Posts Tagged ‘Local Food’

Dickson Despommier Does it Again

Tuesday, August 25th, 2009

You gotta give it to Dickson Despommier—he’s certainly persistent. The professor of public health at Columbia University has been pushing the concept of vertical farming in cities for the past several years, and he made his pitch again in Sunday’s New York Times. He even tossed in a few stats on the economics of growing food in urban highrises to counter the arguments of skeptics. You can find my previous takes on vertical agriculture here,  here, and here.

Vertical Vegetecture

Monday, June 22nd, 2009

It remains to be seen whether vertical farming in cities is feasible economically, but it’s sure inspiring a growing number of architects. You’ll find a thumbnail history of the sky farm, as well as 16 different designs, at Dornob. Two of my favorites—complete with stunning renderings—are Eric Ellingsen’s and Dickson Despommier’s Pyramid Farm, and Vincent Callebaut’s Dragonfly Farm.

Linking Food & Native Plants: You Have a Friend at NRCS

Friday, April 3rd, 2009

Mark Ludwig of Sand Lily Farms writes:

You will be glad to know your local Conservation Districts and the Natural Resources Conservation Service are both promoting field borders for farms and natural landscaping at home. There are cost share programs for field borders of native plants with guidelines for native pollinator and predator promotion and protection. Many counties have native plant sales and promotional events.

On its website, the Natural Resources Conservation Service (or NRCS, part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture) describes simple and inexpensive ways farmers and gardeners can increase the number of bees on their land. Some of these, such as “exercising care with pesticides,” are no-brainers. Others are less obvious, like minimizing tillage to protect pollinators that live underground for most of the year, and allowing leafy crops like lettuce to bolt (flower) if possible to provide additional food for hungry pollinators. The NRCS website also has links to local Conservation Districts around the country.

Mark wasn’t the only person who reached out to offer ideas on resources and networks that could be useful for forging links between native plant and local food advocates. A couple that were mentioned repeatedly were Fair Food Matters and the Xerces Society’s Pollinator Conservation program. And don’t forget all the great information on the best native plants for attracting beneficial insects based on research at Michigan State University.

Linking Food & Native Plants: “Double-Duty” Beauties

Friday, April 3rd, 2009

Lisa Symons writes that she’s managed to get her friends to dig up their lawns by using the idea of “double-duty plants—those that are edible and loved by wildlife,” such as sunchokes (Jersulalem artichokes) and maximilian sunflowers. “There are so many of these useful and beneficial plants,” she says. “A good list is in Toby Hemenway’s permaculture book Gaia’s Garden.”

Linking Food & Native Plants: The Hybrid Yard

Thursday, April 2nd, 2009

Tom Springer writes:

To me, the logical approach (although certainly not novel) is to combine the two: promote the use of manageable and hardy native plants that are attractive, make for good landscaping, and are also edible! Service berries, gooseberries, wild strawberries, wild blueberries, and hazelnuts are some examples.

He points out, too, that native trees often seen as “weeds”—such as sassafras and hackberry—can be pruned and shaped to make attractive shade trees, and that these species are not hard to find, even locally. 

He suggests that we resist the temptation to be purists:

To really make this mainstream, I think we have to forgo the notion that most people are going to quit having a yard entirely, or pull out their tulip bulbs and grandma’s favorite lilac. What we’re really talking about is a hybrid yard, where people more and more get comfortable with natives. If we could increase by just 25 percent the amount of natives planted across a community, what a difference that would make! And, having natives that you can eat—and readily use for cut flowers, as is the case with prolific natives like black-eyed susans and purple coneflowers—seems like a great way to get started.

Enlisting the help of a landscape designer at a local mainstream nursery would make all of this a lot easier, says Tom. It would be a big help for people just getting interested in natives if such a person could draw up a basic landscape plan that includes plenty of native plants. ”Once they have a plan in hand,” he says, “people can fill it in as the seasons come and go, whenever they get the money or energy to plant more.” 

Linking Food & Native Plants: A Landscape Designer’s View

Wednesday, April 1st, 2009

Douglas Kent, one of the country’s leading sustainable landscape designers, weighs in:

You are certainly right—natives make excellent  companion plants, attracting beneficials if not pollinators, or repelling unwanteds. Cal Poly’s Center for Regenerative Studies, where I teach, uses a lot of natives to enhance their food production.

Ripping out a lawn to plant food is not an environmental movement, though. It’s economic, or at least economic symbology. The best Tom and Nancy could do is to frame their position in those terms—natives will reduce costs (pesticides and water) and increase productivity. The Manhattan Beach Botanical Garden is seizing this trend and has designed, but not yet installed, an edible native garden (grape, miner’s lettuce, elderberry, currant, etc).

Getting people to rip out their lawns is completely  different (I’ve tried to understand and change this for the last 25 years). People that hold onto their lawns are not gardeners, and don’t want to be. Requiring no special care, lawns only need $100 a month and a service of mowers  and blowers. Interestingly, studies show that most beginning gardeners start by growing veggies, then evolve to more sophisticated styles of gardening, like natives, over time. Tom and Nancy should rejoice—food is a gateway.

Considering that agriculture is the number one destroyer of native landscapes, Tom and Nancy should not lament the food movement—what better use for urban/suburban landscapes than to protect those truly wild places. 

What You Think: Linking Food & Native Plants

Tuesday, March 31st, 2009

You came through for Tom and Nancy! For the next few days, I’ll be blogging about some of your ideas on how to build on the interest in local and homegrown foods to promote native plants.

On Friday, I suggested that one way might be to use the growing number of farmers markets to spread the word through a “love local food?/ help a pollinator/ grow native plants” campaign. I also noted that it might be possible for supermarkets like Whole Foods that sell organic food to participate by promoting and selling native wildflowers instead of just cut tulips and the like.

Robbin Simmen, head of Brooklyn Botanic Garden’s GreenBridge project, one of the biggest and best community horticulture programs in the country, responded:

I like the idea of encouraging retailers of food to sell native flowers. GreenBridge did this a couple of years ago with the Sustainable Gardening project where we reached out to the community gardeners who grow flowers to sell at the East New York Farms! market and asked them to grow Echinacea and Rudbeckia. They loved it because these plants are so bright, drought tolerant, and easy to grow, plus it’s an extra piece of interest for the shoppers to learn that they’re buying native plants.

Robin noted that another way to make connections between native and edible plants is to spread the word about native food plants. For example, she said she’ll be speaking on edible landscaping with native plants at the Brooklyn Food Conference on May 2nd. In her words, she’ll “be plugging blueberries and paw paws for human consumption, and lots and lots of native species for wildlife, the point being not to forget wildlife in our drive to feed ourselves!” 

Tom and Nancy Need Our Help!

Friday, March 27th, 2009

Three cheers for Nancy Small and her husband, Tom! When they retired in 1996, the two indefatigable former English professors began turning their half-acre yard in Michigan into better habitat for wildlife. Three years later, they founded a chapter of Wild Ones, the organization that promotes native plants and natural landscaping, and a couple of years ago, they established the Michigan Climate Action Network. But now, says Nancy, who emailed me the other day, they’re stumped and hoping we can help them out:

“Neither Wild Ones nor the environmental movement as a whole,” she writes, “have had much success in getting people to tear out their lawns in order to put in native plants for wildlife (or to reduce carbon emissions), but it’s beginning to sound as if people can hardly wait to get rid of their lawns in order to grow their own food” (which, as she points out, is a lot more work, and harder work, than growing native plants!). So Nancy and Tom are trying to build on the work of Michigan State University researchers who have demonstrated how native wildflowers, by providing pollen, nectar, and shelter to the pollinators and other beneficial insects that are critical for healthy agricultural systems, can help farmers increase crop yields. They’re asking us to put on our thinking caps and help them come up with ways to use the current interest in organic, local, and homegrown food to promote the notion that food plants and native plants are essential partners in a healthy landscape.

I told Nancy that one way might be to use the growing number of farmers markets to spread the word through a “love local food?/ help a pollinator/ grow native plants” campaign. Heck, we might even be able to get Whole Foods, Wild Oats, and other natural foods markets to promote and sell native wildflowers instead of just the usual decapitated roses or tulips. So whaddaya think? Email me, and I’ll send your ideas (or even your words of encouragement) along to Tom and Nancy. 

Veggie Trader

Thursday, March 26th, 2009

Yeah, I realize that social networking is the great revolution of Web 2.0 (coming on the heels of Web 1.0, which brought us online commerce). And yeah, I realize that some web networks can be professionally useful. But, please, the competition to accumulate the most “friends” is something I thought I’d left behind with high school.

Veggie Trader, on the other hand, is an online community I can believe in. When you get to that point in summer when the thought of eating another zucchini quiche whipped up from your backyard squash patch makes you nauseous, you just post a listing on your excess produce and note what you’d like in return, then wait for a response. You can also browse by zip code to see what’s available in your area.

Of course you can also donate the extra harvest to local food banks through programs like Plant a Row for the Hungry.

Will the White House Plant a Row for the Hungry?

Friday, March 20th, 2009

If she hasn’t already, Michelle Obama should consider donating a portion of the White House harvest to local food banks. As tough economic times take their toll, the lines are growing longer at food pantries and soup kitchens across the country, and donations reportedly are not keeping pace with demand. Since 1995, American gardeners have donated more than 14 million pounds of herbs and vegetables to feed their neighbors as part of Plant a Row for the Hungry, a program run by the Garden Writers Association. Want to know how you can get involved? Read all about it here.