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Urban Agriculture


Into the woods: Seattle plants a public food forest

Photo by Vamapaull.

There’s a stretch of arterial in Seattle’s Beacon Hill neighborhood that I’ve traveled probably thousands of times without giving a second thought to the empty, grassy hillside it parallels. When I heard about plans to create a seven-acre urban food forest there, I had a hard time picturing the sloped field covered over in rich soil and filled with a tangle of fruit and nut trees, berry bushes, and vegetable patches. It seemed like an edible ecosystem too wild to spring from such an unremarkable urban space. But within the next few years, this slice of land adjacent to a city park and golf course will transform from an unofficial off-leash dog run and occasional sledding slope into the Beacon Food Forest, which some say will be the largest of its kind in the U.S.


Urban farming in Detroit gets the documentary it deserves

Urban Roots is a documentary about farming within the city limits of Detroit, and as such, it’s a handy way to get an education on the subject in something like 90 minutes.

It's showing March 6 at the San Francisco Green Film Festival.


Farming the ‘burbs

Prairie Crossing is a 669-acre subdivision in Illinois with small lots, 70 percent open space and 100 acres for food production.

It’s a familiar story: A farming family in a small rural town can’t make ends meet. After generations of farming, they’re forced to sell their land and call in the auctioneer. In 2005, I produced a short film about a family like this in Meridian, Idaho. All but one of the five McKay siblings had chosen to work off the farm, and the son who’d stuck around grew sod to sell to developers who were systematically paving over Meridian to make way for residential subdivisions. It was a doomsday view of the future of rural land and farming in this country.

Almost seven years later, the story, on the surface, hasn’t changed. According to the American Farmland Trust, over 4 million acres of agricultural land -- almost the size of Massachusetts -- were developed between 2002 and 2007. Meridian is now an official suburb of Boise and, despite the Great Recession, small rural towns across the country are still being devoured by urban sprawl. Meanwhile, the urban farm movement is in full swing in cities like San Francisco, New York, and Detroit, and the blighted landscapes of inner cities are increasingly transformed into vibrant plots of vegetables and flowers. Something else is happening too -- this renaissance, or reimagining of agriculture, is starting to spill over into the suburbs.


Breaking through the myths: New book seeks to redefine urban farming

In 2010, Grist ran a series of posts chronicling a road trip across American by a team of young men looking to document our nation’s urban farms for a book called Breaking Through Concrete (you can see a list of the posts over on the right of the page). Sponsored in part by WHYHunger, David Hanson (writer), Michael Hanson (photographer), Charles Hoxie (videographer), and Edwin Marty (farmer and writer) drove across the country in a biodiesel-fueled, internet-enabled short bus.

This month, the book, Breaking Through Concrete: Building an Urban Farm Revival, finally hits the shelves. To mark the occasion, we caught up with David Hanson to get the lowdown on the book and hear his observations about this moment in urban farming.

Q. Which came first: the book deal or the road trip across the country to document urban farms?

A. We wrote a book proposal and got a deal with University of California Press. We had the idea long before then, but the deal was what sent us on the road trip.

We wanted to make a book celebrating urban farms -- and not some sort of doomsday, “we’re all going to die because we’re eating bad food” kind of thing. There’s some truth to that, but we wanted to make it a real celebration and kind of glorify those great projects that are addressing the problems [in our food system].

Read more: Food, Urban Agriculture



Breaking Through Concrete [SLIDESHOW]

For their new book, Breaking Through Concrete: Building an Urban Farm Revival, brothers David and Michael Hanson and crew traveled the nation visiting and documenting urban farms. Read more about the tour here.

Read more: Food, Urban Agriculture


Sweden builds 18-story greenhouse

Swedish company Plantagon International is taking the urban greenhouse to the next level, and then the 17 levels beyond that. Their new vertical greenhouse in Linköping, Sweden will be 177 feet high.


Phoenix rising: Can ‘the world’s least sustainable city’ go green?

Photo by moominsean.What was the most surprising thing that came out of Andrew Ross’s two-year research stint in Phoenix, Ariz.? For my money, it’s this: People who live there (weirdly) don’t expect their desert civilization to collapse around them at any moment.

“One of New Yorkers’ favorite things is to imagine the destruction of their city. There’s a whole library of movies and novels that do this,” Ross said during a recent visit to the Grist offices. “There’s no equivalent in Phoenix.”

Chalk it up to the power of denial.

Ross, a professor of social and cultural analysis at NYU, sets the scene in his new book, Bird on Fire: Lessons from the World’s Least Sustainable City -- the product of his two-year study, which included interviews with hundred of Phoenicians:


Growing home: Dinner from a refugee garden [VIDEO]

On our way through Atlanta, we stopped at a very diverse community garden run by Friends of Refugees. It's home to the vegetable patches of several Iraqi, Burmese, and Nepalese families, as well as a lovely Bhutanese family. We surprised them by inviting ourselves over for a home-cooked Bhutanese meal and learned a bit about their path to the U.S.

Read more: Urban Agriculture


Peebottle Farm: Keeping city chickens in winter

Gathering eggs in the snow (the cracked one is frozen).

Every year, I dread the arrival of winter. When leaf-watchers get jazzed and back-to-school sales are in full psychotic swing, my nail-biting worsens; my stomach turns with every minute the sun sets earlier.

This year, it was worse than usual. Since my joyful entrance into chicken-keeping last summer, the most frequently asked question I’ve heard has been: “But what happens in the winter?” “Oh,” I’d shrug, and say, as the farmer who sold us our six chickens had, “These birds are native to the Northeast. They’re fine, as long as their water doesn’t freeze.”

Nonetheless, as the stupid earth continued to revolve around the stupid sun, my anxiety became more and more precise. I pictured myself shoveling a path through four feet of snow every morning towards the chicken coop in the frigid darkness to feed the hens and defrost their water. And all for naught, since hens go on semi-strike due to lack of sunlight in winter, producing far fewer eggs. I started strategizing early: Should we install lights and put them on timers? Should we insulate the coop just in case?


Urban farmers vs. NIMBYist vegans, round one

Urban farmers are raising and slaughtering their own livestock, and a shadowy organization called Neighbors Opposed to Backyard Slaughter is up in arms about it. Writing at Mother Jones, Keira Butler gets the scoop on what's sure to be the biggest civil war in the Bobo universe since the great “tomatoes in winter: is it OK as long as they're local?” debate of '09.

This bunch of NOBS has taken the time to put together a flyer and a website in opposition to urban farming -- a tiny subset of farming that looks even more harmless when you consider the awful state of animal welfare in industrial agriculture. Sure, we may be talking about a minuscule number of animals that are being hand-raised in humane living situations, while the vast majority of our meat comes from deplorable conditions … but on the other hand, the NOBS members’ kids might have to think about a chicken getting killed! MAN THE TREBUCHETS.