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.