As Tom Philpott explains in his introductory essay to this series, cities for centuries have played an integral part in producing food for their residents. Only recently did cars and trains replace horses — and garden-friendly horse poop — a switch that made possible the long-distance supply chain of big-farms-to-big-supermarkets that’s the foundation of the modern American urban food system.
Thanks to a confluence of pressures — rising fuel prices, a nostalgic desire to reconnect with our food sources, a new awareness of the environmental and moral costs of industrial agriculture — that model is losing ground. Not since the Victory Garden movement of World War II has America seen such an explosion of urban food-growing. Cities are once again green with lettuce and alive with the cackling of chickens.
Over the next few weeks and beyond, the Feeding the City series will explore the many alternative food systems taking root in major cities around the country, with profiles of New Orleans, Baltimore, Detroit, Oakland, Philadelphia, and Seattle. You’ll meet agtivists such as Annie Novak, who’s farming a rooftop in Brooklyn (above), and Gene Fredericks, who’s got a wildly ambitious plan for abandoned big-box retail stores in blighted urban neighborhoods. We’ll show you painless ways to compost, even if you live in a studio apartment, and some of the ingenious places that urbanites have found to grow food.
Feeding our cities requires more than urban farming, however. Stephanie Paige Ogburn will look at the thorny issue of “food justice,” or making sure low-income neighborhoods have access to healthy fresh food. Emily Gertz checks out the nouvelle food trucks — such as Let’s Be Frank, People’s Pops, and Primo’s Parilla — that are serving up Slow Food-esque fast food to middle-class, but budget-conscious hipsters.
And that’s not all. Public Produce author Darrin Nordahl takes you on a tour of towns that are growing food, not flowers, around public buildings; Kerry Trueman spotlights cities that are leading the way in agriculture-friendly policies; and Daniel Nairn explores the limits of “agricultural urbanism,” a city-planning model that evangelists believe is key to the livable cities of the future.
Even with the best agricultural policies in place, no U.S. city is capable of supplying more than a fraction of the food it needs. “Not even the most committed Brooklyn market gardener dreams of supplying the metropolis with flour from wheat grown on French-intensive plots,” Philpott writes in the introduction. “Growing grain in the city makes no sense, and no one wants to see cows grazing on Central Park’s Great Lawn. Any realistic vision of ‘green cities’ sees them as consumption hubs within larger regional foodsheds.”
As the many pieces in this Feeding the Cities series will illustrate, that still leaves a lot of room in which to grow — and plenty of projects to be inspired by.
Stories in this series:
From her rooftop perch at Eagle Street Farm, urban farmer Annie Novak is on a mission to inspire New Yorkers to grow, cook, and eat good food. She shares what motivates her and what advice she offers for potential farmers in Grist's "Feeding the City" series.
Civic-minded local government officials from Baltimore, Md., to Bainbridge Island, Wash. are ripping out camellias and planting chard that's free for the taking instead, reports Public Produce author Darrin Nordahl. Dig into the next installment of our ongoing series on urban agriculture, "Feeding the City."
Urban farms around America are breaking through concrete and hitting sustainable paydirt [SLIDESHOW]
From mid-May through July, Grist readers followed along as the Breaking through Concrete guys hit the highway to visit a couple dozen urban farms across America. Here, they sum up their trip and share some of Michael Hanson's most indelible images from it for Grist's special series, Feeding the City.
Forget "Homicide" and "The Wire." In some Baltimore circles, there's now a lot more talk of sustainability and green living than of the murder rate, and ambitious plans for workforce training and job opportunities are under way -- on places like Great Kids Farm and Real Food Farm.
New Orleans has the sense of a wild laboratory, with free-wheeling discussions about food security and plenty of action. It's partly because of Katrina's ruin, but it's also just part of the culture, reports David Hanson for Feeding the City.
If you're going to all the trouble to eat locally grown, organic vegetables, it's a shame to truck their remains away to landfill prison when you could be feeding them back to the earth. So why aren't you composting yet?
Seattle's urban ag scene is flourishing, with innovative startup farms and organizations putting down roots alongside established ones. And with new legislation just passed Aug. 16, they will have even more room and resources with which to grow.
Five average Detroit households could subsist on one profligate Austinite's food budget. Check out an infographic showing which cities spend the most and least on food.
The Bay Area's Primo's Parilla and Let's Be Frank, along with People's Pops of New York, are making tasty, mid-priced food from quality ingredients.
Across the U.S., cities are buckling up their green belts and introducing legislation to foster local-food production of everything from cucumbers to yellow limes, reports Kerry Trueman for Grist's Feeding the City series. Because nobody wants to get caught with their pantry down?
They're the bane of urban and suburban areas alike: the vacant, boarded-up K-Marts and Home Depot Expos. But where most people see blight and a waste of space, San Francisco Bay Area entrepreneur Gene Fredericks sees opportunity: to grow food. Lots of food. Fredericks' latest venture, Big Green Boxes, offers a new, high-tech, sustainable approach to Feeding the City.
Food has emerged as the key motivating force of Detroiters' efforts to re-imagine their town as a thriving, livable place. Here are three representatives of the spirit driving the 21st-century version of the Motor City.
There’s a new kind of farmer in town. Colin McCrate is using his agricultural know-how to convert sprawling urban yards into edible bounty.
Philly's homegrown ag movement isn't just about getting more local produce into farmers markets. It's focused on farming as a source of jobs and skills for city residents as well as a means to provide them affordable, healthy food.
Getting fresh, healthy food into low-income urban areas known as "food deserts" isn't as simple as it appears. For example, should food-justice advocates be celebrating when Walmart is the one bringing an oasis of fresh groceries to these deserts?
Urban agriculture is a movement in transition. Agriculture has a vital role to play in cities, but it must be done in a way that keeps the urban fabric intact.