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Where to you want to grow today?

As the costs of industrialized farming become clearer and the advantages of urban agriculture more apparent, many people are no longer asking why we should grow food in cities. Instead, they're asking: Where?

Location study from Seeding the City

In considering where to plant vegetable gardens in cities, the considerations are different than for a farm where productivity is the only concern. Instead, it is important to consider the benefits of urban agriculture that extend beyond food production. Urban agriculture is a significant educating force, as many people today are unaware of where their food comes from and the nature of the systems that turn dirt, sun, and water into nourishment.

Accordingly, schools are excellent places for gardens -- the perfect places to leverage garden's educational benefits while also providing fresh fruits and vegetables for the people that need it most: kids.

The edible schoolyard at Berkeley's Martin Luther King Middle School

Perhaps the most famous school vegetable garden can be found in Berkeley at Martin Luther King Jr. middle school. Founded in 1994 with the support of slow food maven Alice Waters, the school's Edible Schoolyard is incorporated into school curriculum, as students not only learn about ecology and natural systems through working in the garden, but also learn about healthy cooking and the benefits of fresh vegetables in cooking classes.

Today, schoolyard gardens are found throughout the bay area and in many cities around the United States. The movement still encounters opposition, however. Indeed, some social observers fail to understand how school gardens add to the educational experience and instead see hands-on work outside as something that comes at the expense other skills, rather that something that complements them. There is much work left to be done to extend more gardens into our schools, both in terms of physically creating space and explaining the benefits to educators at large.

The edible schoolyard at Samuel J. Green charter school, New Orleans, LA.

Another place to grow food can be found even closer to home: the front yard. In Edible Estates: Attack on the Front Lawn, architect and artist Fritz Haeg proposes "the replacement of the domestic front yard with a highly productive edible landscape." With essays by landscape architect Diana Balmori, and author Michael Pollan, the project contextualizes the use of our homes yards with larger issues of sustainability and community.

Economic sustainability is paramount in the efforts of another gardener working in the city: MacArthur genius grant winner Will Allen, at Milwaukee's Growing Power farms. His brilliantly managed operation applies synthesizes lessons from permaculture and community development to generate wellness and economic activity in a struggling corner of the midwestern city.

One of Growing Power's Milwaukee greenhouses

In greenhouses that occupy underutilized land, high-density layered plantings hang above vermiculture systems teeming with composting red worms and aquacultural systems of tilapia and perch. All of these systems interact, the waste of each element fertilizing the growth of another. In the New York Times magazine, author Elizabeth Royte describes how Allen's ingenuity extends beyond the garden:

"He could push his greens into corporate cafeterias, persuade the governor to help finance the construction of an anaerobic digester, wheedle new composting sites from urban landlords, persuade Milwaukee’s school board to buy his produce for its public schools and charm the blind into growing sprouts. (“I was cutting sprouts in the dark one night,” Allen said, “and I realized you don’t need sight to do this.”)"

 Growing Power founder Will Allen (From NYTimes)

Ultimately, when studying the urban environments for where to grow, one realizes the only limit is the imagination. From civic centers to highway on-ramps to driveways, people are growing gardens anywhere they can. And so can you!

Fantastical Soutions

There is a plethora of ideas on the meeting of urban environments and agriculture, especially from New York, NY. The ideas range from practical to fantastical, but all are adding to the conversation of agriculture in the urban environment. Many

The folks at Bright Farm Systems are providing design guidelines for transforming rooftop to gardens. Although there design are the most conservative of those highlighted in the post, it goes far beyond simply using raised beds and pots as the growing container. Bright Farms is demonstrating how to develop specialized systems of urban agriculture on building rooftops.

WORK ac: Locavor Fantasia

Locavore Fantasia by WORK ac

WORK ac, a New York based architecture firm, gets a spot on our blog for the second time in three weeks for the conceptual project title Locavore Fantasia. This is a unique idea on how we might start to integrate living space, open space, and food production in the heart of metropolitan areas. As the title of the project suggest, this is a foodies dream. Can you imagine dining on the twentieth floor of a building with an view of the New York skyline knowing all the ingredients were grown on site? Sounds amazing to me.

Terraform ONE: MATSCAPE and Green Brain

Another New York group working on the ideas of creating self sustaining cities is Terreform ONE. This group of architects and planners are producing innovative proposals for how to create designs with layers of a programmatic function.

MATSCAPE by Terraform
Mitchell Joachim

Although not specifically design to address issues of urban agriculture, the vegetated mats of the design could be utilized for growing food.

Green Brain by Terraform
Mitchell Joachim, Makoto Okazaki, Maria Aiolova, Emily VanderVeen, Yu Ping Hsieh

The following three projects by SOA Architects, Chris Jacobs and studiomobile, look further into the idea of vertical farming. All three are integrating farming into the buildings form and function. I think it is worth mentioning that each project attempts to address the cost of constructing and maintaining such buildings (pumping water up twenty floors, mechanical lighting to grow crops, heating and cooling) with varying degrees of success and specificity. After all, not much is accomplished if increasing food security requires the input of large amounts of natural resources. The success of these projects should be measured not only in the amount of food they produce but also the degree to which they reach their food production goals in a holistic manner.

SOA: Living Tower

The Living Tower by SOA Architects

Check out their You Tube video on the Living Tower

Chris Jacob: Sky Farm

The building layer by Chris Jacobs

Chris Jacobs

A rendering of a holistic building model were the by products of the farming process are used to meet the energy need of the building.

studiomobile: Seawater Vertical Farm


Here studiomobile shows how the design would answer the challenges of farming in a desert region. By using the process of osmosis the building transforms the readily available salt water of Dubai into fresh water for the farm.

Map for your life!

Maps and computers are a powerful combination. Where maps were once static prints of conditions at just one moment, contemporary digital maps can change constantly, representing dynamic real-life geographies. Online mapping today uses many innovative techniques and data sources to not only document what exists, but make a difference in the world as well.

In creating Forage Berkeley, we've looked at many fascinating maps for inspiration, and in this blog post we'll be sharing some of our favorites.

A snapshot from (via The Polis Blog)

One fascinating map application is, which uses GPS data from San Francisco taxis to generate a real-time map of the city. Simply mapping the routes taken by taxis reveals not only roads, bodies of water, and bridges but also reveals areas of high intensity use and traffic patterns over time.

While takes advantage of GPS data to create a dynamic, constantly changing map, other online maps take advantage of user-generated-content to update their displays. This so-called "crowdsourcing" of cartography makes maps not only dynamic, but also makes them frameworks for the organizing of information, like Wikipedia or Yelp!.

A great example of a user-generated map is the the Oakmapper, the Berkeley College of Natural Resource's sudden oak death mapping project. On this website, users can report trees with symptoms of the contagious tree disease, see the locations of confirmed infected trees, and learn about Phytophthora ramorum, the pathogen that causes the illness. By sharing information about trees with sudden oak death, the Oakmapper system helps experts fight the scourge.

Perhaps the most important online maps today are those that are helping to save lives. Ushahidi, for example, is an open source mapping framework used to crowdsource crisis information and direct aid. Originally developed to map election violence in Kenya in 2008, the platform has since been redeployed in different political crises and, most recently, in response to the earthquakes in Haiti and Chile.

Information can be added to Ushahidi's maps by a variety of methods, including text messages and e-mail. The flexible data input mechanism allows the mapping system to work even in areas with low resources, and the information revealed in aggregate can help governments and aid groups target their relief efforts effectively.

The internet is filled with innovative and amazing maps. While some save lives and others make us smile, online maps represent a major change from static maps and offer new ways for people to see their world.

Urban Cursor Map: Catalunya, Spain, September 2009

At Forage Berkeley we're hoping to join the many other mappers exploring new directions in online mapping. By sharing information about local foods on our online map, you can participate in an exciting new movement... And find something to eat!