Saturday, January 12, 2008

Local Urban Agriculture

I've been reading Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma, as well as continuing my work with a great and inspiring group called Verde, and it has put ephemeral site use and urban agriculture on the brain in some interesting new forms. Verde is a non-profit dedicated to [improving] "...the economic health of disadvantaged communities by creating environmental job training, employment, and entrepreneurial opportunities, fostering the connection between economic vitality and environmental protection and restoration."

The third leg of sustainability, social equity, often is neglected, and pairing job training with sustainable stormwater just makes so much sense that you gotta support the idea. I got hooked up with Verde and the executive director Alan Hipolito after working on a number of affordable housing projects through Hacienda CDC, mostly in Northeast Portland. The following is an example of some of the sustainable stormwater projects that have been completed recently, creating demonstration rain gardens at local sites:

::image via Verde

The long and short of it is that Verde now has the rights to establish a short-term production nursery operation on a former landfill property located in NE Portland. One of many surplus properties owned by the City of Portland, the Cully Park site as it is known, is slated for use as a future neighborhood park and ballfields, and a master planning process has begun to shape this future use. The goal for the site now is to temporarily use the site for production of stormwater plant materials and as a site for job-skills training. Recently, the idea has expanded to include potential strategies for urban gardening to use these sites.

Surveys of vacant and blighted land, which contributes little the community, reveals many acres of potential land that can be co-opted for alternative uses. While the idea of using vacant and underutilized land for agriculture is not new... but perhaps requires some additional revisitation pf other examples. Last December in various sources, including BLDGBLOG, was a story regarding Farmadelphia, which envisions wide areas of vacant lands in Philadelphia transformed to areas of urban agriculture:

:: images via BLDGBLOG

There has long been a shortage of community gardening spaces in Portland, and i'm guessing, wherever we live in urban areas where yards are either too shady or too small to provide a good growing environment. We are slow to add community gardens, both due to land costs, infrastructure, and just plain will - and thus we are constantly underserved with access to garden space. Rather than add any significant amounts of new gardens, there was the controversial removal of the Reed Community Garden (in which I had a plot for a year, and was mesmerized by gardens and gardeners on a daily basis there).

Another somewhat related option, Orion magazine featured an article 'Food Less Traveled', which some innovative Portland gardeners who run Your Backyard Farmer, a service that 'create sustainable organic farms' in people's backyards, sharing a CSA portion with the homeowner. With a message of 'We do the Work, you enjoy the healthy harvest', YBF is aimed at those either too busy or with excess urban land that would like to enjoy fresh vegetables without getting their hands dirty.

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