Posts Tagged ‘urban agriculture’

Prison Garden Programs: Improving Health, Increasing Sustainability and Contributing to Community

Posted in Models, Movements by Jessica Bird on March 16th, 2012

Photo: agrilifetoday via Flickr CC

From “Prison Gardens a Growing Trend, Feeding Inmates on the Inside and Food Banks on the Outside” by Rachel Cernansky:

Nelson Mandela may have started it all when he was in prison—”A garden is one of the few things in prison that one could control,” he wrote in his autobiography. “Being a custodian of this patch of earth offered a small taste of freedom.”

But the idea probably rose to national fame only earlier this past decade, when the Garden Project of San Francisco started selling fresh produce to Alice Waters’s acclaimed Chez Panisse restaurant. Catherine Sneed, the woman who in 1992 founded that project, which is a post-release program for ex-prisoners, did so because she had already seen such success with the Horticulture Program at the San Francisco County Jail, where she would go out on a daily basis with prisoners to work on the farm within the boundaries of the jail. The vegetables they grew were donated to soup kitchens and homeless shelters. Her moment of realization of a need for a post-release program came when one student of hers asked the visiting sheriff for permission to stay and work on the farm; Sneed recalled, “he had nothing on the outside.”

She started a trend. An increasing number of prisons are launching gardening programs: on-site gardens improve the nutritional intake of inmates and as a direct result can reduce violence and improve participants’ mental health, teaches horticultural skills that can be used upon inmates’ release (slashing recidivism rates), and also often produce surplus that is sent to food banks or other community centers or services. Here’s just a sampler of such programs that have started since Sneed’s Garden Project, or even before:

– The Insight Garden Program, also in the Bay Area, runs a 1,200 square-foot organic flower garden at the the medium-security San Quention Prison, where classes are given to teach inmates about gardening, environmental sustainability, and community care through gardening.

– Farther down the coast, the California Institute for Women runs an organic garden that sends fresh produce straight to the prison kitchen and the hospital kitchen, and is also geared to establish connections between the women and the outside community.

The Greenhouse Project on New York’s Riker’s Island has seen tremendous success, while in Wisconsin, 28 adult correctional institutions started on-site gardening projects last year. Each facility is producing thousands of pounds of vegetables per year—the highest yield being 75,000 pounds of produce, a quarter of which is donated to local food banks.

– Inmates at Washington State’s McNeil Island Corrections Center have transformed an acre of lawn in the middle of the facility into an organic vegetable patch filled with tomatoes, peppers, pumpkins and other plants—and composting units. The state has several other prison gardens that send produce to local food banks.

– Greenleaf Gardens runs a Prison Horticulture Vocational Program in New York’s Westchester County, where produce from a one-acre garden that is maintained by inmates is distributed to people in need in the area.

Prison garden projects exist in New Zealand and London and no doubt in numerous countries in between. There’s even a how-to book about it (although it’s out of print), and some programs have ways the outside community can get involved. So if you’re looking for a way to green your neighborhood…

For more information about the success of The Greenhouse Program on Riker’s Island, follow the link to the article. -JB

Planting a Stormwater-Fed Food Forest in the City

Posted in Movements by Kate Archdeacon on October 24th, 2011

The site in May 2009.

Two years later.

From “Suburban Dryland Forest Garden” on Permacultureglobal:

I love the forest, but I live in the city. Since I don’t get to the wildlands nearly enough, my goal has been to create an edible forest throughout the city where I live.  To me, it only makes sense to grow food where people live, and since a gargantuan number of people live in cities, it’s due time to get urban food systems established. Having worked in large scale annual agriculture I’m much more inclined to grow food in the semblance of a perennial forest. […]

There were many challenges to contend with for this garden. First was a mature black walnut that succumbed to thousand canker disease.  The city required that the tree be taken down as soon as possible to stem the spread of the disease.[…]

We sheet mulched this area heavily, up to 18 inches in places, as adding organic matter is reportedly the best way to lock-up and break down allelopathic chemicals [from the black walnut]. We used cardboard from the local bike shop to smother the bluegrass lawn, cow manure from a local ranch for fertility, leaves the client had collected over the years, and cast-off strawbales. The soil is now a nicely assimilated, dark and crumbly consistency. We harvested the runoff from nearly half of the house roof surface to gravity feed through four infiltration basins as the sole irrigation source. While most landscapes in Boulder are over-irrigated with municipally treated water, this garden harvests almost 10,000 gallons of rainwater annually to passively infiltrate into the soil, requiring zero municipal water post establishment. […]

We mulched the basins heavily with woodchips from a local tree trimmer to absorb the rainwater, reduce evaporation, and to prevent creating mosquito breeding habitat. Previously the water ran down the driveway and into the street only to evaporate in summer or ice up in winter. After three months of hand irrigation for plant establishment this garden now thrives strictly on harvested rainwater. After first digging the water harvesting earthworks, then planting the trees and shrubs, and following with sheet mulch, we planted various other useful plant species for nitrogen fixation, nutrient accumulation, pest confusion, and beneficial insect attraction. Most of the species have edible or medicinal qualities as well. […]

The growth in this garden is fantastic, and even better the homeowner has become a sincere advocate for rainwater harvesting and forest gardening. It has been two years since the garden was installed and it is encouraging to see the abundant results of needing no irrigation, producing food, creating wildlife habitat, being a great place to bring students, and simply being beautiful. This garden is an awesome place to eat, observe, and be! The scale of the garden is only 750 sq. ft. and is therefore easily and affordably replicated. With extremely low maintenance and no continuous irrigation cost, this garden has attracted other city dwellers to extend the edible forest ecosystem to other yards and neighborhoods. Perhaps the greatest yield from this garden is the food forest revolution that it has inspired!

Read the full article (including plant details) on

Beehives on Airport Land

Posted in Movements by Kate Archdeacon on October 21st, 2011

Via Moreland Food Gardens Network

Photo by edible office via flickr CC

From “At O’Hare Airport, Unused Land Is Going to the Bees” by Zak Stone:

In May, the Chicago Department of Aviation partnered with a community group to start a 2,400 square foot apiary on-site. Now 23 beehives are up and running and are scheduled to yield 575 pounds of honey this year. The project offers a creative, sustainable, and productive way to use otherwise wasted open space at mega-airports like O’Hare. The bees’ new home on the east side of the airport campus had long stood vacant, so it was a natural spot for the bee program to begin. And if that’s not enough benefit, the beehives provide employment opportunities for formerly incarcerated adults (similar to other projects that teach prisoners beekeeping).

Sweet Beginnings, the offshoot of the local economic development agency that’s managing the project, trains felons in the art of beekeeping and the process of making honey, candles, and lotions, which are sold under the brand Beeline. O’Hare’s shops intend to start selling the hyper-local honey products soon. “It is the perfect example of a green business operating and growing in Chicago, while also providing opportunities to those who need a second chance,” said former Chicago mayor Richard M. Daley.


Read the full article by Zak Stone on GOOD.


Lunchtime Gardening for Office Health

Posted in Models, Movements by Kate Archdeacon on September 23rd, 2011

Source: Sustainable Bristol


From “Will Business embrace Lunchtime Allotments?” by Paul Rainger:

Growing your own is all the rage. With long waiting lists for allotment space, we’ve seen veg beds spring up in parks, guerrilla growers taking over derelict land and even veg growing on supermarket roofs. The beneficial effects of reconnecting which nature through growing are well studied, from healthy eating itself, through to general improvements in health, happiness and even productivity at work. So, could leading business embrace Lunchtime Allotments as the next must have staff perk?

Will tomorrow’s young generation of more values-led employees see an hour lunchtime break to tend their veg as another key differentiator between good and bad employers, just as secure bicycle parking and showers are for many today? One company in Bristol, Arup, are already leading the way in the city. Staff in their city centre Bristol office haven’t let lack of space get in their way. They have simply taken over the nearby wide grass verge by the main bus lane.Now beans and courgettes pass by the window of the traffic heading up to the train station. You can even follow their adventures on [their blog].

What if every business played its part in greening our city? Not the bland corporate shrubbery we see today, but the real veg growing of Lunchtime Allotments like this. Businesses would benefit from the improved productivity, health and wellbeing of their staff. And in these times of recession in the public sector, it may now be the best way of achieving the truly edible city.

Read the original article by Paul Rainger on Sustainable Bristol


Capital Bee: Supporting Beekeeping in London

Posted in Models, Movements by Kate Archdeacon on September 15th, 2011

Capital Bee promotes community-run beekeeping in London and campaigns for a bee-friendly city.

The heart of Capital Bee is its seven training sites across the capital, offering 75 new beekeepers one year’s training from some of London’s most experienced beekeepers. These communities will then receive a hive and bees in 2012. The community sites, throughout the capital, are in schools, colleges, housing estates, businesses, and allotments. A full list of sites is available here.

Capital Bee is asking Londoners to support their local beekeepers and honey bees by growing plants that bees like, finding alternatives to garden pesticides, and opting for organic choices where possible. Solitary bees and bumble bees also need a suitable habitat in gardens, in much the same way as we put up bird boxes. A honey bee will fly up to three miles, so with over 2,500 hives already in London in London, you are never far from a bee!

The 50 new community apiaries are part of the Capital Growth campaign, which aims to support 2,012 new community food-growing spaces in London by the end of 2,012. Capital Growth is a partnership between London Food Link, the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, and the Big Lottery’s Local Food Fund.

In August this year, Capital Bee ran the London Honey Festival – “a celebration of London Honey, from across the capital as far as Croydon to Bexley, Tottenham to Ruislip, King’s Cross to the Royal Festival Hall. [People could] participate in the festival at selected restaurants, local shops and at the Honey Festival itself.”


Urban Food Production Potential: Edible Hackney

Posted in Models, Research by Kate Archdeacon on September 8th, 2011


From “Edible Hackney” by Edward Platt:

“I’m always amazed by the way that professional planning fails people,” Mikey Tomkins says, as we stand beneath a 17 storey block of flats called Welshpool House, near Hackney’s Broadway Market. Even on a bright, sunny afternoon in August, the area is not particularly inviting: people have congregated around a bench on the far side of the road, but the concrete terrace beneath the building and the three adjoining areas of fenced-off grass, are empty.

Tomkins, who is an expert on urban agriculture and a bee-keeper with hives on the roof of a nearby building, is incensed by the sight of so much wasted space. Last year, he produced a map called Edible Hackney, which imagines how the streets and estates of a small area of E8 could be turned to food production. He drew beehives on the roof of the 17-storey building and placed raised beds of vegetables and fruit trees around its base. The garages on the far side of the road became mushroom farms, and London Fields was the venue for an annual festival of local produce. The map offers a beguiling vision of a district recently ravaged by riots, and yet it isn’t entirely wishful thinking.

When Tomkins had greeted our small group half an hour before with a pot of his London Fields honey, he had explained that the tour we were about to embark on would not only take in the places where food might be produced, but the places where it was already in production.


Read the full article by Edward Platt on the Guardian.

Urban Agriculture Potential: Report

Posted in Movements, Research by Kate Archdeacon on August 23rd, 2011

Source: The City Fix

Sembradores Urbanos in Mexico City, photo by K. Archdeacon

From “New Report: The Potential for Urban Agriculture” by Itir Sonuparlak:

A new report by the Urban Design Lab (UDL) of Columbia University’s Earth Institute explores the potential for urban agriculture in New York City. The report, “The Potential for Urban Agriculture in New York City,” complements the existing discussion on sustainable cities. Developing agricultural spaces within or near urban areas has a great potential to reduce food transportation costs and environmental effects, as well as provide opportunities for economic development and diminish the disparities in access to healthy foods. In order to become a viable option to food production for the masses, urban agriculture must overcome challenges of scalability, energy efficiency and labor costs.

To understand the capacity of New York City’s crop production, UDL’s report aims to answer how much land could be productively used for agriculture and how much crop could realistically be grown in the given land. When it comes to the benefits of urban agriculture in New York City, the study also considers factors like food security, storm water runoff and sewer overflow mitigation, urban heat island effect, energy consumption, waste reduction, as well as opportunities for composting for agricultural purposes.

The study highlights 12 key findings:

  • Urban agriculture can play a critical role as productive green urban infrastructure.
  • Urban agriculture can play an important role in community development.
  • There is a substantial amount of land potentially available for urban agriculture in NYC.
  • Intensive growing methods adapted to urban spaces can result in yields per acre which greatly exceed those of conventional production techniques.
  • While urban agriculture cannot supply the entire city with all of its food needs, in certain neighborhoods it can significantly contribute to food security.
  • There is a need for cost/benefit analyses that reflect the full complexity of the city’s social and environmental challenges.
  • NYC’s rooftops are a vast, underused resource that could be transformed for food production.
  • Bureaucratic challenges are a major barrier to the expansion of urban farming.
  • Existing infrastructure has the potential to support the expansion of urban agriculture.
  • Urban farmers are establishing viable businesses by taking advantage of multiple revenue streams.
  • Urban agriculture is part of a broader horticultural approach to urban greening that encompasses more than fruits and vegetables.
  • Urban agriculture functions as a catalyst for larger food system transformations.
Read the full article by Itir Sonuparlak for a summary of the above points, or download the report.

Urban Farming: Video showcase

Posted in Models, Movements by Kate Archdeacon on July 22nd, 2011

Source: Bright Farm Systems

Brightfarms was featured in the Wall Street Journal, in a video piece on the growing urban farming industry. Paul Lightfoot, BrightFarms CEO, savors the taste of locally grown tomatoes at The Science Barge.

While up front capital costs are higher, the Journal reports, rooftop greenhouse farms pay off with lower operating costs, an improved environmental impact and tastier vegetables.  The other enterprises featured in the 5-minute film are Brooklyn Granges and Gotham Greens.

Watch the video on the Brightfarms blog or over on WSJ.

FARM:Shop – Growing Food in a London Shop

Posted in Movements by Kate Archdeacon on July 18th, 2011

From “Urban Farm in a Shop” on Urban Gardens:

FARM:shop is a workspace, cafe, and events venue packed to the rafters with living and breathing food–literally a farm in a shop. Asking themselves “how much food can we grow in a shop?” FARM:shop opened its doors in March and aspires to become the meeting place of choice for London’s food lovers and urban farmers, as well as a special place to rest one’s feet, have a coffee, and smell the countryside without ever leaving the city. Busy growing their idea, FARM:shop folks have filled the old space with a mini fish farm, vegetable garden, and are raising chickens and livestock.

The first FARM:shop, in Dalston, is the start of [a planned network of shops and grow sites across the UK.]

FARM:shop aims to:

  • Excite and inspire city dwellers to grow their own food, fabric and medicine and make an income doing this.
  • Create direct links between farms in the countryside with urban communities
  • Grow food commercially via a network of FARM:’s across cities and retail this food at FARM:shops
Read the full article on Urban Gardens


Community through Gardening: Post-Industrial UK

Posted in Models by Kate Archdeacon on July 8th, 2011

Via The Ecologist

Photo: Henry/Bragg
Photo © Henry/Bragg

From “Blooming Britain photo exhibition tours RHS gardens this summer“:

In 2010, artists Julie Henry and Debbie Bragg visited post-industrial regions around the UK to photograph people and communities who enter gardening campaigns, including RHS Britain in Bloom and RHS It’s Your Neighbourhood. The images are an anthropological study of the dynamics between public display and the gardener’s social standing and explore how this impacts on the wider community.

Visiting ‘in Bloom’ and It’s Your Neighbourhood groups in Manchester, East Ayrshire, Fareham, Castle Point and Tower Hamlets in London, the artists said, “We were initially sceptical about photographing community gardening groups. We felt that communities didn’t really exist anymore. What we found when we visited various groups around the country blew us away. We found that community could exist in the most unlikely places, from a tower block to an alleyway, using gardening as a cohesive link to bind the community together and improve their environment”.

Check out a selection of Exhibition Images.