Urban Agriculture Revolution
* Article: jason f. mclennan. The Urban Agriculture Revolution. Bringing Food into Living Cities.
An important and sensible overview of why this is happening.
"For thousands of years the relationship between community and agriculture was simple. Wherever you had human settlement – in great numbers that is, you found agriculture. Beyond those that moved to their food source (migratory hunter gatherers) – humanity had to live close to their cultivation. The distances between city and country – between fields and farms and tenements and factories was related directly to the rapidity of our transportation systems – after all food spoils. So it is has only been very recent in human history – less than 200 years for the more industrialized societies – and really only in the last 80- 100 years for the majority of humanity, that our food sources could be completely separated from the civic and cultural life of people. Imagine that? For thousands of years our food – domesticated animals, vegetables, fruit, fish was interwoven into the constant fabric of humanity –being a central determinant of our regional personalities, our taboo’s, stories, rituals and beliefs – not to mention serving as our most constant and powerful reminder of our place in creation and our role in caring for the lands that fed us.
And then suddenly, over the course of just a few generations, timed with the rise of the steam train, the internal combustion engine and then the jet engine (in concert with refrigeration), we began to quickly separate ourselves from all manner of food production. Each decade over the last two hundred years has seen significantly fewer people (as an overall percentage) responsible for feeding the rest of us as the urban/rural divide grows. A great disconnect now exists between what it takes to sustain ourselves and what the environment can safely and sustainably produce. Left in the unfortunate position to suddenly provide for oneself, most global citizens – and certainly the majority of Americans and Canadians would quickly starve. The cultural knowledge of how to sustain our life as a species has been outsourced. Food is global – grown often by faceless and nameless people and corporations from somewhere else. As a result, food has changed from the very basis and fabric of society to merely something we merely eat. Beef and chicken simply something that we buy at the grocery store. Fish something that comes deep-fried in the shape of a stick. A farmer- a quaint and somewhat embarrassing occupation for those that don’t have other options.
In short we have engaged in a rapid social, cultural and ecological experiment that we now know is responsible for a significant portion of our global environmental and social problems.
For most of humanity, food – real food – has slipped from our grasp, falling into the clutches of industrial systems that create geographic, physical and emotional barriers between us and what we eat. Most food is grown and/ or packaged so far from where it is eventually consumed that people have very little connection to the process of food production. The effects of such a disconnect damage our species just as profoundly as they damage the environment. As we reexamine how we build our cities and neighborhoods of the future – to be ‘living cities filled with living buildings, sites and infrastructure’ it is critical that we simultaneously address the question of how and where we grow food and reconnect civilization with the very thing that started it – agriculture.
We need to return food and the art of farming to where they belong: our own backyards, neighborhoods and communities, whether we live in a megacity or a small town. By doing so, we will rejuvenate our relationship with what we put in our bodies while reconnecting us mentally and spiritually with this wonderful world that sustains us."
"When the price of energy and water reach a certain threshold, the cost of shipping food and ingredients around the world will become prohibitive. We will then see a market contraction at that point, and regional food will reemerge on its own. Its simple economics. Left to the path we are currently on we are going to be forced into radical systemic modifications. Much better to plan ahead. Just as it was considered patriotic to plant crops and harvest food for family and neighbors during the post- World War II Victory Garden movement (in which an estimated 20 million Americans participated), the coming trend will follow similar patterns. People will reconnect with their land and re-acquaint themselves with what they eat, ultimately nurturing the health of their communities. Market forces will drive individuals and families in urban, suburban and rural settings toward the soil. Sections of the landscape previously reserved for suburban sprawl development will gradually convert to local food production zones. Homeowners will turn useless lawn into useful garden plots.
The Living Building Challenge 2.0
When the primary goal is true sustainability, then we must always assess density and carrying capacity as a species for a given place – beginning with our broader regions and drilling down to our cities, neighborhoods, multifamily buildings and single-family homes.
As discussed in previous Trim Tab issues, sustainability hinges on density. Our current cities are not dense enough and rely almost exclusively on the automobile at the expense of public transportation, biking or walking. It is our belief that cities will continue to get more dense in the coming years which will greatly lower their environmental footprint, and yet we have to recognize that there is a tension between growing food in communities and significant density – after all – there is only so much space. Grow too much food in a city and you reduce density, potentially causing even greater environmental problems. Moreover, a living city should be energy independent with rooftops and structures covered with photovoltaic’s. When food and energy-generation collide in a dense community, energy generation should dominate. It would be extremely counter-productive to replace a rooftop solar system with a rooftop garden in order to grow food for the building’s residents as food can be brought into the center of the city more efficiently.
Addressing the tension between density and sustainability, and considering how food comes into proper play, involves looking at the bigger picture of each community’s needs. Projects in the urban core that satisfy density requirements and function in self-sustaining ways should be released from aggressive food production duties. Urban farming should definitely play a role; but areas with greater percentages of land and lower density levels should bear more of the agricultural burden."