Just in time for America’s biggest food holiday — Thanksgiving — the American Natural History Museum launches an ambitious new exhibition: Our Global Kitchen: Food, Nature, Culture, exploring the complex and intricate food system that brings what we eat from farm to fork. Urban agriculture gets some interesting and prominent attention as a recent twist in the telling of the story of human food. The exhibition will truly be global in reach — traveling around the world for around seven years.
Windowfarms Installation at American Museum of Natural History
As you enter the exhibit, you face a floor-to-ceiling installation of living plants in Windowfarms, an operational hydroponic vertical growing system designed and maintained by a start-up enterprise based in Brooklyn and recently featured in the 2012 Slow Money NYC Entrepreneur Showcase. (Full disclosure: I am a minority investor in this amazing little company founded by artist-entrepreneur Britta Riley).
Windowfarms planting system
A Windowfarm system allows for year- round growing in almost any window. It lets plants use natural window light, the climate control of your living space, and organic “liquid soil.” In conjunction with the exhibition, the entrance to the Museum’s Judy and Josh Weston Pavilion will feature a monumental 18-foot-tall, 280-plant installation of Windowfarms growing a variety of fruits, vegetables, and herbs to showcase sustainable food-growing techniques and agricultural biodiversity in increasingly urban habitats.
The living plants in the Windowfarms vertical garden included in Our Global Kitchen are edible greens, mostly lettuce and kale. They grow indoors, hydroponically—that is, without soil. Their roots derive nutrients from fortified water, which continuously drips through the system in a low-energy cycle. It requires technology, but without the need for soil, hydroponic gardeners can grow food almost anywhere, even in the desert or outer space. Pest and weed control is easy.
Gotham Greens greenhouse atop Greenpoint Wood Exchange, Brooklyn, NY
The exhibition starts with a thorough historical exploration of howour food has been grown over the centuries. Most of the plants and animals we raise for food today barely resemble their wild ancestors. Thousands of years ago, for instance, there was no corn—modern cobs were bred from a wild grass. Today’s global food economy binds us all to the 1 billion people working in agriculture, from a rice farmer in Vietnam to an oyster farmer in France.
A series of panels describes different forms of urban agriculture deployed across the globe from Brazil to right here in New York City. One floor-to-ceiling poster features a small photo of Gotham Greens, a rooftop greenhouse farm producing leafy greens and located in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. Year -round consumers can find Gotham Greens’ lettuce for sale at Whole Foods and other specialty grocery stores in NYC, like Union Market and Brooklyn Kitchen.
Architect’s rendering of Plantagon vertical greenhouse
A vitrine opposite the poster contains a scale model of Plantagon vertical greenhouse, a geodesic dome with its outer glass wall cut away to reveal a spiral helix of indoor fields, representing a futuristic imagining of a farm. Acompanying text lays out some “pro” and “con” of such a system. Critics of the design say the unusual shape will increase construction cost, but Plantagon has justified the design estimating a yield three times the amount of crops a traditional vertical urban farm of the same size. The spherical nature of the greenhouse was designed to maximize the access to light for optimal crop growth, even in winter seasons. Regardless of the outcome of this debate, the future may not be as far away as you think. Groundbreaking for the world’s first Plantagon occurred in February 2012 at Linköping, Sweden (outside of Stockholm). Completion is expected in early 2013.
Our Global Kitchen is organized in sections devoted to growing, transporting, cooking, eating, tasting, and celebrating, illuminating the myriad ways that food is produced and moved throughout the world. With opportunities to taste seasonal treats in the working kitchen, cook a virtual meal, view rare artifacts from the Museum’s collections, and peek into the dining rooms of famous figures throughout history, visitors will experience the intersection of food, nature, culture, health, and history—and consider some of the most challenging issues of our time. The exhibit does not shy away from controversies at the core of food politics, including strong interpretive displays addressing issues like obesity, malnutrition and environmental degradation caused by industrial farming.
The exhibit has vivid graphics, dioramas (classic Natural History style) and 3-D models lining walls as well as a working demonstration kitchen and fun, engaging interactive components. Our Global Table introduces basic issues of our food system and urban agriculture, making the exhibit a good outing for people of all ages — including kids.
Suggested general admission, which supports the Museum’s scientific and educational endeavors and offers access to the Museum’s 46 halls including the Rose Center for Earth and Space, is $19 (adults) suggested, $14.50 (students/seniors) suggested, $10.50 (children) suggested. Members and student groups attend for free. For additional information, the public may call 212-769-5100 or visit the Museum’s website at amnh.org.
July 24, 2012 (New York, NY) – Today the Design Trust for Public Space, a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving New York’s public spaces, released Five Borough Farm: Seeding the Future of Urban Agriculture in New York, the most detailed survey to date of New York City’s urban agriculture movement. The comprehensive publication provides a roadmap for public and private-sector partners to leverage existing programs and expand urban agriculture citywide. The report was released at the historic Arsenal Building, headquarters for NYC Department of Parks in Central Park, where there is a small edible garden on the uppermost roof.
The study was created in partnership with Brooklyn-based nonprofit Added Value and funded by the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation and David Rockefeller Fund. It found that New York City, a densely populated metropolis with some of the nation’s highest real estate values, is also a national leader in urban agriculture. The city is currently home to more than 700 food producing farms and gardens across approximately 50 acres of reclaimed vacant lots, rooftops, schoolyards, and public housing grounds – nearly ten times the number of urban farms and gardens as San Francisco and Seattle.
“In all five boroughs, urban agriculture transforms under-utilized land into vibrant, productive public space,” said Design Trust executive director Susan Chin. “Thousands of farmers and gardeners contribute to the social, economic, and ecological health of our city, particularly in neighborhoods hit hardest by the recession. These efforts dovetail with our mission to improve public space in New York City.”
Susan Chin, ED for Design Trust, announces publishing of Five Borough Farm Report and Website at NYC Parks Arsenal Building.
Through maps, photographs, and interviews with more than 100 stakeholders, Five Borough Farm illustrates how New York City’s community-based farming creates jobs, educates youth, captures stormwater, decreases the city’s waste stream, and creates safe public spaces.
Some of the study’s key findings include:
Urban agriculture has health, social, economic, and ecological benefits. Studies show that urban agriculture encourages healthier eating and physical activity, strengthens community cohesion, improves job-readiness skills, and reduces the urban heat island effect.
The city’s farmers and gardeners face challenges obtaining critical resources. These include land, funding, soil, and compost.
Scaling up urban agriculture requires municipal leadership. Citywide coordination, dedicated funding, and commitment from elected officials are needed to promote and sustain farms and gardens.
Building on Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s and Council Speaker Christine Quinn’s support for urban agriculture in PlaNYC and FoodWorks, the Design Trust calls for creating a citywide plan to guide land use and resource allocation for farms and gardens, establishing an interagency urban agriculture task force to coordinate policy and procedures, and incentivizing temporary projects at more than 600 stalled development sites across the city.
The release of the publication and companion website (http://fiveboroughfarm.org) mark the start of the Design Trust’s implementation of key recommendations from the report to support agriculture. In the second phase of the project, the Design Trust will identify 100 publicly-owned sites citywide potentially suitable for food production, collect data on urban agricultural activity, and give New York City’s farmers and gardeners a voice in the policymaking process.
“People are starting to realize that our broken food system has serious consequences for our individual health, and for the health of our environment and our economy,” said Five Borough Farm project partner and Added Value executive director Ian Marvy. “It is increasingly important for all of us to be able to understand and articulate how urban agriculture can contribute to our society and economy, and to the planet on which we all live.”
Interesting web radio discussion about Urban Agriculture led by Orion Magazine.
Summary: Can our cities grow health? How about community, or justice? Orion invited Jennifer Cockrall-King (author of Food and the City: Urban Agriculture and the New Food Revolution) and urban farmers Jason Mark, Katherine Kelly, and Karen Washington to discuss the urban farming movement’s “principal crops,” which, as Rebecca Solnit says in her July/August 2012 Orion essay, “Revolutionary Plots,” go far beyond broccoli.
Will Allen meeting with Rev. Robert Jackson, Bed Stuy Farm
WILL ALLEN TALK The Good Food Revolution!
July 21st, 6:00-8:30 PM
Boys and Girls High School Auditorium; 1700 Fulton St., Brooklyn, NY 11213 FREE
Suggestion $10 donation, $5 for students/low income http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/184632 Learn from MacArthur Fellow & Founder of Growing Power
FUNDRAISER DINNER with WILL ALLEN
July 22nd, 7:00-9:00 PM
Peaches Restaurant (New Catering Hall); 393 Lewis Avenue, Brooklyn, NY 11233
$100 per personhttp://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/184627
Enjoy an intimate tasting of local sustainable farm foods. All proceeds support work of Brooklyn Rescue Mission,
A food justice program feeding 4000+ needy people each month.
FROM THE GROUND-UP WORKSHOP
July 22nd, 8:00 AM-5:00 PM & July 23rd, 9:00 AM-5:00 PM
Bed-Stuy Farm; 255 Bainbridge Street, Brooklyn, NY 11233
$150 before July 15th, $200 thereafter Very Limited Space!
Tipping his hat to Brooklyn as the site of significant and dynamic energy around reforming the food system, Oran Hesterman launched his book tour for Fair Food: Growing A Healthy, Sustainable Food System for All at PowerHouse Arena in DUMBO on June 1, 2011.
The book tour is being organized more like a rally for the Food Movement to advance its agenda and galvanize support. And it worked. PowerHouse was packed. The event was like a Who’s Who of Good Food politics. For instance, Michel Nichan provided the food. And I was honored to serve on the Host Committee for the event.
Oran has a long history as an activist in the Food Movement. He has been a farmer, a Kellog Fellow and the Director of Fair Food Network. So, naturally, I asked Oran why he decided to write this book at this time:
“I wrote this book for anyone who is concerned about food issues and wants to know: What can I do? I also wrote this book for seasoned food activists who want a blueprint for change. I call them Solutionaries. The Problem Committee must be retired the issues are too urgent right now to discuss the details. We have to act and act fast and together.”
I asked Oran if I could have a copy of his excellent talk that he gave that night. Instead, he asked me to post his first blog about his book tour. Here it is:
Moving From Conscious Consumer to Engaged Citizen
by Oran Hesterman, reprinted with permission from FFN, posted Apr 28, 2011
A Broken Food System
Our food system is failing many of us. Originally designed to produce abundant food at low cost, it now destroys some of what we hold most precious—our environment, our health, and our future.
While many of us have become more conscious about the impacts of our personal food choices, we can’t fix the broken food system simply by changing what’s on our plate. The answer lies beyond the kitchen: it relies on our willingness to be fair food “solutionaries” in our communities, in the institutions where we work, and with policy makers.
Beyond Your Kitchen
This is a moment when you can make a difference if you harness your voice, beliefs, passion, and resources to promote a fair and healthy food system. If you are ready to participate in creating a fair food future beyond your own kitchen, one place to start is in your community.
Instead of using just your personal purchasing power to fill your own fridge, you can help create a community buying club so that your friends and others in the community can combine their food purchasing efforts and support a fairer food system.
Instead of growing a vegetable garden in your back yard, consider participating in or supporting a community garden so more people in the community have access to land, water, and shared information.
And instead of focusing on how you can directly access great food at farmers’ markets, consider supporting efforts that assist those in historically underserved communities to obtain greater access to fresh fruits and vegetables.
Shifting Institutional Purchasing
Making changes in our homes, neighborhoods, and communities is a great start for bringing more balance back into our food system, but we can’t ignore that nearly one-half of the dollars flowing through the system is for food eaten outside of the home. If we help shift the flow of food purchasing dollars at some of the major institutions that touch our lives, such as public schools, college and company cafeterias, and hospitals, we can start to see the outline of a redesigned food-system.
We can join with other concerned individuals to demand different food at our children’s school cafeteria and at our college food service.
We can advocate for healthier food choices in health care institutions and seek to transform the way food is sourced throughout the institutional system to promote more sustainable agricultural practices.
As we shift our own food purchasing habits and work to create balance within our institutions, we also need our policy makers and industry leaders to work toward a redesigned food system. The food system we have in place is one that was shaped by decades of public policy. We now need policies that will drive the system in a different, more positive direction.
There are many opportunities for advocating for policy change in our own communities, in our states, and in Congress. We can:
initiate a food policy council in our city or region
become involved in farmland preservation in our local community, and
urge our local government to use its powers to direct public resources to support more local, regional, and sustainable farms and food businesses.
But even with all these efforts, we will be able to alter this broken system only when we shift the rules by which the game is played—and many of the rules that set the stage for the current system are written into the federal Farm Bill. The Farm Bill is important because it establishes national goals and priorities for farming, conservation, nutrition, and rural development. It is also important because it represents significant government expenditures, about $300 billion over the five-year life of the bill.
You can make an impact by knowing when the Farm Bill is up for reauthorization, contacting your government representatives, and asking them to support policies that promote a more sustainable and equitable food system. Our website at www.fairfoodnetwork.org can keep you updated with information about timing of the Farm Bill and specific provisions to support.
When all of us committed to making a difference in our food system stand up and make our voices heard, there will be a resounding roar throughout our country: we will be heard, and changes will be made. Now is the time to become a fair food solutionary and to work with a large and diverse cadre of others of all ages and all backgrounds to make the redesigned food system a reality.
When I last posted, I’d just finished making my sub-irrigated planters and filling them with potting mix. By now, these planters are home to thriving little plants, some of them ready to be harvested pretty soon! How did all the pieces come together?
I started back in March with the Making Brooklyn Bloom event at Brooklyn Botanical Garden, which gave me a much-needed kick in the butt to get my garden going. The event was full of people who took gardening seriously — professionally or recreationally,privately or in community gardens — and had been doing so for some time. The average age was well above 40, which was striking to me, coming from my urban farming circles which are often dominated by hip 20-somethings.
At the Botanical Garden, most attendees had a lifelong connection to gardening and to their Brooklyn neighborhoods. All seemed passionate about the goal of the conference: to beautify Brooklyn through plants. It got me thinking about the continuities and discontinuities between the current urban farming movement with older and/or parallel movements and how many of these movements aren’t movements at all, but just interests or hobbies. It reminded me that, while there can be some radical aspects of urban farming, it’s in many ways a reinventing or a popularizing of the wheel (except for the ancient agrarian cultures that lacked the wheel, like the Aztecs).
The event gave me the spiritual nudge to make my garden happen. I was sitting in a few of the talks scribbling notes and drawing diagrams for my garden, inspired by speakers talking about what they’d accomplished. I also got a goody bag with some seeds and some fish emulsion.
In the gift shop, I found what would become my main guide for creating my garden: Edward C. Smith’s Incredible Vegetables from Self-Watering Containers (Google Books has a 20+ page preview!). I totally judged this book by its cover, determining that gardener Ed of the straw bucket hat and Joel Salatin’s glasses was someone I could trust with my veggies. Only an expert can speak to the accuracy and efficacy of the facts and advice in Smith’s book. Yet, I found it very useful as a reference, offering a single voice among the cacophony of gardening websites and forums.
One weakness of the book, however, is its instructions for actually making the self-watering planter. One of the ingredients in Smith’s — a “ready-made insert” — seemed to defeat the whole purpose of making the planter yourself. So instead, I turned to the electronic cacophony, and based my design mainly on one on the site of the cutely named but apparently defunct Plant Parenthood. For each of my 7 planters, I used 2 (unfortunately Home Depot-branded — who knew the chain had a mascot named Homer?) 5-gallon buckets, about 1.5 feet of tubing, and one quart-sized plastic container. Making the planter buckets involved a whole lot of drilling, as well as inappropriately using the drill as a jigsaw.
Finally, it was time for seeds. I decided to go heirloom, to support the preservation of these traditional varieties that help maintain the genetic diversity, and therefore disease resistance of our food supply. Many gardeners/farmers I’ve met has talked glowingly of seed catalogs, which have a wealth of information and advice for planting, as well as pretty pictures. I had no time to wait for a paper catalog to come in the mail, so I shopped digitally, at Seed Savers Exchange, a member-based non-profit which sells seeds and also runs a heritage farm in Iowa.
As I mentioned in my last post, I had some pretty specific limitations on what I could grow. I wound up settling on Philadelphia White Box radishes, Tom Thumb peas, Dwarf Gray sugar peas, Bloomsdale spinach, Crisp Mint lettuce, forellenschluss (“speckled trout”) Lettuce, and tat soi. These were all things I could plant in early April, before the last frost, and which I should be able to harvest before I leave in early June. I plan to post once more before I head to California, hopefully with some pics of actual veggies!
I stumbled across this lovely short film about urban agriculture, New York Farm City, using a title dear to my heart(!) and work (farmcity.us). The piece features interviews with Daniel Bowman Simon about People’s Garden NYC, Ben Flanner about Brooklyn Grange, Gina Heatley from Harlem’s Nourishing Kitchen, and chef Patrick Connolly of Bobo.
It’s a prettily shot film. I am all for any type of inspiration and promotion of urban agriculture. And I am not one to focus excessively on requiring that race, class or diversity be considered in every single discussion of urban agriculture because I think that all segments of society are needed to remake our city as a greener fertile food space. However, like the photo spread on urban farmers in NY Mag last year, this lovely little film shows only young, hip, white faces. Albeit, faces I know and like very much!
The portrayal of urban agriculture as the province of the young, caucasian and privileged has drawn much concern from some agrarians of a different hue, ethnic milieu and socio-economic class. In fact, the issue of inclusion and exclusion in sustainable food and farming was raised as the dominant raison d’etre motivating the launch of Black Farmers and Urban Growers conference in 2010.
In a moment, when non-hispanic whites are counted as a minority in NYC for the very first time (49.6% according to the 2010 US Census, See NY Times), artists and explorers of urban agriculture might consider how to depict or dream this bold new social & cultural agenda for urban agriculture to inspire all of us to make change together in solidarity. We should stretch ourselves to operate outside our separate spheres, moving beyond our cloistered comfort zones. Otherwise, I fear we may begin to topple our tiny sprout of a movement with its very fragile ideas barely rooted in our collective consciousness.
I have a confession. I’ve been planning my garden in Bushwick and writing about it as if it were the only thing on my mind for this summer. But all the while I’ve had my true hopes set elsewhere, far away from here, in the magical quality-of-life land, Northern California.
Throughout February, I suffered through the irrational anxiety that came along with a 3-page fellowship application and 3 requests for references from old mentors, and in mid-March, I found out I’d been accepted to the Urban Adamah program in Berkeley. (“Adamah” is Hebrew for “earth” — like Adam, created from the Earth.) It’s a three-month live/work/learn fellowship in urban agriculture and food justice, based on traditional Jewish values like the sanctity of food and responsibility for the community and the natural environment. I’ll be working on a newly established farm on a small lot in West Berkeley, interning at a local non-profit to bring healthy food to underserved neighborhoods, and learning about the theory and practice of sustainability in relation to Jewish teachings.
Ever since I discovered the urban farming movement about a year and a half ago, I’ve been reading the blogs, attending the lectures, and meeting the people who make it all happen. But it was always as an outsider, an interested layman, rather than someone actively involved in growing food. And I felt unfulfilled. I felt a yearning to actually get my hands dirty, not just for a few carefree hours on a Saturday, but as a real participant in this movement. I felt there was lingo being slung around my head that I couldn’t truly grasp, and ideas that I’d read about but which wouldn’t quite stick because — what’s really involved in turning compost, anyway?
That’s where my decision to start a garden came from. Not just as a hobby, and not just as a challenge, but as an experiential education. How could I be advocating for food production in cities, and agricultural education in city schools, if I’d never done it myself? (I may be overselling my novicehood a bit. I did actually spend 4 months on a farm a few years, ago, Kibbutz Sde Eliyahu in Israel — a short amount of time, but way more than nothing.)
I wanted to keep doing the lectures and the volunteering, but to also see if I could grow some food in my own limited space and then encourage others, through my actions, to do the same.
At the same time, however, I was working hard on my Urban Adamah application. Because here was a chance to immerse myself not only in the act of urban farming, but in all the auxiliary activities that make it something worth doing. At its core, urban farming is about reconnecting people to the sources of their food by bringing one of those sources right into their own neighborhood: so while the produce from an urban farm is important, it’s the experience of the farm that has the most impact. Urban Adamah places a huge emphasis on education: not only will the fellows be learning learn how to grow food, they will be working with community partners like City Slicker Farms and Cooking Matters to spread the good food gospel (and some good food!) to others.
With my mind, and soon my body, on the West Coast, I’ve had to scale back my ambitions a little, but I’ll be growing some stuff here in Brooklyn in the weeks I have left. I’m going to do everything as simply and as quickly as possible, which led me to three constraints:
Early plantings – I needed to choose crops that would start growing before the last frost, so I could get start planting as soon as possible.
Fast growing – From the time I accepted the fellowship on March 23, I had about 70 days to choose and buy seeds, build my sub-irrigated planters, sow the seeds, care for the plants, and finally, harvest. So I aimed for things I could harvest in 60 days or less.
Direct-sowable – In my truncated garden project, I had neither the time nor the energy to line all possible window sills with little seedlings. I needed things I could sow directly into the groundcontainer.
More on my crop selections and my planting progress in the next post — teaser pic below!
My front yard is a little too… adjacent to the sidewalk.
The lovely lane outside my window.
A garden wuz here, some time ago.
Needs some fixin’ up, but so much space!
Some recent developments in my garden planning!
1. Major real estate acquisition. My last post was about the only real outdoor space I have — a small front yard right on Bushwick Avenue. I still may put a few SIPs out there, or at the very least do something to beautify the space, but I’m just afraid that my fruiting plants will be too enticing for passersby. To some extent I like the idea of a stranger plucking a ripe heirloom tomato or snipping some thai basil from my garden and just enjoying it. But to a larger extent, I want the make sure the tomatoes actually ripen, and that my friends and I get to eat a few of them.
The front yard is the most easily accessible and has some soil there already, but I thought of two other potential spots: a small square of concrete outside two of my roommates’ bedroom windows, and my next-door neighbors’ backyard. I can actually access their backyard by climbing out my window and heading down a small junk-filled path. It’s a pretty large yard (by NYC standards), though in complete disrepair.
Overcoming my nerves, I finally knocked on their door on Saturday. They were a bit confused at first (“So, you’re going to sell fruit?”), and didn’t totally understand that I can access their backyard from my bedroom window (“You can’t get there, the door is locked for the winter!”) but they eventually agreed to let me use their backyard! They actually used to grow things back there (flowers, mainly) but it seemed like they hadn’t planted anything in two years. Thank you neighbors!
2. Sub-Irrigating. I’m going to be growing in sub-irrigated planters (SIPs). These cool planters are also referred to to as “self-watering” containers, but that name seems to focus on the laziness of the the garden. Sub-irrigated makes it sound like I”m doing something sophisticated. I guess for the purpose of advocacy — getting lots of people to grow their own produce — self-watering is a more helpful term. But for my own ego, I will be implementing an integrated sub-irrigated planter system. I’ll be talking a lot more about SIPs as the season goes on.
3. Seedlings I’ve had to decide whether I’ll be starting my own seeds indoors or buying seedlings that I can plant after the last frost. I’ll definitely be trying to start some seeds indoors, but because of the limited sunlight coming through my limited windows, I think most of my plants will come from nursery- or store-bought seedlings.