Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Urban Farms: Lessons from America

If, as many believe, part of the response to the current ecologiocal crisis lies in locally sourced food, then growing food in and around cities has to feature as part of that solution.

The following examples from the US introduce and illustrate some of the opportunities, challenges and issues associated with growing food on any scale in modern cities:

  • In Detroit, the city council has agreed a deal with Hantz Farms to re-use up to 70 acres of the lower east side to create the world's largest urban farm. The move is designed "to help meet Michigan's increasing demand for locally grown produce" in a city whose population has declined by over 100,000 since 1990. The farm will be privately owned. Hantz aims to take on up to 5,000 acres of the city in due course.
  • Vertical Farms are an idea whose time has come, according to Columbia University Professor Dickson Despommier. The images of these as-yet-unbuilt farms are certainly beautiful. The reality is that no-one has actually yet built one though Despommier has suggested a cost of $20-30 Million to build a five-story prototype in New York City.
  • Red Hook Community Farm in New York City is run as non-profit project and engages hundreds of children and young people in producing locally grown fresh food. Viewed as a model by many.
  • Levels of lead and other metals present in urban soil carry the risk of significant health dangers if they enter the food chain. Some anecdotal evidence from Chicago and Houston here.
  • The office of the mayor of New York City is proposing a tax-free initiative to encourage 1,000 mobile food vendors to sell fresh fruit and vegetables in areas of the city where they are often difficult to find - so called "food deserts." The move is causing some concern among small corner store owners in poorer parts of the city who fear loss of trade.

Post script: came across this interesting post about Detroit's possible transition to a post-growth city.

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