions, reproductive disorders, birth defects and an increase risk of cancer.
Children, pregnant women, the elderly and anyone with compromised health are especially vulnerable. Gardens are a wonderful opportunity for kids of all ages to learn and play, but small children are prone to sucking on dirty fingers, or even consuming soil directly, which poses a much more acute health risk than simply touching contaminated soil or even eating produce grown in it.
Common Urban Soil Contaminants
Lead is by far the most common urban soil contaminant in residential areas, largely because most exterior paint contained lead before it was outlawed in 1978. If the paint on an old house, barn or pile of scrap lumber was left to disintegrate, the adjacent soil will be full of little paint flakes, creating a health risk. Lead doesn't leach through the soil very far from its point of origin, so if you think painted surfaces on your property may contain paint of that age, one simple solution is to avoid growing food, or any doing any sort of digging, within 10 feet of the surface.
Arsenic is also common residential areas, as it was the predominant type of wood preservative from the mid-1900s until 2004, when it was outlawed. Any "pressure treated wood" from that time period likely contains arsenic. Like lead, arsenic doesn't travel far from its point of origin, though one never knows where there might have been a wooden structure that is no longer standing. Arsenic, as well as copper, have long been used for various agricultural applications, so they may also be present in areas that were previously farmed—which most urban areas were at some point.
A variety of other heavy metals, as well as industrial chemicals like PCBs and PAHs, are occasionally found in urban areas, though not usually in residential areas. Wherever past industrial uses are suspected, however, these substances should be tested for as well.
How to Test for Contaminated Soil
Fortunately, it's fairly easy to test soil for toxicity, especially common culprits like lead and arsenic. Many public universities offer mail-in soil testing services, as do private companies. These labs usually also test for nutrients and organic matter, which is also good information to have.
Testing for heavy metals typically incurs a small additional fee, though the total is typically less than $100, even at a private facility. Here is a list of soil labs, including several that offer heavy metal tests. The lab will provide instructions on how to collect soil samples properly, though you can check out Modern Farmer's soil testing guide.
Note: Many municipalities may require more in-depth testing for for school and community gardens, and urban farms. This usually requires the help of an environmental engineer, who will first do an historical assessment of the property to determine the likelihood that contaminants are present based on past uses. If there is reason to believe the site is at risk, the expert will conduct a thorough soil analysis and recommend steps for remediation.
Interpreting Soil Test Results
For heavy metal tests, the lab will typically help you interpret the results. There are no national regulations that restrict urban food production based on soil contamination, though the EPA and many local government agencies have established guidelines, especially for lead. The EPA considers lead to be a hazard for food gardens at levels above 400 parts per million. At levels between 100 and 400 parts per million, the EPA still suggests taking precautions to minimize exposure. The State of California has published guidelines that recommend taking precautions at levels down to 80 parts per million.
What to Do if Your Soil Is Contaminated
If contaminants are identified only in certain areas of the site, one option is to simply avoid gardening in those areas and plant grass or ornamental species that are not intended for consumption. Where low levels of contamination are detected, such as lead between 80 and 400 parts per million, the EPA recommends tilling deeply and mixing large quantities of compost with the soil to dilute the level of contamination, and to avoid planting crops where the root or foliage are consumed. Fruits and seeds do not accumulate heavy metals as readily, so vegetables like tomatoes, eggplants and cucumbers, along with fruit trees and berry bushes, are less of a risk.
Where more acute toxicity is present, one option is to hire a professional to safely remove the contaminated soil and replace it with clean soil. This is very costly, however. The less expensive and often more practical option is to build raised beds for planting food crops. In this case, lay a sheet landscape fabric (also known as weed cloth), on the bottom of the bed before adding topsoil. The fabric is designed to let moisture through, but prevents the roots from contacting the contaminated soil below.
Reposted with permission from our media associate Modern Farmer.