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:
Urban agriculture seems new and exotic, but it's been the norm for cities since the dawn of farming 10,000 years ago.
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 …
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 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 …
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 …
Can local, sustainably grown, organic ingredients make street food actually good for us -- and the planet?
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.