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Home Farming


This week at Forage Berkeley we are looking into small scale urban agriculture projects or home farming. We are going to highlight a few products that allow people to conduct traditional farming practices in non-traditional spaces, something we believe is a valuable part of making urban agriculture a viable method of food production in the urban environment. Individually, the amount of food being produced on home farms is small but in sufficient numbers you could develop a network of farms that permeate the urban fabric.

The folks a Window Farms, in Brooklyn NY, have developed a hydroponic vertical grow system what takes advantage of the sunniest spot in most urban houses and apartments, the window. Made of recycled products, window farms is a cheap and flexible design solution for those who don't have a yard to grow their vegetables in. Additionally, the methods creates a year round green house for those people living in northern climates.

Image from Window Farms

Britta Riley and Rebecca Bray have made all of their design ideas accessible to the public, creating a network of window farmers who regularly share their experiences and ideas on how to improve the system. As a result, the system is continuously improving and diversifying. They use Creative Commons, a non-profit organization increasing sharing and improving collaboration, to share ideas.

Although growing produce is what most people envision when they imagine urban agriculture, there is a growing movement incorporating animal husbandry into the mix. The people at Omlet, in Wardington England, have developed compact and lightweight living accommodations for you chickens, rabbits, bees and Guinea pigs.

The Eglu by Omlet

Starting at around $500, these runs are not the cheapest option for the urban dweller. However, the well designed product allows the novice farmer who wants to raise farm animals, but doesn't have allot of time, an convenient alternative. The materials (plastic and steel) also make cleaning and maintaining the product easy.

The Beehaus by Omlet

The Beehaus by Omlet

Both the Window Farm and the products developed by Omlet are providing options for ways the urban dweller might increase their self sustainability by growing and raising their own food. Also, the differences in the two project (do it yourself vs. finished product) provide a options depending on your interest and income.

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!

A Forum for Ideas about Urban Agriculture in the Public Realm

In addition to helping you find food on trees in public areas, Forage Berkeley hopes to create a forum on our website for the sharing of information and ideas pertaining to urban agriculture in the public realm.  We are interested in bringing to light precedents for urban agriculture as well as lauding current efforts in the field.    Our community here in the Bay Area has many organizations working towards the common cause of utilizing food grown in urban areas, many of which utilize the internet as a resource.  Some, like Forage Oakland, are blogs that promote forage culture by facilitating harvesting events and forage dinners.  SF Glean, a non-profit organization in San Francisco, organizes volunteers to harvest fruits and nuts off of trees in the public domain and donates it to food banks and other programs that feed the hungry.  These are only several of the myriad of efforts to utilize food produced in urban areas of San Francisco and the East Bay.

Designing Urban Agriculture


Here at Forage Berkeley, we're excited about the future of urban agriculture in the public realm! Foraging and urban agriculture organizations seem to be sprouting up all over the country, in an variety of forms and scales. While informal and grassroots transformations of the landscape are essential to a viable urban agriculture network, incorporating food into formal designs is also required for the urban agriculture movement to reach its maximum potential. This post addresses our interest in both the aesthetic of urban agriculture and the people who are pushing the boundaries of functional edible landscape design.

Public Farm 1 (P.F.1)

One outstanding example of designed urban agriculture was installed in 2008 at PS1 Contemporary Art Center in New York city. The project is the product of the Young Architects Program (YAP), which is hosted annually by PS1 and MOMA. The winning firm,Work Architecture Company (WORK ac), is a New York-based firm at the forefront of merging food systems and architectural design. The site specific design demonstrates how to provide flexible urban spaces that serve the physical and cultural needs of the city.

Photos by WORK ac

The "farm" is not only an example of planting on structure, but also a fascinating multifunctional form. The design is a living and functioning farm (with chickens and more), a water collection and treatment system, and an active social gathering area. This P.F. 1, WORK ac successfully demonstrates how designers must start to rethink the urban environment.

Plant Palette Diagram - Image by WORK ac

Water Collection Diagram - Image by WORK ac

Programming Diagram - Image by WORK ac

Moorish Design in Southern Spain

A more time-tested design comes from Cordoba, Spain. Within the Great Mosque at Cordoba lies one of the most famous historical example of a highly designed system of urban agriculture. A simple grid of trees fills the space with a fountain marking central axis. Water runnels travel out from the fountain in each of the cardinal directions. It is not clear if the courtyard was designed with oranges in mind, but it seem plausible considering the scale and form of the trees creates a dynamic space that compliments the surrounding architecture.

Photo courtesy of Lisa Day
Cordoba, Spain

An arial view of the Court of Oranges and the entering the court from the Great Mosque.

Photos courtesy of Lisa Day
Cordoba, Spain

The mild Mediterranean climate of Southern Spain make it ideal for growing food year round. Citizens of Seville and Cordoba annually forage the trees in the public realm in organized groups that strengthen the town's sense on community and place. Towns such as Cordoba and Seville provide wonderful examples of urban agriculture as a formal design and cultural identity.

Photo courtesy of Lisa Day
Seville, Spain

Photo from Suddenly Susan
Seville, Spain

The fruit in these Spanish cities are not private orchards. Instead, they are found in the public realm and together they create a network of fruit trees which can be considered a disperse urban agricultural system, cared for by and available to all. The fruit is harvested in a variety of ways, from spontaneous fruit consumption by a wandering individual to larger organized neighborhood work parties.

Seville, Spain

A more modern example of fruit tree in the public realm of Seville. There are both sweet and sour oranges found in the landscape. The sour oranges are primarily used for making jams and perfumes.

Help make a new Forage Berkeley!

The Forage Berkeley team is looking for a web designer to help take Forage Berkeley to the next level. This spring Forage Berkeley will relaunch with an improved interface that makes it easier to add trees and see what's ripe, but we need help with some of the nuts and bolts. (Especially working with the Google Maps API!) Please e-mail if you’re interested, know someone we should talk to, or have any ideas. Thanks and happy foraging!