This is an outstanding WHYY video on Urban Apiaries; Philadelphia’s most popular urban honey producer.
Archive for November, 2011
This post is all about you. Previous blog posts have revolved around interviews with industry leaders, large-scale viability issues, the path to publication, and general musings about rooftop food production. This post, in contrast, will ideally act as a discussion.
What questions do you have about rooftop agriculture? What’s on your mind? Why are you interested in this topic and how does it affect your life or aspirations? Please feel free to post any thoughts or questions that you may have, and don’t hesitate to chime in in response to other people’s comments.
Some of these conversation points may be included in the book, or will help to inform the existing topics of discussion. Now is your chance to let it flow. The table is open for discussion.
Let’s talk stature. Many tomato plant varieties grow tall, large, and wild. When conditions are right, these plants seem to grow overnight in a manic effort to reach the sun. Tomato plants can be tamed with various contraptions (including stakes, cages, and trellises), whereby poorly located shoots are pruned in order to “train” the plant to grow in the right direction.
Training tomato plants on the ground plane is difficult enough for many gardeners. Farmers often develop their own tried and true methods for supporting this crop in the fields, but what about on rooftops? Having performed green roof construction oversight around the country, I can attest to the fact that rooftops present very different growing conditions than their at-grade counterparts. A plant species that thrives in a ground landscape may fail on a roof due to the high winds, rapidly drying soil, and extreme temperature fluctuations. This added exposure presents a challenge for rooftop farmers, and so here are a few tips that might help:
1| Mindfully site your farm (use taller buildings as wind blocks while maximizing solar orientation)
2| Select hardy crops (there’s no room for finicky crops)
3| Plant low-growing varieties (in the case of tomatoes, plant determinate varieties and train them to grow wide and low)
4| Plant densely (encourage plants to block the wind for each other, much like the trees in a forest)
5| Build hoop houses (secure them so that they don’t blow away!)
6| Mulch (one of our readers pointed out that leaf mulch works well on roofs)
7| Experiment (the world is your playground; go for it)
We are an overweight, undernourished nation. Plain and simple. The condition of public health in the U.S. does not need to be sugar coated, and in fact, a little less sugar would do us well. Singapore, on the other hand, serves as a role model for establishing a national commitment to local food production, which can benefit public health by providing access to fresh, nutritious food.
Singapore’s government elected to promote food localization in a major way. The goal: to produce 20% (380,000 tons) of the city-state’s vegetable consumption needs locally, within the bounds of the city itself. This decision followed on the heels of years of food import dependence. The government’s commitment to grow food locally stimulated a new way of thinking about urban agriculture. Food in Singapore is now grown throughout the city-state, in ground-level plots, on balconies, and across rooftops.
This deliberate governmental decision to move Singapore’s food system toward local production is inspiring. While the primary intent of this food system shift was likely not to improve public health, the consequential nutritional impacts represent an undeniable benefit.
In sharp contrast to Singapore, the American food system and its current distribution of agricultural subsidies favor highly processed foods that are centrally produced and shipped long distances to reach our plates. For years the federal government has subsidized king crops like corn and soybeans, which are overwhelmingly grown by industrial farmers in massive monoculture plantations. This nonsensical distribution of agricultural subsidies has enabled these ubiquitous crops to worm their way into almost every processed food on the supermarket shelves.
Authors like Michael Pollan eloquently articulate these issues in detail, but the takeaway message here is that food localization is instrumental to public health, and it must be pursued with vigor. The government has the money to assist small organic farmers. Redistributing agricultural subsidies to benefit these local growers is essential in furthering the government’s support of local food production. A paradigm shift is necessary to gives these small organic farmers the boost they need to thrive, particularly when their farms are in, just outside of, or high above the streets of a city.
Singapore’s government understands and embraces this paradigm shift. The country proves that redistributing efforts and government funding can enable urban agriculture, both on the ground and on roofs, to flourish. It worked.