Growing Food in Urban “Trash”

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"ECHO farms Florida platform garden urban farming"

An example of a platform garden in the urban farming zone at ECHO Farm

On Tuesday, August 18th, 2009, Worldwatch Senior Researcher Danielle Nierenberg and Research Fellow Molly Theobald took a trip to ECHO Farm in Fort Myers, Florida to see some examples of agricultural innovations and technologies in action. The following post is the fourth in a four-part series that discusses this trip and some of the things we learned.

An ECHO senior intern, Andrew, grew up on a small dairy farm in Iowa, but he’s not applying his Midwestern agriculture skills at ECHO. Instead, Andrew is learning innovative ways to grow food in cities. ECHO’s urban agriculture project mimics conditions found in urban areas, where now more than half of all people live (See Chapter 3 in State of the World 2007 “Farming in Cities”).  Andrew is using what would normally be thought of as trash—aluminum cans, old tires, corn cobs, coconut husks, and even old socks to build hydroponic gardening systems (essentially growing food without soil).

Andrew explained how he cut an old tire to create a planter, putting the wall of the tire in the bottom for support and then filling it with trash before planting onions and other vegetables. The trash provides stability for roots systems, while a chicken manure “tea”—a concentrated form of fertilizer—as well as commercial fertilizers, provide nutrients for the plants. The systems are light weight and portable for both convenience and safety. Since rooftops are often communal space, multiple families might share the space for growing crops and using heavy soil could cause a building to collapse. Additionally, planters can easily be moved outside during the day for sunlight and then brought back in at night to avoid theft or damage. And because women are often the primary urban farmers, they need to be able to move the planters easily from one location to another.

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