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Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The Urban Farmer

posted by on September 23 at 14:32 PM

Well, Jen’s mad because the MacArthur committee didn’t reward the R&D wing of art this year. Their choice for horticulture was virtuous, but also conservative:

One of Wisconsinís few African-American farmers, Will Allen, a former professional basketball player in the ABA, founded Growing Power in 1993 in Milwaukee to help teach inner-city kids about the origins of their food. It has expanded to include satellite-training sites in Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, Massachusetts and Mississippi.

Now Allen’s urban farm sells vegetables, honey, and grass-fed meats to markets in poorer parts of Milwaukee and Chicago, which sometimes have trouble stocking fresh produce. (The disparity between rich-neighborhood access to healthy food and poor-neighborhood access is appalling and depressing.)

Growing Power also sells greens to upscale Chicago restaurants.

Here’s Mr. Allen:


Here’s an aerial shot of the daughter’s garden project in tough-ass Cabrini-Green, planted in a wrecked basketball court:


And here’s the original two-acre farm in the middle of Milwaukee:


Urban farms are quaint and of limited value. If urban density is the goal, the next step is learning how to use the world’s skyscrapers, which add a little more surface area to the earth every day:


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Most crops need to be planted on a horizontal, relatively flat place. So skyscrapers don't really increase the amount of usable surface area.

But maybe you were joking.

Posted by M | September 23, 2008 2:48 PM

They are "of little value" if you only value money and property values. If you care about community integration and developing green spaces in inner cities, then they are quite important.

Posted by logan square | September 23, 2008 2:48 PM

The idea of urban farming in a high rise is not all that far off. With a few more years of development and funding could change the way urban areas look at density.

Posted by Pea Patch | September 23, 2008 2:52 PM

@1, at risk of obviousness, they increase available land by concentrating population: getting people, not crops, off the land.

Posted by Eric F | September 23, 2008 2:54 PM

What are those skyscrapers tentacle-raping the riverfront?

Posted by Greg | September 23, 2008 2:57 PM

@1, @4, at risk of obviousness, it's about getting crops off the ground as well. Vertical farming will decrease the amount of land deforested and basically sterilized to grow our food. It will also decrease the distance between us and our food production thereby reducing shipping. Granted, the infrastructure and initial costs will be huge, but given the growing global concern about food shortages, I think it's coming. Imagine most of your food being grown in the building on the next block. Or even better, every other floor of the building you live or work in is dedicated to farming. It's really just applying the same basic principals as growing hydroponic pot to food crops. There is a lot more interest in this in Europe right now, where land is a little more scarce than it is here, and I can certainly see Japan getting in on this sooner rather than later.

Posted by cmaceachen | September 23, 2008 3:10 PM

vertical farming is the worst manifestation architecture's disconnection from practicality

Posted by ggggggggggggggg | September 23, 2008 3:19 PM

The best part about the swirly skyscraper shapes is that they are mounted on huge turntable bases, so if an airplane is approaching, they can be swiftly rotated to dodge it. And they rotate slowly all day long just to look cool.

What's a little nausea where the defence of the nation's most expensive and silly buildings is at stake?

Posted by Breklor | September 23, 2008 3:20 PM

french intensive farming practice is the best solution for the urban farmer. i at first assumed the skyscrapers were mentioned at the end for a different "green" purpose: sunlight collection.

Posted by ellarosa | September 23, 2008 4:04 PM

This whole verticle farming fad is specious. As anyone who has grown tomatoes in Seattle will know, sunlight is the limiting resource in growing most vegetables. Whether you do it vertically or horizontally, your productivity will be capped by the amount of sunlight that area receives.

A 20 story 'farm' skyscraper is not going to give 20 times the productivity of the single farm which would occupy the tower's footprint. If you tried to use all that 20x area, you would find that most of your plants would die and wither from lack of light, being shaded by the plants above them. The same argument works for light striking from an angle, just that that tower would steal the light from an even wider shadow.

Sure you can use electric lights - but that is going to be ridiculously expensive. Even crops currently grown under lights in greenhouses only use electricity to supplement natural light, not supplant it.

Posted by boyd main | September 23, 2008 4:48 PM

Those creepy Dubai towers always make me think of Cthulhu's dread vacation condo in R'lyeh.

Posted by Dawgson | September 23, 2008 5:13 PM

Do you know why there are no grocery stores for fresh produce in cabrini green itself? It's because when MLK was shot, the neighborhood rioted. They burned down and looted all the businesses in the area. No one rebuilt because they were too scared, and rightfully so considering Cabrini Green had been a somewhat well integrated neighborhood before that and they had no reason to expect that sort of response from the shooting.

Also, there is a whole foods with free valet parking a mile away from there, very easily accessible by the bus. There are numerous grocery stores with produce, easily accessible. The accessibility of fresh produce in the inner city is really not an issue in Chicago. Where do you think black people buy their groceries? The market on the corner? No. They go to Jewel-Osco with the rest of us.

Posted by J | September 23, 2008 11:37 PM

I know, let's not build skyscrapers, and instead grow our cities outwards until we destroy all the farms and forests and pave over the wetlands!

You have a choice - and Seattle ain't gonna have single-family housing under any of the possible futures, unless it's the one where President Palin starts WW III with Russia and we all die.

Posted by Will in Seattle | September 24, 2008 12:34 AM

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