Growing food where it’s eaten:
We are really excited about the move in a number of cities toward urban agriculture. Detroit’s mayor is promoting urban farming on that city’s many vacant parcels. In Brooklyn’s Greenpoint neighborhood, the Eagle Street Rooftop Farm is growing vegetables on the 6000 sq ft roof of a warehouse. The Food Project in Boston embodies the very essence of an integrative approach: it grows sustainably harvested crops in Boston and suburbs, employs young people in the effort, incorporates youth and adults as volunteers, provides food for those in need, and offers training.
Working with Boston Latin School (BLS) Youth CAN, Studio G is designing a green roof that includes a greenhouse and outdoor beds which will produce food to be served in the school cafeteria. Not content to wait for The Green Roof to be funded, the BLS students planted raised beds on the school grounds this fall, serving fresh food and great excitement in the cafeteria. While an urban New England school like BLS might not produce all of the cafeteria’s fresh food demand on its roof or grounds, a larger scale approach can provide a substantial portion of the fresh produce needed for a school and/or neighborhood.
In cities like Boston, where real estate is highly valuable, there isn’t sufficient land available for food production, so rooftop farming needs to be at least part of the solution. Where land is available, orchards can be planted to provide native fruit. Every school with a flat roof could begin to grow food on its grounds or roof to supply healthy produce to the cafeteria. It could go further, integrating farming into the educational curriculum.
The roofs of institutional, commercial and industrial buildings could be transformed to feed their own inhabitants or leased by urban community farms. Imagine if every roof of Boston’s Longwood Medical Area became part of an urban farm! We recently led a design charrette with Boston Latin, Mass Art and Northeastern students looking at greening the Fenway area, in which we explored this and other ideas.
Transformation of a city from food consumer to food producer addresses many intractable problems:
-supplying healthy food to urban residents
-reducing obesity and other diet-related illnesses
-providing youth employment
-grounding youth in nature and healthy behaviors
-restoring a sense of sustaining community
It also increases storm water absorption and reduces the heat island effect, reduces CO2 emissions and “travel miles” of food, making a positive contribution in reducing climate change.
So why is a designer of buildings so interested in urban agriculture? Because I think our job is much larger than designing buildings. We need to help create sustainable and sustaining cities.