Love Thy Neighbor’s Urban Ag
As many of our readers may know, the New School has decided to devote their Kellen Gallery space to urban food systems this semester, hosting a series of lectures, research projects, design studios, traveling exhibits and more on the topic. Officially titled Living Concrete/Carrot City, the program most recently offered a panel comprised of a few of our northern neighbors who presented “Perspectives from Toronto,” a fascinating look into another city’s activities within the urban agriculture arena.
Architect Joe Lobko first introduced the audience to two feats of sustainable design and community organizing efforts he helped to bring about, Wychwood Barns and Evergreen Brick Works. Both centers arose out of abandoned industrial sites, blossoming into thriving “environmental community centers” with sustainability designed into their every inch. The sites feature farmers markets, theaters, performance spaces, gardens, galleries and more–unquantifiable potential you’ll understand after one look at the photo galleries. Our infamously scarce availability of space would require some creative solutions before implementing anything comparable here in NYC, but worth the extra effort considering the obvious community and local food benefits that such a project would provide.
James Kuhns, food security scholar and co-author of Scaling Up Urban Agriculture in Toronto, discussed this recent report’s suggestions regarding how best to expand Toronto’s urban agriculture. Focusing on access, infrastructure, supply chain, knowledge and finance issues within the field (ones undoubtedly faced by New York City as well), Kuhns expounded on several potential solutions. The audience clamored to hear more about his proposed “hub for soil testing” and expansion of the city’s CRAFT programs (something our region could also stand to further develop), while I found his call for a Grown in Toronto food label equally interesting.
Wally Seccombe, Board Chair of Everdale Organic Farm and Environmental Learning Center in Ontario, spoke last of the three pioneering Canadians, but with a message no less important than his predecessors. Alarmed by his region’s drastic loss of young farmers in recent decades, Seccombe has developed a program at the farm that trains interested individuals about successfully managing a sustainable farm venture. At least half of his students have gone on to work directly on their own farms, a retention rate few programs with similar aims could hope to match. His secret? A focus on a cooperative frameworks that pool knowledge, physical resources, and finances together for the young and inexperienced farmers who need them most.
The evening came to a close by featuring two locals: Judith LaBelle of Glynwood, a not-for-profit working to save farms in the Northeastern United States, and Sarah Brannen, Senior Policy Analyst for Food, Health, and Economic Development Policy for the New York City Council. LaBelle expressed the parallels between urban agriculture in both cities, recognizing similar barriers facing Hudson Valley region farmers as compared to those in Toronto and thus highlighted the necessity for communication and sharing of best practices among urban centers trying to foster agricultural growth. Brannen grounded some of these same problems in city politics, citing space access and optimization flaws in current NYC policy as well as the failure to create something like this with available public land. Despite these setbacks, Brannen mostly brought optimism to the table, recalling shows of enthusiasm for recent NYC green roof bill proposals, the potential of community gardens to increase surrounding property values as researched by NYU, and the hopes to get food policy into the NYC 2030 plans.
New York City might be making strides in our development of urban ag, but this panel made it clear that we have a lot to learn from, share with, and admire about others. Especially Toronto, eh?
Programming runs through December 2010, to learn more visit: http://www.newschool.edu/parsons/subpage.aspx?id=55952