Former Associate editor Margret Aldrich on the hunt for happiness, community, and how humans thrive
2/29/2012 3:27:36 PM
You’ve heard of farm to table. Coming soon: park to table. This spring, in the Beacon Hill neighborhood of Seattle, seven acres of underused land will be transformed into the nation’s largest urban “food forest”—a community park planted with a cornucopia of produce that visitors are encouraged to harvest and eat, for free.
According to Crosscut reporter Robert Mellinger, the Beacon Food Forest will be “an urban oasis of public food” offering a variety of edibles: apples and blueberries, herbs and vegetables, chestnuts and walnuts, persimmons and Asian pears.
The sprawling project, while ambitious, draws strength from volunteer groups like Friends of the Beacon Food Forest and from simply letting nature take its course. Built around the concept of permaculture, it will be a perennial, self-sustaining landscape, much like a woodland ecosystem in the wild. Companion plants included for natural soil-enhancement and pest-control will help lower the amount of maintenance needed.
“The idea of planting perennials as part of a self-sustaining, holistic system is old hat to many accomplished gardeners,” writes Claire Thompson for Grist, and groups like San Francisco’s Guerrilla Grafters have already dazzled us with novel ways to promote urban agriculture. “But,” continues Thompson, “creating a system on public land that combines the concepts of urban farms, orchards, and natural forest, and depending on collaborative community effort to keep it going, represents uncharted territory for the now-flourishing urban-farming movement.”
In addition to contributing to your family picnic, the bounteous Beacon Food Forest will feature traditional amenities like playing fields, community gardens, a kids’ area, and public gathering spaces. Check out the full site plan below:
Sources: Crosscut, Grist
Image by Liz West, licensed under Creative Commons.
Margret Aldrich is an associate editor at Utne Reader. Follow her on Twitter at @mmaldrich.
1/12/2012 2:43:03 PM
What must it feel like to be an astronaut: weightless, rocketing farther and farther from home and country, gazing out your craft’s window at the deepness of space, wondering where you can get a good salad...
As astronauts set their sights on a not-so-distant mission to Mars, scientists are wondering what to put on spacecraft menus. Current packaged meal options, while far more advanced than the nutrition pills and pureed-food tubes of early space travel, aren’t practical for an extended trip, says Alexandra Witze in Science News. “Six astronauts eating 3,000 calories a day for three years, the length of a Mars mission, adds up to 20 tons of prepared food that would need to be launched.”
Homegrown space food could be the answer. Researchers at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida are exploring ways for astronauts to raise their own vegetables in orbit, from radishes and lettuce to cherry tomatoes and mizuna greens. The plants, generating oxygen as well as food, are grown hydroponically, with blue, red, and green lights employed to aid production and special implements used to carry moisture to their roots.
But as with Sputnik 1, the Russians got here first. They’ve been growing food in space, on a small scale, for decades and have a miniature garden in their part of the International Space Station. Now, funding for research in the United States—which has been fickle over the years—is reinvigorated, thanks to the prospective trek to Mars.
Researchers suspect that space gardens won’t be the primary source of sustenance on galactic missions, but fresh-picked vegetables will be a welcome addition to the cycle of processed and packaged meals.
“Along with reducing trash and launch mass requirements, such crops would give astronauts a little diet variety and psychological lift,” writes Witze. After all, even astronauts love to eat local.
Source: Science News
Image by Tim Sackton, licensed under Creative Commons.
12/29/2011 10:12:18 AM
What do you get if you cross an apple tree with a littleleaf linden? The Guerrilla Grafters—a renegade urban gardening group in San Francisco—hope the result is a metropolitan food forest. The volunteer activists splice branches from fruit trees onto the non–fruit bearing trees that line their city streets in an effort to grow cherries, Asian pears, and other fresh produce for local residents, free of charge.
“We have tens of thousands of trees in San Francisco,” says Guerrilla Grafter Tara Hui, in a video shot by *faircompanies, “so that’s a huge resource that we could tap into to provide food.”
Not everyone is a fan of the project, reports Yi Chen on psfk: “In some states, it’s illegal to have fruit bearing trees on pedestrian footpaths as fallen fruits become a health and safety hazard, [and are] also believed to attract insects and rodents.” The Guerrilla Grafters, however, believe that enlisting community stewards to monitor the trees will prevent such problems.
To learn more about the project, and find out how you can replicate it in your city, visit the Guerrilla Grafters website and watch this video of Hui and Booka Alon as they lovingly check their grafts and seek out new fruit:
Sources: *faircompanies, psfk
Image by Muffet, licensed under Creative Commons.
10/21/2011 3:17:12 PM
“Why would someone spend their limited leisure time shoveling horse-shit into a compost pile?” wonders Jason Mark, co-manager at San Francisco’s Alemany Farm, which hosts community workdays twice a week.
More and more, people are clamoring to join in the urban farming movement and get their hands dirty. There’s no doubt that urban gardening has graduated from fledgling trend to part of our cultural landscape, with vegetable gardens taking root everywhere from tiny backyards, to college campuses, to the White House grounds, to fire-escape terraces. Writing for Gastronomica, Mark lays out the motivations behind the movement and why public participation continues to rise:
The new agrarians are seeking a way to refashion the relationships—ecological, emotional—that have been eroded by work without meaning and food without substance. They are trying to accomplish a kind of restoration of the world…. The farm’s gift is the confirmation of our common need for sustenance, for cooperation, achievement, and creativity, and for a visceral connection to the biological systems on which we depend. The farm reminds us of how, when we join together in the spirit of collective action, we fulfill our individual selves.
Mark points to several specific, personal benefits of urban gardening. First, of course, there’s the food. (Who can’t appreciate the crunch of a Mokum carrot or the beauty in a row of ruffle-leaved lettuces?) But behind this real food lies the honest labor that results in real satisfaction, another key reward. Mark writes:
At the end of a workday, the most common sentiment I hear from volunteers is astonishment at how much they have done. They are delighted to witness the immediacy of their accomplishments. When the day started, the onions were a weedy, overgrown mess; by the close of the afternoon, the crop lines are clean and obvious. Most people’s regular jobs don’t provide such clear cause and effect.
Cultivating farmland where we can provides other simple gifts, too: an artistic outlet, an escape from a self-absorbed society, and a much-needed reconnection with nature—no matter how urban it might be. Mark says this of his beloved, if not bucolic, Alemany Farm:
This isn’t the backwoods of Yosemite. We grow food next to a 165-unit public-housing project. I will never forget one college student I spent an afternoon weeding with. I asked him why he came to the farm. “It’s just great to be out in nature,” he said. I almost dropped my hoe. Didn’t he hear the rush of freeway traffic seventy yards away?
(article not available online)
Image by clayworkshop, licensed under Creative Commons.
6/28/2011 5:29:40 PM
Are you an Iowan who professes an unshakable love for the sweet corn that comes from your local farmstand? A Mainer who can’t live without your state’s legendary blueberries? A Californian who considers the silky-fleshed avocados plucked from your backyard tree unparalleled? The flavors closest to home are often the ones closest to our hearts.
This summer, vacant lots across South Philadelphia are coming to life with the produce of Asia, reports Ariela Rose in Grid, as refuges from Bhutan and Burma (aka Myanmar) seek to bring the foods of their homelands to their new American state.
Through a project called Growing Home, the empty lots have been converted into five community gardens featuring 72 beds that are tended by 70 different Nepalese and Burmese clans, according to the South Philly Review. There, the refugees have sown seeds that call up a connection to their native soil—bok choy and mizuna, hot peppers and eggplant, fragrant Thai basil and spicy Burmese mint.
“Many of the seeds…used were carried by the refugees, safely sewn into their clothing as they made their journey to the United States,” says Rose in Grid, highlighting the deep reverence these immigrants have for their relationship with farming.
The refugees from Bhutan—ethnic Nepalis—and the refugees from Burma—ethnic minorities—experienced severe discrimination in their home countries and spent years in refugee camps before arriving in America. When Philadelphia’s Nationalities Service Center and the Refugee Social Services Department asked them what would make the difficult transition here easier, a place to work the soil was at the top of the list.
Although garden manager Adam Forbes has been instrumental in getting the project off the ground, he wants the gardens to be a place where refugees can support one another, utilize their farming skills, and develop a sense of community in a strange land.
The feeling of community is quickly building, and both the refugees and Forbes are benefitting. He writes on the Growing Home blog:
At least 30–40 people come out every day to water, hang out, eat some snacks, harvest greens, etc. With our picnic tables now in place the gardens have become a real hang out. We have been having informal English lessons, eating mangoes, sharing recipes, drinking tea, and much more…. My Nepali is getting much better and I am learning a few Burmese words each week.
Sources: Grid, South Philly Review, Growing Home
Image by tonrulkens, licensed under Creative Commons.
6/1/2011 11:24:12 AM
Broccoli, collards, garlic, and arugula flank the walkway of the White House’s kitchen garden. Turn right, and you’ll find herbs, Swiss chard, and peas; turn left, and you’ll amble by kohlrabi, radishes, kale, and beets before discovering raspberry bushes.
The lush, productive garden, planted by Michelle Obama and staff in 2009 (the first at the White House since Eleanor Roosevelt’s World War II victory garden) is the picture of healthy eating and responsible farming. But it is far from an accurate picture of crops funded by America’s farm subsidies, says Kitchen Gardeners International, a global community of sustainable food advocates.
Collecting data from the Environmental Working Group’s farm subsidy database, Kitchen Gardeners maps out the difference between the Spring 2011 White House kitchen garden and what the garden would look like planted with crops subsidized by U.S. taxpayers:
The infographic shows corn receiving 35 percent of funding; wheat, 20 percent; cotton, 20 percent; and soybeans, 15 percent. Money is also channeled to cash crops like tobacco, rice, and sorghum. But fruits, vegetables, nuts, and other “specialty crops”? A measly 1 percent.
Roger Doiron, founder and “weeder-in-chief” of Kitchen Gardeners, thinks we should take a hard look at the lack of federal funding for fruits and vegetables. He writes in an email:
As a nation, we’re saying one thing and doing another and need to bring our words and actions in line with one another. We’re saying we should be eating 5–7 portions of fruits and vegetables a day (depending on who you ask) but we’re not supporting the food, farm, and garden infrastructure needed to deliver that diet to 307 million Americans. In fact, we’d need to grow another 13 million acres of produce in the United States if we we’re to meet the minimum daily requirements of fruits and vegetables set by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Farm subsidies are governed by the Farm Bill, an omnibus bill so complex there’s a Facebook page called “
Understanding the Farm Bill.” The directive
goes beyond subsidies to oversee everything from the country’s food assistance program (
SNAP) to community food-program grants to foreign food aid.
“When the last farm bill passed, small farmers and sustainable food advocates had a few things to celebrate, but not as many as they’d hoped for,” says the Center for Urban Education about Sustainable Agriculture (CUESA).
Hearings for the 2012 Farm Bill started this week in Michigan, giving an opportunity to think about what we want the future of farming to look like.
Source: Kitchen Gardeners, Environmental Working Group, CUESA
Infographic courtesty of Kitchen Gardeners. Image by
, licensed under Creative Commons.
5/26/2011 1:32:57 PM
The next time you visit your local library to check out a book, perhaps you’ll leave with some basil, butterfly weed, or sweet pea seeds in your pocket. Seed-lending programs, operating out of public libraries, are taking root.
The concept is simple: Seed libraries allow patrons to “check out” seeds and grow them on their own land. In exchange, the gardener or farmer is asked to donate seeds to the library at harvest time. These will be used by fellow library-goers in the next growing season. “Unlike a seed bank, the libraries are living collections that change every time a gardener returns seeds,” Organic Gardening writes.
The Richmond Grows Seed Lending Library, housed in the Richmond Public Library near Berkeley, California, celebrated its one-year anniversary this month and has nearly 400 users. Carefully cataloged by type—herb, flower, or edible—and degree of growing difficulty, the seeds are a small but powerful force in bringing fresh food to all members the community, says Mother Earth News. The free program “provid[es] access to fresh, healthy food in communities where it may not otherwise be available and teach[es] everyone how much fun growing your own food can be.”
In addition to the seed-lending libraries spreading up and down California—at Alameda Free Library and San Francisco Public Library’s Potrero branch, for example—they are beginning to sprout elsewhere, such as at the Fairfield Public Library’s Fairfield Woods branch in Connecticut, reports American Libraries.
To start a seed-lending library in your area, visit Richmond Grows for tips and resources.
Source: Organic Gardening(article not available online), Mother Earth News, American Libraries, Richmond Grows
Image by mathteacher..., licensed under Creative Commons.
Want to gain a fresh perspective? Read stories that matter? Feel optimistic about the future? It's all here! Utne Reader offers provocative writing from diverse perspectives, insightful analysis of art and media, down-to-earth news and in-depth coverage of eye-opening issues that affect your life.
Save Even More Money By Paying NOW!
Pay now with a credit card and take advantage of our earth-friendly automatic renewal savings plan. You save an additional $6 and get 6 issues of Utne Reader for only $29.95 (USA only).
Or Bill Me Later and pay just $36 for 6 issues of Utne Reader!