Archive for the ‘Urban Farming’ Category


Innovation of the Week: Gardening “Boot Camps” for Troubled Youth

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By Emily Gilbert

Rather than a jail term, a program from the Cook County Boot Camp in Illinois is finding ways to reach troubled youth and inmates through urban gardening. Among the educational and vocational offerings the program offers is work in a three-quarter-acre garden that produces tomatoes, kale, carrots, and a host of other vegetables. The young male inmates learn life lessons and job skills through gardening, leading some to explore new career opportunities and lifestyle choices through agriculture and green jobs.

The Chicago Botanic Garden teaches inmates about sustainable horticulture and urban agriculture. (Photo Credit: New York Times)

The first group of inmates to participate in the program built 30 raised beds, planted an acre of vegetable transplants and seeds, and maintained the farm during their 18-week program. Since the garden’s establishment in 2009, more than 3,000 pounds of produce have been harvested. Whatever is not consumed in the camp’s mess hall is distributed to food pantries over the course of the growing season.

In 2012, the facility installed a compost operation to break down food waste, paper scraps, and other organic material into compostable matter. The resulting compost is applied to the garden, creating an independent and efficient food system for the facility.

“We’ve designed the program so we would be able to grow our own food,” said Frank Johnson, director of programs at the Cook County Sheriff’s Boot Camp. “If we can grow our own food, we can demonstrate what we can do both to the guys working in the garden and to everybody else.”

The boot camp is operated by the Chicago Botanic Garden’s Windy City Harvest program, which in partnership with the City Colleges of Chicago now provides a certificate in sustainable horticulture and urban agriculture for boot camp graduates. To encourage participation and provide viable economic opportunity, graduates can earn $9.50 an hour while attending classes and working at various gardens, urban farms, and farmers markets around the city. Former inmates Brian Devitt and Nicholas Walker, for example, have both chosen agriculture as a career and are now working as employees of the Chicago Botanic Garden.



Every Last Morsel: An Interview with Todd Jones

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Nourishing the Planet’s Carol Dreibelbis spoke recently with Todd Jones, founder of Every Last Morsel, an online platform that connects gardeners and urban farmers with their communities. Gardeners, once they’ve plotted their garden’s location on a map, can track the garden’s progress, sell or exchange produce with their neighbors, and share gardening tips with people throughout the community.

Todd Jones, Founder of Every Last Morsel (Photo credit: Todd Jones)

Why did you start Every Last Morsel?

Every Last Morsel began as a landscaping service, oddly enough. I would personally design, build, and maintain edible landscapes for individuals. Last year while I was working on this, I had the idea to build a platform for myself to manage those gardens—including their location, contents, and production volume. I realized that if I put those tools on a network, empowering people to do the same thing in their communities rather than doing it all myself, I would have a much larger effect on local food production.  That’s how the idea all started.

Every Last Morsel has evolved considerably since then. I realized that creating a network and a micro-marketplace for homegrown food is not a sustainable business model: there needs to be a greater volume of produce available. So, now there is the added ability to buy food from farmers’ markets and small farms, which also gives these growers more exposure.

There’s a social element to the website.  Why is that an important part of the project?

My goal is to empower people to educate themselves and connect with experienced gardeners so they can learn how to grow food. I think that one of the most beautiful things about the local food movement is that it allows people to create direct relationships in their community. So, I was inspired to create a social network that brings people together online as a means to get them together in real life. A lot of people have their own network of friends, scattered throughout city, but this is a neat way to inspire people to get to know their neighbors.

What resources will the website provide to people thinking about starting a garden?

Every Last Morsel provides people with a network of hundreds of people that they can learn from, as well as great gardening models that are already in existence. I don’t want people to have to reinvent the wheel to start a garden. One of the things that struck me as I studied urban farming in Chicago is that there are many fantastic, forward-thinking farming organizations; but, they don’t collaborate in finding best practices to make urban farming efficient, profitable, and therefore a sustainable part of urban living. (more…)


Aquaponics: An Interview with Sweet Water Organics’ Matt Ray

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Nourishing the Planet’s Kimberlee Davies spoke recently with Matt Ray, the principal farmer for Sweet Water Organics, an aquaponics training organization in Milwaukee, about his experience in the field of aquaponics.

Sweet Water Organics uses aquaponics technology to grow food in downtown Milwaukee.

What is aquaponics? How did you become involved?

Aquaponics has been around for centuries. It was traditionally a technique in tropical climates, using floating bamboo rafts with vegetation in fresh water pools. This was simply the adaptation of agriculture to the tropics. The technique has become cutting edge over the last 20 years. We can adapt aquaponics to today’s geographies and culture.

Aquaponics is a blending of aquaculture (the raising of aquatic animals) and hydroponics (growing plants in water without soil). In aquaponics, aquatic animals serve as the nutrition base for the plants. The great thing about aquaponics is that it is a closed system; it doesn’t have to flow in one pipe and out of another.

I saw it begin to pop up in the late 1980s, starting with the Virgin Islands, Australia, and even Asia, where fish are grown symbiotically with rice paddies. Forward-thinking farmers and activists began to develop the practice in non-tropical climates, and academics began researching the field. Twenty years later, we have a lot more people doing it. Scientific data has emerged to support the spread and success of this technique. It’s possible to take the nuts and bolts and adapt them to wherever you are. It’s going to work and it can be replicated.



Documentary Sheds New Light on Thriving Community Gardens

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By Carol Dreibelbis

There are an estimated 18,000 community gardens in the United States and Canada, according to the group Why Hunger, and thousands more worldwide. Designing Healthy Communities, a project of the nonprofit Media Policy Center, notes that community gardens “can play a significant role in enhancing the physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being necessary to build healthy and socially sustainable communities.”

Naasir Ali participates in the “Growing Food…Growing Together” program at the Washington Youth Garden. (Photo credit: Cintia Cabib)

In her 2011 documentary A Community of Gardeners, filmmaker Cintia Cabib offers an intimate look at the vital role that seven community gardens play in Washington, D.C.

At Common Good City Farm, a work-exchange program enables local residents to volunteer in the garden in exchange for fresh produce. One volunteer explains just how important the garden is for her: “The garden plays a big role in my life because it feeds me. I live out of this garden: whatever I get every Wednesday, that’s what feeds me for the whole week.”

At Fort Stevens Community Garden, an organic garden run by the National Park Service, immigrant gardeners from around the world grow fruits and vegetables that are native to their homelands in Africa, Latin America, and the Caribbean. The Park Service also provides land and water for the Melvin Hazen Community Garden, which was once a World War II victory garden.



Urban Agriculture Helps Combat Hunger in India’s Slums

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By Catherine Ward

In 2010, nearly 830 million people around the world lived in slums, up from 777 million in the year 2000, according to the United Nations.

Back street of an Indian slum. (Photo credit:

The New York Times describes Dharavi, Asia’s largest slum, as a “cliché of Indian misery,” with approximately 1 million slum dwellers living on 8 percent of the land in the western city of Mumbai. Although Dharavi lacks sufficient infrastructure to provide sewerage, water, electricity, or housing for residents, this dense community in the heart of India’s financial capital has a thriving informal economy with an annual economic output of up to US$1 billion.

Writing in Foreign Policy, Charles Kenny of the Center for Global Development observes that “slum dwellers may be at the bottom of the urban heap, but most are better off than their rural counterparts.” Urban centers, both in India and around the world, offer economic opportunities that rural areas do not. For this reason, some migrants voluntarily move to slums in hopes of learning new skills, setting up businesses, and sending their children to school.

India has a massive population of 1.2 billion, second only to China, and is home to an estimated 93 million slum dwellers. According to WaterAid, the country’s slum population has doubled in the past two decades. Slum communities can be hotspots for hunger, with an estimated 36 percent of slum children in Mumbai malnourished, reports the website



Supporting Climate-Friendly Food Production

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By Laura Reynolds

This summer, record temperatures and limited rainfall parched vast areas of U.S. cropland, and with Earth’s surface air temperature projected to rise 0.69 degrees Celsius by 2030, global food production will be even more unpredictable. Although agriculture is a major driver of human-caused climate change, contributing an estimated 25 to 30 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, when done sustainably it can be an important key to mitigating climate change.

Agroforestry is one practice that can reduce greenhouse gas emissions while adapting to the effects of climate change. (Photo credit: Christensen Fund)

Because of its reliance on healthy soil, adequate water, and a delicate balance of gases such as carbon dioxide and methane in the atmosphere, farming is the human endeavor most vulnerable to the effects of climate change. But agriculture’s strong interrelationships with both climatic and environmental variables also make it a significant player in reducing climate-altering emissions as well as helping the world adapt to the realities of a warming planet.

The good news is that agriculture can hold an important key to mitigating climate change. Practices such as using animal manure rather than artificial fertilizer, planting trees on farms to reduce soil erosion and sequester carbon, and growing food in cities all hold huge potential for reducing agriculture’s environmental footprint.

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that the global agricultural sector could potentially reduce and remove 80 to 88 percent of the carbon dioxide that it currently emits. By adopting more-sustainable approaches, small-scale agriculture in developing countries has the potential to contribute 70 percent of agriculture’s global mitigation of climate change. And many of these innovations have the potential to be replicated, adapted, and scaled up for application on larger farms, helping to improve water availability, increase diversity, and improve soil quality, as well as mitigate climate change. (more…)


Toronto Declaration Calls on City Leaders to Get Growing

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By Charlotte Litjens

At an urban agriculture summit in Toronto this August, a diverse group of advocates produced the world’s first declaration for integrating food production into the urban environment: the Toronto Declaration. Calling for “good food, green buildings, and great cities growing together,” the declaration not only proclaims the intentions of summit-goers from around the world, but also passionately calls upon city officials and others to join them in action to make agriculture a legitimate part of urban development.

The Toronto Declaration calls for “good food, green buildings, and great cities growing together” (Photo credit: FoodShare Toronto)

“Too many governments still divide and separate food, water, shelter, health, energy, education, waste, transit, community, and economics,” the declaration reads. The document explained that when cities are developing their infrastructure, they need to engineer more creative space for growing food. By creating space for agriculture within green buildings and urban landscaping, city dwellers will benefit from both an enhanced quality of life and food security. Not only is food produced in urban agriculture-scapes, but these green spaces also provide what economists call “ecosystem services,” which include the absorption of greenhouse gases and support for species like honeybees and other pollinators. The declaration also discusses the potential of urban agriculture to create jobs, educate youth, improve public health, and empower communities.

To promote this “growth industry of the future,” the declaration proposes several action items for cities, which include the following:

  1. Official food charters, plans and food policy councils;
  2. Urban agriculture offices within local and regional governments;
  3. Green roof laws and codes;
  4. Government support for food-producing buildings and landscapes;
  5. Scaling-up of nutrient recycling from waste streams;
  6. Provide food-based curriculum to all youth.

These actions items were developed during the closing plenary session of the Urban Agriculture Summit on August 19 of this year, which welcomed participants from around the world and featured Growing Power’s Will Allen, Nourishing the Planet columnist and urban agriculture expert Wayne Roberts, and Luc Mugeot from The International Development Research Center. The Declaration’s authors include representatives from the meal-providing NGO Foodshare, the Toronto Food Policy Council, Ryerson University, and Roberts.

How can we advance the action plan of the Toronto Declaration in cities around the world? Is it already taking place in some cities?

Charlotte Litjens is a Food and Agriculture Research Intern with The Worldwatch Institute.

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Five Tips for City Growers

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By Molly Redfield

Asphalt-strewn streets and blank-faced skyscrapers dominate city landscapes. But in recent years, cities have also become places where anything from rooftop pumpkin patches to herb-crowded windowsills flourish. With the right ingredients—healthy soil, enough sunlight, plenty of water, seeds, and, of course, the space to throw it all together—it seems as if urbanites can now grow a garden anywhere.

City gardeners must take into consideration uniquely urban concerns when growing food (Photo Credit: the Thrive Post)

But cities are still unique growing environments. Tall buildings can shade out the sun and block or redirect wind. Heavy metals or other pollutants may contaminate the soil. And space in a densely populated city might be difficult to come by. These are some of the concerns, among others, that urban agriculturalists must keep in mind to grow healthy and productive gardens.

Today, Nourishing the Planet highlights five tips that are especially relevant to farmers, gardeners, and other agriculturalists growing gardens in cities around the world.

Soil:Because many cities have a past of rapid industrialization, or are currently industrializing, their soils can contain toxic heavy metal byproducts such as lead or cadmium. Plants uptake these heavy metals through their roots and then incorporate them into their vegetative tissue. When people consume fruits, vegetables, and other products grown in toxic soils they are, often unknowingly, exposed to these contaminants. Children are especially vulnerable to heavy metals and, according to the World Health Organization, a blood lead concentration in children exceeding 10 µg/dL (micrograms of lead per deciliter of blood) is associated with cognitive impairment.

Urban growers have several ways to avoid contaminated soil. One method consists of simply overlaying healthy soils, manure, and loam over contaminated city ground. Instead of completely replacing soils, though, another remedial effort includes mixing organic matter and limestone with city soils. By decreasing the acidity of soils and making lead bind more readily to non-living organic matter, this technique prevents heavy metal uptake in plants. In fact, treating and replacing a depth of only seven inches of city soils can effectively protect the root layer of most common garden plants from heavy metals like lead. Lastly, growing produce out of raised beds or containers with healthy soil is another way for farmers to be certain that their produce is safe.



The Greenhouse Effect: Plantagon’s Urban Vertical Farm

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By Edyth Parker

By 2050, Earth’s population will grow to 9 billion, according to the United Nations. This population growth, coupled with a rabid global urbanization rate, is increasing the pressure on urban areas’ infrastructure and services. Cities will need to find ways to adapt to absorb their new populations, who may become vulnerable to poverty and food and water shortages. One movement that looks to address urban poverty and food insecurity is vertical urban farming, and the Plantagon greenhouse in Sweden is one of the latest examples of this innovation.

The Plantagon Greenhouse: the future of urban framing? (Photo credit: Plantagon)

Plantagon officially broke ground on their vertical greenhouse in Linköping in 2012. The Plantagon Greenhouse Project aims to develop a sustainable vertical farm that can function by using excess heat and waste from the nearby industries for energy and fertilizer. For this, Plantagon has three different vertical farm models: the integrated greenhouse, the parasite, and the stand-alone greenhouse.

The integrated greenhouse is not just a greenhouse. In this model, there will be a façade system of panels on the exterior of the building that will host the cultivation boxes for the crops. The building itself will be used for other industrial purposes as well as urban farming, maximizing land productivity. The façade system will have a conveyor belt that moves each plant in and out of sunlight as the cultivation boxes are carried downward floor by floor.

These boxes or pots will be fitted with an ebb-and-flow irrigation mechanism as well as nutrient reservoirs. The crops will grow as they slowly move down the conveyor belt, arriving mature and ready for harvesting in the basement levels. Harvesting will be done using an automatic harvesting machine, after which the pots will be reused for a new generation of crops. The parasite model was created as a façade or exterior system that could be attached to existing buildings.



Five Cities and the Organizations That are Making Them Green

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By Jenny Beth Dyess

Currently over half of the world’s 7 billion live in urban areas and according to the United Nations (UN), that number is expected to reach 65 percent by 2050. Dramatic population growth strains food resources and raises the challenge of feeding urban dwellers, particularly the poor. According to the UN, poverty is now growing faster in urban areas than in rural areas—there are currently 1 billion people living in urban slums.

Urban agriculture is cropping up in major cities worldwide. (Photo credit: Bernard Pollack)

Today, Nourishing the Planet highlights five cities and the organizations that are helping these cities become food-sufficient.

1. Dar es Salaam: Over 45 percent of Tanzania’s 2.3 million unemployed people live in the commercial capital, Dar es Salaam. Studies by the Tanzanian Department of Rural Development and Regional Planning have found that there is significant reduction in poverty among residents who practice urban gardening in Dar es Salaam. In 2011, 68 percent of residents are growing food and raising livestock in the city. According to the International Food Policy Research Institute, 90 percent of vegetables and 60 percent of the milk supply are produced locally.

Dar es Salaam in action: The Mikocheni Post Primary Vocational School is training students how to make a sustainable living and grow food in the city. The vocational school has become a learning center for waste separation, composting, and urban farming. The composting chambers are built by the masonry students, the cooking and carpentry students contribute organic waste to the compost, and all students take turns attending the gardens. The school also offers free training seminars on composting to the local community.