Building Resilient Food Systems: Lessons Learned from Baltimore

Last summer, I returned home from vacation to find a deck full of scorched plants—apparently they just couldn’t take the heat during Baltimore’s hottest week of the summer. Or so it seemed. A week later, with some careful nurturing, my withered tomatoes and basil returned to their tender, tasty selves. Despite the beating they took from the Baltimore heat, they were resilient. Read More >

Cityplot: Growing Garden Education in Amsterdam

This post is the third in a series – Letters from the Low Country – about food and agriculture in the Netherlands, written by Laura Genello as she studies organic agriculture at Wageningen University.

The Netherlands is a country with a heavily industrialized food system. Yet in between the bricks and canals of Amsterdam, nearly 200 registered urban gardens grow. On the first sunny Saturday of spring, I took a train to the western edge of the city to see one of these urban farms in action. I walked under an overpass and past a ramshackle squatter community to arrive at an orchard of tidy rows of fruit trees awakening for the season. I grabbed a pair of work gloves Read More >

A Vision for Los Angeles: Urban Ag Paradise

Jardin del Rio Community Garden

Jardin del Rio Community Garden

Drive through the neighborhoods of Lincoln Heights, Cypress Park, and Chinatown and one can see a glimpse of gritty Los Angeles. Industrial warehouses and low-income housing dot the roadways as the Los Angeles River, freeways and train tracks slice through the neighborhood. In countless movies, this landscape has always been depicted as a wasteland of concrete and grime, where things are more gray and brown.

But a new report produced by architecture firm Perkins + Will and the LA River Revitalization Corporation explores a tantalizing what-if—what if these river adjacent communities could be green instead of gray?

Simply called Urban Agricultural Plan (UAP), the report examines the possibility of turning the 660 acres of land stitched together by the Los Angeles River into an agricultural hub where food isn’t only cultivated, but also processed and distributed. Doing so would create local jobs Read More >

In Search of the Perfect Summer Crop

Romano pole beans reach for the ceiling at the CLF Aquaponics Project

Romano pole beans reach for the ceiling at the CLF Aquaponics Project

For many farmers, summer is the time of peak production and abundant harvests, but at the CLF Aquaponics Project our harvests peak mid-spring and start to decline as summer approaches. Farming is a learning process; and higher pest pressure coupled with hot temperatures in our hoophouse has made finding ideal summer crops a challenge.

Leafy greens and herbs are naturally some of the best crops for an aquaponics system, because they thrive in a nitrogen-rich environment. However, many of these greens prefer cooler weather, and as the temperatures in the greenhouse climb past 100 degrees Fahrenheit, even heat-tolerant chard gives up. We’ve found that many of summer’s star crops in the field, such as squash, tomatoes, beans and okra, simply do not produce well in our aquaponics system. The reason for this likely lies in the fact that these fruit-producing crops require high levels of potassium and phosphorous in comparison with leafy greens to encourage reproductive growth. Read More >

When the Fish and Plants Don’t Get Along

2013-aquaponics-tankIt’s easy to get excited about aquaponics. On the surface it seems simple: the waste from the fish is recycled into valuable nutrients for the plants, while the vegetables purify the water for the fish. Aquaponics, like any form of agriculture, is dynamic, changing with the seasons and over time. As the fish and plants grow, their needs change and shift the balance. Read More >

Urban Foraging in Asheville, NC

While accompanying my fiancé to Asheville, N.C. for one of her residency interviews, I found myself bouncing around from coffee shop to coffee shop in downtown Asheville, scooping up free internet, downing coffee, handling bits of work, bits of personal business and trying to think about whether I could live here for the next 4+ years.  Then I remembered an article we had read in the New York Times about an “Edible” park in Asheville.  I quickly looked it up, and found out that Asheville indeed had embarked on an edible park based on the foundations of permaculture and “edible forest gardens

Canopy of Fruit Trees

Canopy of Fruit Trees

I drove five minutes out of downtown and found a small park with a recreation center, looking out onto city hall.  As you walk down a path through the park, what you see are grapes lining the fence of a basketball court with fig trees, elderberry trees, and kiwis both growing and vining through fence-like structures.  Further down the path are apple trees, peach trees, berry bushes and other edible plants that I couldn’t recognize due to the coming winter season.  Everything in this area of the park is both edible and representing of mini-ecosystems called “edible-forest gardens.”  Planted next to the fruit trees are plants that work in symbiosis with the fruit tree, much like the different species in a forest.  I saw herbs that attract pollinators, ground cover like lemon balm and strawberries that keep the ground moist, avoid evaporation and block out weeds.  Other perennials like borage, comfrey and purple tree collards act as dynamic accumulators, which bring important minerals from the soil and make them available to the surrounding plants, while plants like artichoke act as natural “mulchers” that continually feed the soil.  I did not see all of these plants present, but I can understand that is their vision. Read More >

Hoop dreams: A Baltimore community farm gets winterized

as seen from Whitelock St.

as seen from Whitelock St.

On a recent crisp October weekend, Reservoir Hill community members, friends, farmers, and two bus loads of Johns Hopkins undergraduate students gathered at the Whitelock Community Farm for a modern barn raising. The various volunteer groups, totaling close to 50 people, built an inexpensive but practical hoop house using a clear plastic roof and a PVC-pipe spine to extend the newly established farm’s growing season. Construction of the 20 foot by 30 foot hoop house was managed by Thor Nelson, an architect/planner who lives a block from the farm site, and paid for by a grant from Parks and People. The Reservoir Hill Improvement Council (RHIC) chipped in Federal Stimulus money to fund materials for a shed and farm stand on the property, and coordinated the volunteer support from Johns Hopkins. Read More >

Digging for Data in Clifton Park

dscn10813Last Tuesday I spent the evening at the Clifton Mansion, home of Civic Works, the umbrella organization of Real Food Farm (RFF), a new urban agriculture project. The occasion was Digging for Data, an event held jointly by the Center for a Livable Future and Civic Works.

Located on six acres of Clifton Park in northeast Baltimore, Real Food Farm utilizes high-tunnel hoop houses (low-cost, low-input greenhouses) to produce pesticide-free fruits, vegetables, and herbs for Baltimore residents. In October 2009, Real Food Farm collaborated with the Safe Healing Foundation to erect the first three.  In the future, there will be 20 hoop houses in Clifton Park-18 for production, one for processing and packaging, and one for education and training.

The farm aims to improve community access to organic, wholesome and real food, addressing the problem of food deserts and promoting healthy living. Read More >

Richmond’s Urban Agriculture Institutes: A First Stage Impact Study

I wanted to post an impact study that I performed this year of the Urban Agriculture Institutes that I used to run in Richmond, Calif.  This paper represents the first step in a program evaluation of Urban Tilth’s Urban Agriculture Institutes.  While this study had an intervention/control cross sectional design, with no baseline data it cannot make any causal claims.  The data for the full program evaluation does have a pre/post element and is being currently analyzed.

The program that Urban Tilth is now running is a mature, well conceived model that I believe has replicable qualities for schools throughout the country.  The idea is fairly simple.  An urban agriculture program at the high school level, that gives high school graduation credit, provides food system education, cooking and tasting demonstrations, community and service learning all under the larger focus of intensive urban food production.  Students manage their own school garden or farm, and create a working Community Supported Agriculture  (CSA) business model to provide produce to the community.  During the summer when school is out (and school gardens become abandoned) Urban Tilth hires the trained Urban Aggers to continue their training, and manage many school and urban gardens throughout the summer.  Students return next year as leaders in the continuing work of producing food for the community.

I hope you enjoy reading it and I’m getting excited about putting together the final program evaluation to show a national audience what Urban Tilth is doing…

Students Growing Food:  A Study of a Food-Production Focused Intervention in a California High School

The Push for More School Food Production Gardens continues…

On Saturday, June 5th, DC Prep Academy Charter School and Rails to Trails Conservancy teamed up to add another urban/school garden into the growing rolls of urban agriculture taking place around the country. The 1000 square foot garden set in Northeast D.C.’s Edgewood community will combine an edible forest of fruit trees, perennial vegetables, herbs, insectary plants and dynamic accumulators with a large space for growing annual crops like collards, corn, squash, tomatoes and more.

Garden Site before Transformation

Garden Site before Transformation

The advantage of this garden site is that it is located along the brand new Metropolitan Branch Trail coming out of Union Station which provides previously cut-off communities accessibility to the metro and to Union Station and the Capital. The garden will not only beautify the new bike trail it will hopefully connect the charter school to the community in a new way. DC Prep is housed in the old industrialized buildings that would use the nearby railroad industry and even now their middle school campus has no playground to speak of. A true “urban” campus, DC Prep students are absolutely the students that most need to be reconnected to the growing of food and how it affects our lives

New Garden Site

New Garden Site

Plans are being made for how the garden will be used, but classes and teachers are already lining up to use the garden in their curriculum. Hopefully, the site will be used not only to educate students in genuine food production, but bring a small and steady stream of locally grown produce into the homes of the students and teachers at the school. DC Prep already is at the forefront of school food, using Revolution Foods as their sourcing agent and we hope next year to collaborate with Revolution Foods in cooking demonstrations using food from the garden.

Sheet Mulching!

Sheet Mulching!

Three 60 ft rows will keep the kids busy

Three 60 ft rows will keep the kids busy