Growing Food in Communities

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In The Economy of Cities, Jane Jacobs chronicled the genesis of i major agricultural innovations over the past ten-thousand years. Contr to what is generally assumed, many of the most dramatic changes is far ing including the selection of grains, the domestication of animals, mecha ization of culture methods, or even recent hybrids of the Green Revolution, originated in urban centers and spread outward to the countryside. The newest agricultural development promises to be no exception. It is characterized both by an urban emphasis and ecological underpinnings. New biotechnologies, information, and biological components are being assembled into ecosystems capable of producing a diversity of foods in relatively small spaces. These can replace the fuel-powered agricultural hardware we are dependent on now and will be powered by renewable energy sources. In this way, one day, towns and cities can add farming to their repertoire of functions. Instead of farmers selling out to huge agribusiness management and coming to the cities for jobs, farmers will be able to farm in the city using new ecosystems rather than simply huge fields.

Urban agriculture will take many forms. For example, some shade trees can be replaced by urban orchards of fruit and nut trees. Sunlit walls provide convenient architectural backdrops for espaliered fruit and vine

Vacant Lot Biosheiter Park

crops. Community gardens and urban gardening, in an experimental phase now, but growing with farmers' markets in many cities, will continue to increase. Agricultural bioshelters, which would make it possible to garden year round, could be built in vacant lots, or ringing parks. In the form of floating barges they could line harbors and sell their produce of fish, vegetables, flowers, and herbs. Old warehouses and unused factories could be converted into ecologically inspired agricultural enterprises floor by floor where fish, poultry, mushrooms, greens, vegetables, and flowers could be grown in linked, integrated cycles. Roof tops offer an unused resource for the application of bioshelter concepts or market gardens all year. Economist Paul Hawken has said that there are two fast tracks these days—energy and food. In such a context city farming has potential in the fast track. General Foods has stated that such ideas are part of the foundation for their future planning and expect to raise some foods on a large scale in the city.

It is not difficult to envision a transition from decorative plantings to street orchards and to the use of buildings as backdrops for vine and es-paliered tree crop production. Both methods are well suited to many side streets. The core of a street or neighborhood can be further redesigned for an integrated mix of household food-growing and street-farming by combining raised bed vegetable and berry production, fruit and nut orchardry, aquaculture, and nurseries. The street zones could be used by the community or leased to urban farmers to grow and market crops locally. It would be up to the individual neighborhood to define and shape the forms he gardening and farming most relevant to its indigenous ecological,

- nomic, architectural, and cultural mix.

In heavily trafficked urban areas air is least clean the busier the street, recent years European ecologists, particularly in Vienna,6 have been test-_ -pedes of shrubs, trees, and herbs that purify polluted air. They have r.d a number of plants that are effective, particularly when planted in •■r;;erows. In the European studies, in some cases, up to ninety percent of - lead in the air was either removed, or prevented from crossing the plant . -rier. As a further bonus, street noise dropped dramatically.

A bioshelter can be introduced into an existing area quite simply. It

- -—r d not be a complex structure. A three-story lean-to structure next to a ding is one possibility. Such a structure will not only support agricul-"i. it will also provide an optimal climate for the adjacent building. Alter-. : -eh . with the addition of night curtain and fish tanks, an orthodox _~rrnhouse can be converted into a bioshelter.

An intriguing possibility for designing a large new bioshelter is that ver a considerable area to allow for a substantial open courtyard in the

- -:er. Possible subsystems include an urban farm around the periphery „r a safe playground and a wading pool in the center. Neighborhoods

:t n:lv interested in the benefit to the public inherent in such a park n.^hc be willing to lease the land for the bioshelter, thereby reducing sub-land costs to the potential urban farmer.

The renaissance in urban agriculture may find its fullest flowering ne conversion of old warehouse and factories in down-at-the-heels sec-j -> of older cities and mill towns. One strategy for a badly lit multi-story . house or factory is to cover the roof with a full array of solar cells. < :nted at an angle to the sun, the cells would give the roof a sawtooth * v The solar cells could power indoor grow lamps, and the solar energy, _>formed at about a ten percent conversion efficiency, would produce jr -rial sunlight inside the building. In this way the building would gener-jjr own interior light for a variety of food growing activities. Another > - .-ibilitv is to replace a solid roof with a translucent one and allow natural mr~: :o permeate the whole building making six times more light available.

drawback is in heat loss to the night sky and night curtains become a itrin winter. Should some supplemental light be required, even with ne r.¿zed roof, it could be provided by a co-generating electric windmill or tv :n-c utilities.

The interior of the converted warehouse or factory offers a wonder-



Solar/Aquatic Heating and Cooling of Office or Residential Buildings]

£v\\ sVeWwrn ioT a \wv\\u-sun\ , \megTated iaxm tViat could prodi tropical fruits like fv^s, kiwi arvd volve using the basement and at\easttVixee ftooxs.The« house farm company shows agriculture on four le\ shaped something like an amphitheatre, is designed! ture of greens like lettuces and spinach. Carbon dios











Warehouse Farm Company, Inner City or Suburban to filter up through the growing beds from the lowest two levels. The next level down is for climbing crops such as peas, cucumbers, and tomatoes. They are grown in an aerated liquid solution which is pumped up from the aquaculture tanks below so that the aquaculture feeds the vine crops and in turn the root complex of the crops filters and purifies the aquaculture water in the recycling process. The aquaculture is a variation on the New Alchemy solar-algae pond theme. The fish room would double as a chicken-raising facility. Chickens would be allowed to range free on a deep litter amongst the tanks. The basement of the warehouse is used for composting of the waste from the building and for the mass culture of mushrooms. All the components in the design are integrated to mutually enhance each other. The combination of sunlight, lights, compost, and poultry produce enough heat to warm the whole complex which would require no additional heating. All wastes would be treated and recycled internally and any excess could be used or packaged as soil amendments.

The economics for converting a factory to a solar food barn are as yet conjectural. It is estimated that a one-hundred-thousand gallon aquaculture facility would be capable of producing close to a quarter of a million dollars of live retailed trout and catfish a year. The other products taken together might do as well. The limits are as yet uncertain but such a local enterprise, drawing on the community for full- and part-time staff, has the potential to reverse the present agricultural equation. The plans for such a facility have been described as reminiscent of a medieval village. The solar aspect would add the feeling of great nineteenth century English conservatories combined perhaps with an eerie, self-contained, possibly beautiful, quality of a colony in space.

In most urban areas there are flat rooftops which offer excellent opportunities for gardening and for "wild" ecological islands in the city. Roof tops can support orchardry, market gardens, greenhouses, and poultry barns, although, in this last case, all wastes must be composted immediately. An occasional building could support fish farming on the roof, but as each gallon of water weights almost ten pounds, a ten-thousand gallon facility would weigh close to fifty tons. It is essential to have a structural engineer to evaluate the strength of a roof before considering aquaculture.

In its adaptation to existing architectural forms the evolving urban agriculture will be topographical as well as ecological, as practitioners find and convert unused spaces in towns or cities. However bizarre the space, some form of agriculture can be designed to fit and operate within its con-

nraints. In integrating many different kinds of aquatic, light, soil, compost, nutrient, wind and gas cycles that are constantly changing and always interacting, any space has elements of a world in miniature.

Some forms of aquaculture or fish farming make particular sense in towns and cities. Fish are most palatable when fresh. The New Alchemy model of solar aquaculture has proved that it is both possible and cost effective to grow fish and shellfish in small spaces, using relatively little water. The translucent, cylindrical solar-algae pond provides a superb habitat for algae-based ecosystems containing cultured fish. Such tanks can be placed in almost any spot that receives direct sun, not the least of which is inside a

Sidewalk Solar Aquaculture bioshelter. They are also well adapted to aquaculture situated at a market site making it possible to sell fresh, even live fish, on a street corner.

The New Alchemy solar tanks are among the most productive standing water aquaculture systems yet devised. Because they are solar driven, they use only small amounts of supplemental energy and therefore houses, old buildings, corner lots, parks, virtually any place lit by the sun for a good portion of the day, lends itself to fish farming. At New Alchemy in our translucent vertical tubes we have raised tilapia, trout, catfish, white amur from China, pacu from the Amazon, and mirror carp from Israel. Tilapia and catfish are the easiest to raise and most tasty. When John Hess was food editor of The New York Times he visited us, tried the fish and subsequently described our tilapia in The Times as the finest tasting of farm-raised fish he

-,^mpled. His headline read: "Farm-Raised Fish: A Triumph for the . and the Ecologist."7 Anv additional energy required to raise fish can be obtained from a ul." oanel that charges a small battery which, in turn, powers a seventy-; -an air pump, when oxygen in the pond drops to less than optimal "?'<-■ a; night. In an urban environment, organic wastes including garbage ■tar: pressure cooked, dried, and with additives made into pellets for fish ler-:- With a little experimentation, the right food can be concocted for ■h - nsh. Generally the same feed can be consumed by poultry as well. The ■«fir t both can be supplemented with earthworms from compost.

Perhaps the greatest advantage of this type of solar aquaculture is fflu :". is cheap and easy to get started. A few hundred dollars in capital out-t : ji tanks, equipment, and tilapia or other fish, will establish a single n:r":uing pond. It is quite inexpensive to set up and experiment. When » ".^r hsh tanks are installed in a house, apartment, or office, they should be 3 - ed in a south facing room with a good sized window or skylight. The ii «.s absorb radiant energy and heat up during the day. A fan blows the ■<* ¿mth into lower rooms. Heat rises through the building and returns, • led. to the south room, with enough time lag so that day-time heating - nnues through the night. During summer the cycle is a cooling one. sun shining on the glazing creates a temperature differential between - t 'Utside and the warmed interior of the south room. As a consequence, ii - starts to climb and flows as an interior "breeze" out through a vent or r iinev on the north side. Cooler outside air is then sucked in and moves iiL. through the building. In summer the fish tanks play a beneficial ' t as thermal buffers, absorbing sunlight and preventing overheating of tr air in the growing area which further benefits the plants. A contained - - . stem designed in this way will replace the heating and cooling func-:> r.s of a furnace and air conditioner. This contained ecosystem uses no en-and has the added benefit of the fresh vegetables and fish produced-r excellent working application of trusting the partnership of organisms a information. Such an ecosystem is the structural grid for year-around roan agriculture.

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