Moving Up the Urban Food Chain

With all this talk of composting, why don’t we move up the food-chain a bit and talk about all the things that happen to food before it ends up in your compost bin?  Food gathering in this country is complex, to say the least, and I suppose it would be safe to say that the majority of the food gathering that goes on in this country happens via the supermarket following a food chain that looks a lot like this charming yet disturbing flow chart created by Rahul Kamath:

Crazy, right?  But even if one tries to minimize dependence on this model by limiting grocery store shopping in lieu of Community Supported Agriculture and Farmer’s markets, it can’t be totally avoided. We live in Manhattan.  It’s an island.  Everything in our kitchen had to be brought here one way or another (see nos. 3, 5, 7, and 9 on the diagram).  That is, unless we were to grow it right in our proverbial “back yard”.  So, what would it take to support our family of four locally?  Well, according to The Remote Gardener, about 2 acres!

Now, we don’t even have 2 square feet of outdoor space, let alone 2 acres, so renegade survivalism is out of the question.  If you live in a city, you are inevitably dependent on a larger system to provide you with food. The question is: does it have to be the system in the diagram above?  What are the alternatives?  Is it possible to grow enough food right here in the five boroughs to support a population of 8 million?  That, of course, remains to be seen, but the answer is sure to lie in some combination of rooftop gardens and vertical farms, as in the idea described by Dickson Despommier in this video:

Of course, Despommier’s vertical farm is still theoretical and has its detractors, but it is an extremely compelling idea and you can see designs for what the buildings would look like here.  Wouldn’t NYC be that much more gorgeous if it was sprinkled with giant greenhouses?  What better way to put to use all of those crazy glass highrises in Manhattan and Brooklyn built during the recent real estate boom, many of which now appear to be vacant. Would it be possible to build a “mixed use” building that both houses people and feeds them?

The Living Skyscraper designed by Blake Kurasek

While vertical farms are visionary, a number of actual working rooftop farms have sprouted up (sorry!) in Brooklyn and Queens. While there aren’t nearly enough to feed 8 million people, developments in the past few years have been inspiring.  Here are a few of the biggest:

  • Eagle Street Rooftop Farm is a non-profit organization that runs a 6.000 square foot farm in Greenpoint Brooklyn that was designed and installed by Goode Green and is run by founding farmers, Annie Novak and Ben Flanner.  It is run by interns and volunteers and hosts a number of community educational programs. It’s produce supplies a CSA, area restaurants, and a local farmer’s market.
  • Brooklyn Grange is the largest commercial rooftop farm in the world with a 40,000 square foot farm in LIC, Queens and a new 45,000 square foot addition opening this year in the Brooklyn Navy Yard.  Although they are a privately owned enterprise, they run a number of volunteer and educational programs and supply food to local markets.
  • Gotham Greens is the newest addition to the Brooklyn landscape having installed rooftop greenhouses to grow food year-around in a hydroponic environment.  Started in 2011, their farm supplies area supermarkets, including Whole Foods.

Brooklyn Grange Image © Cyrus Dowlatshahi

Last Fall, Mayor Bloomberg announced a Green Building initiative as part of his ambitions PlanNYC program that includes rooftop gardens and farms. I wonder what it would take to green the rooftop of my building?

In the meantime, I will go micro-farming with my window garden, experimenting with what can be grown indoors. There are a number of things we can try to grow ourselves that would supplement our food gathering, especially now that we have a WindowFarm. This is what we plan to experiment with this year:

  • Herbs of all kinds
  • Mushrooms
  • Pea shoots
  • Tomatoes
  • Kale
  • Ginger
  • Onions

Of course, this experiment will not even come close to meeting our actual food requirements.  Even if we manage to miraculously produce two healthy heads of Kale, we’d still need about 48 more to cover what we consume in a year.  But it will be fun, and give my children some idea of where food comes from.

What are you growing indoors?

  1. #1 by Karyn on January 27, 2012 - 11:24 am

    All of the illustrations in this post are so fun to look at and contemplate!

  2. #2 by jmeyersforeman on January 27, 2012 - 1:51 pm

    I love the idea of vertical farming – this is something i am definitely going to have to investigate further! I wish i had a 36 hr. day! love your blog.

    • #3 by domaphile on January 27, 2012 - 2:27 pm

      Thanks. I could use a 36 hour day, too! sigh.

  3. #4 by lostartofsimpleliving on January 27, 2012 - 3:48 pm

    Reblogged this on lost art of simple living and commented:
    Awesome post from Domaphile about the importance of buying local, and reducing our carbon footprint!

    • #5 by domaphile on January 27, 2012 - 4:14 pm

      Thanks! It’s something I would definitely like to explore further.

  4. #6 by myschoolhouserocks on January 27, 2012 - 4:12 pm

    Great infographic. My acre in the country isn’t enough. I can only guess my condo balcony will also not contain wheat nor goats.

  5. #7 by Matthew Horns on January 28, 2012 - 5:31 am

    Almost half of the food that reaches American consumers is thrown away as trash. Composting is a way to convert that trash into a resource.

  6. #8 by Green Craft Properties on January 28, 2012 - 3:49 pm

    Reblogged this on Bamboogroupsa's Blog and commented:
    Very smart and logical blog and please share this with others. For more information on lots around Antigua, Guatemala to purchase for your own lot of love, http://www.greencraftproperties.com

  1. Making the Most of Your CSA Share « domaphile

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