New Stories From 'Urban Agriculture Notes'
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Azure’s 25th anniversary edition features The Urban Farm

For Azure’s 25th anniversary, we explore the role of design in an all-consuming subject. There’s a profound shift taking place in the realm of what we eat, how we eat it, and the social and political climate around food.

The Urban Farm

By Lloyd Alter
May 2010


A new model for food production suggests we’ll be growing more of what we eat, right where most of us live: in the city.

Michael Pollan famously distilled his recommendations for a modern diet down to seven words: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” Con trary to his prescription, delivered succinctly in his latest book, Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual, our current food system excels at delivering manufactured products in supersized portions, mostly corn, fat and meat.

Our industrialized global food system is totally reliant on fossil fuels for transportation and for the production of fertilizers. What we eat here is mostly grown way over there, and sometimes the underlying logic defies justification.

With more than 50 per cent of the world’s population living in cities, there is reason to ask if our food could come from the cities themselves. A shift in food production and distribution is already taking place, as increasingly carbon- and energy-conscious consumers begin to question the globalized food production system and look for local and seasonal food at farmers markets or through CSA (community-supported agriculture) programs. While right now the trans formation is a matter of taste and personal choice, it may eventually become an issue of economics, changing our cities and suburbs and the land around them.

Farming the City

The relocalization of agriculture can be as simple as a backyard garden for those who have the space, and the allotment or community garden for those who don’t. In the Rust Belt of the United States, community gardens are converting abandoned land into productive gardens; Detroit alone has dozens, aimed not only at producing food, but also at creating jobs.

Detroit and other shrinking cities have hectares of land covered with derelict houses where the soil is relatively free of the contaminants found in brownfield sites. Detroit was built on high-quality farmland, and now 27 per cent of the land within municipal boundaries is considered vacant. In 2007, the city’s community and family gardens yielded 108 tonnes of produce, funnelled to restaurants, food banks and farmers’ markets.

Urban farming on the Detroit model requires cheap land in the public realm; in most of the world, this is rare. The postwar development boom covered much of the farmland located near urban centres with low-density suburbs. However, some cities – like London, Portland and Toronto – took steps to establish greenbelts, both to control sprawl and to ensure that there was still some productive farmland relatively close to cities.

With the new appreciation of local foods and worries about food safety, these greenbelts can now be seen as a lifeline. Some farms near cities have become part of csa programs, where urbanites contract in advance for a supply of produce, providing farmers with a secure link directly to the consumer. This significantly shortens the supply chain from farm to table, and it’s going to get much shorter still.

See Azure’s latest edition here.

AZURE magazine profiles international designers and architects, reports on major trade fairs in North America and Europe and investigates design issues related to our changing society. Presenting and exploring innovative projects, materials, products and ideas, AZURE is an indispensable resource for architects, designers and the design-savvy public.

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1 comment

1 lloydalter { 04.07.10 at 12:10 pm }

thanks for picking this up! There is more to the article, I will let you know when the full print version is up.