07/02/2012 12:43

In the open spaces of rural America, access to locally grown food seems logical. In the heart of cities, the reality is that many people depend on food gathered from a distance. In the past, technologies focused on making food available to city dwellers. Citizens living in cities soon realized that open space was important for their well-being. Public parks were developed to satisfy this need – a good thing but parks are not intended to grow food locally.

                In the 1990s an awareness of the need to consume fresh vegetables and fruits for good health began to focus technology on how to provide affordable produce more efficiently to people in cities. Vacant lots, usually an eye sore, are converted into community vegetable gardens.  More people include their own personal vegetable gardens in their landscaping plans. Some restaurants in larger cities take pride in being able to provide menus that include “locally grown” ingredients. Greenhouses and tunnels of plastic provide shelter in order to extend the growing season.

                Dickson D. Despommier, a researcher in parasitology, aroused interest in new means of growing food.  While teaching an environmental health course at Columbia College, Despommier told his classes that by 2050 the world is expected to be populated by 9.2 billion people.  With current farming practices, “we will need an area of additional agricultural land the size of South America. It just does not exist! Not on Earth!” (quoted by Bob Dunn in the article “Toward a New Garden of Eden”, Natural History, July/August 2011). Then he and his students explored possible solutions.

                All over the world, scientists, researchers, and entrepreneurs, are finding new places to grow food in urban areas.  Green Walls are growing up all over the world – “a vertical garden system developed by botanist Patrick Blanc; layers of synthetic felt over a lightweight frame provide support for plant roots and also circulate water and other nutrients.” (Dunn) New wall  systems are being designed with water-saving mineral wool.  A US-based company makes walls that yield leafy green vegetables and carrots.

                Cities have succeeded with “Green Roofs”.  Although roof top gardens may never be able to supply more than a fraction of urban food needs, they have other benefits. “They sequester toxins from the air. They filter and collect stormwater. They reduce building heating and cooling costs … The benefits extend … to other species. Seeds arrive, along with hundreds of bee and wasp species. Spiders parachute in on loops of silk. Such colonizers also move among these spaces, the way they might move among fields of tall grass ...” (Dunn)

                You can find out more about growing plants on roofs, walls, and urban farms at www.agreenroof.com. Adapting abandoned buildings and constructing new towers for sustainable farming will be a subject for another article.


Della Moen, Earth Team Volunteer, NRCS/Stephenson Soil and Water Conservation District, an equal opportunity provider and employer, 06/27/12 (for publication on 06/30/12 in the Journal- Standard, Freeport, Illinois)  Della can be reached at info@stephensonswcd.org