You want fresh produce in New York? No problem: Residents and activists are converting vacant lots and rooftops into growing spaces at a record pace. While those kinds of spaces aren’t likely to run out anytime soon, Cooper Union architecture student Karim Ahmed is tinkering with the technology necessary to take advantage of yet another: the city’s waterways. His project would grow food hydroponically on “floating gardens,” the first of which he’s anchored in Long Island City’s Anable Basin.
Want to get into a heated argument? Start a conversation about the methods we use to grow our food. Whether you’re supporting the current norm for agriculture (big, mechanized farms using an array of chemical products) or something that seems much greener (organics and other methods of ecological farming), you’ll likely have no trouble finding someone who disagrees with you. Vehemently. At some point, that person will tell you that you’re arguing for the starvation of millions — regardless of which side you’re on.
Back in August when I wrote about The Plant, a former meatpacking warehouse turned urban farm in Chicago, I made only the briefest of mentions of the business incubation plans the founding organization envisioned for the space. The brewery planned for the space has received the most attention thus far, but if you head up to the rooftop of the building, you’ll find another sustainable business at work: The Urban Canopy. As you might imagine, they’re in the rooftop farming business, though they’re taking a quite different approach from most with their rooftop hydroponics system.
Assembly lines rolling out the Focus Electric: Think Nissan’s the only game in town for a true electric vehicle? Not anymore: Ford’s started production of its 2012 Focus Electric in Michigan. (via @edbegleyjr)
Ranger Rick comes to the iPhone: Your kids bug you to play games on your smartphone? The National Wildlife Federation has created a way to make sure they’re learning something. The new Ranger Rick mobile apps provide games for kids as young as 2 (yes, 2!) to sharpen their knowledge about wild animals.
Remember 1980? The Miracle on Ice? Voodoo economics? “Funkytown” at the top of the charts? Seems like eons ago, doesn’t it? You may not remember (or even realize) that 1980 was also a seminal year (or, the round-about time for big changes) in our food system. Consolidation of agriculture? That’s when we started to see it. High-fructose corn syrup? It started showing up in, well, everything right about then. A decrease in US agricultural aid to other countries? That, too.
So, is any of this important to us now, or just a little food history trivia?
Is there anything you can’t do with a used shipping container? Designers have intrepidly redesigned these metal boxes that pile up at ports as everything from office buildings to portable commercial space to prison cells. Industrial designer Jon Friedman and environmental scientist Brad McNamara have found yet another potential use for shipping containers: small, self-contained urban farms. Combining hydroponics, solar power and rainwater harvesting, their Freight Farms concept recycles containers into “modular, expandable, portable crop production units.”
Last month, I dug into a relatively new phenomenon: the purchase of arable land in the developing world by countries that have largely exhausted their own farm lands and/or aquifers. Done in the name of food security, these wealthier countries are often cordoning off, if not outright displacing, small subsistence farmers from land they could use to meet their own needs…
Quick: think of something that Africa has in abundance. Given the tenor of most of the news we get from the continent, answers like poverty, disease, and social unrest may pop into your head. All of those answers are correct, unfortunately, but governments around the world, as well as investors, are seeing something else: land, particularly farmland. With aquifers falling beyond their refresh rates and soil fertility eaten up by erosion, over-farming, and/or deforestation, many governments are looking for new places to grow food. And Africa, as it has for centuries, is looking ripe for exploitation. According to the World Bank, “approximately 56 million hectares of arable land has been purchased or leased worldwide, 70% of which took place in Africa…
I admit that I know very little about Uganda: Idi Amin (gathered largely from THE LAST KING OF SCOTLAND) and news reports of the bizarre “Kill the Gays” bill pretty much sums it up. I learned a bit in January about efforts to protect their coffee crop from the effects of climate change, but still wouldn’t want take a test on the country. So perhaps my pleasant surprise at news of a growing organic agricultural movement in the country is just a sign of my ignorance, but it strikes me as a really positive development in a nation that has been torn by by political and social unrest for decades.
If you’re a good treehugger, you always look for USDA Organic certification on food and personal care products, the FSC label on paper and wood products, and the Green Seal on cleaning products. But if you happen to enjoy recreational medicinal horticultural products, caveat emptor dictates your purchases. There’s no way to know the growing practices that produced that dimebag, right?
Feeling paralyzed by news of environmental challenges like climate change, water shortages, and biodiversity loss? Fed up with political inaction and posturing on these issues? Groups of people around the world have decided to take matters into their own hands, and the transition movement represents efforts to by towns, villages, and even countries to adapt to changing environmental circumstances, to lighten their impact, and to even create more meaningful ways of life.
The growth of deserts, mainly through deforestation, increased animal grazing, and climate change, has created greater food insecurity for some of the world’s most impoverished people. In Senegal, an innovative program funded by the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) is using native acacia trees as a weapon against expanding deserts and drylands… while also creating agricultural and economic opportunities.
Bamboo’s been touted as the ultimate green material, both because of its quick ability to renew itself, and its durability. While the environmental aspects are complex, the tropical grass has become a favorite material for everything from building materials to fabric to bicycles. A team of riders set off on a cross-country journey yesterday to tout the material itself, as well as the economic potential of growing it in the United States… specifically, in Alabama.
Matthew Moore work was featured at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival… but not on a traditional movie screen. Rather, Moore’s “seed to market” videos of specific types of produce were shown at the Park City Fresh Market grocery store… directly above the bins of that produce. As with so much other recent food activism, the idea was to connect people with their food… and the journey it takes from farm to table.
While proponents of conventional and organic farming continue to debate the agricultural methods that can feed a world of six to nine billion people, they have one thing in common: both generally focus on land-based farming. While that seems like a no-brainer, indoor agriculture is as old as the greenhouse… and has become significantly more sexy with the concept of the vertical farm. To date, many of the ideas about growing food and plants in skyscraper-like buildings are just that: concepts.
Dutch research company PlantLab is a step beyond that: they’ve been experimenting with a completely controlled environment for growing food, and found that not only could it help meet growing food demand, but do so with significantly lower energy, chemical, and water inputs.
I love the caption one Tumblr wrote to accompany this picture from a breathtaking Guardian series of NASA satellite images that “reveal the diversity of agricultural patterns as seen from space.” It’ll be your moment of meaningfulness today. As this photograph of a Dubai golf course being reclaimed by the dessert demonstrates: despite or in…
You might argue that the “community” in community-supported agriculture (or CSA) can be a bit misleading. Sure, CSA arrangements, in which consumers buy shares in a local farm’s crops, cut down tremendously on food miles, give us more insight into the cultivation of the things we eat, and often give us the opportunity to get to know the farmers involved in growing what goes on our plate… but does that always result in community?
Because green tech never takes a holiday… your finds for the week.
- Biodegradable Styrofoam: Styrofoam is a great insulating material… but is made from a nasty chemical mix that doesn’t break down. AeroClay blends milk proteins and clay to create the insulation benefits of Styrofoam (along with strength and light weight) without the waste impact. (via Springwise)
- Are wind turbines good for crops? Preliminary research from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Ames Laboratory suggest that might be the case… see the video above. (via GreenTech Pastures)
A young couple decides that the urban corporate rat race is no longer their scene, and chooses to buy a piece of land in the country to start their own organic farm.
Heard this story before? Probably… with the young couple in question coming from LA, Chicago, or New York. Turns out this lifestyle choice is no longer uniquely American, though: Chongming Island, China is turning into a destination for disaffected Chinese yuppies looking to get back to the land.
This past weekend, Farm Aid celebrated its 25th anniversary with its annual concert… this time in Milwaukee. The brainchild of Neil Young, Willie Nelson, and John Mellencamp, Farm Aid’s mission has always focused on the plight of the family farmer in the United States; in recent years, the organization has also added a healthy dose of sustainability to its message. Some might be tempted to accuse the organization of jumping on the green bandwagon, but Farm Aid recognizes that family farmers are well-positioned to meet the growing demand for safer, healthier, and more environmentally benign agricultural products.
You probably associate frog legs with French cuisine and its offshoots (they’re pretty popular in Southern Louisiana where I grew up)… but the United States is challenging France as the world’s leader in frog eating. That’s happening, in large part, because some restaurant chains now carry frog legs… which they generally import from farms in China.
Rickety carnival rides. Animal and agricultural exhibits. And fried… well, just about anything. State fair season is coming up, and future farmers, midway operators, and bands past their prime are ready to roll. At a few fairs around the country, you can add renewable energy vendors, green builders, and organic foodies to the mix: the greening of the state fair is slowly but surely underway.
It’s been almost two years since Newsweek took note of the “the craze for urban poultry farming,” and the trend doesn’t seem to be abating… more localities are amending livestock laws to allow for raising backyard chickens, and more people are discovering that eggs from chickens living only feet away are far superior to just about anything that comes out of the grocery store.
Thinking about bringing some chicks home to raise? A ton of educational resources have sprung up as this practice becomes more mainstream.
You likely haven’t seen much news about the impact the economic decline has had on family owned and operated dairies, but Farm Aid notes that the recession has hit these small businesses particularly hard: the prices of milk paid by processors has dropped 50% since July, 2008. Add this to decades of decline in the small farm and ranch, and you’ve got a recipe for bankruptcy… or creativity.