Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Arugula instead of steel - the next level of innovation?

Is a $9 million 100,000 sf industrial warehouse built and designated for hydroponic farming just another case where big capital hijacks community engagement, workforce development and food insecurity from grassroots efforts and community organizers? Will those patches of urban green with their plastic sheathed “hoop houses” where inner city kids can earn a dollar by selling tomatoes and lettuce soon be "toast", because the big boys are playing now? It certainly has some irony that arugula will soon be planted where once blast furnaces sprouted, especially if this latest new use once again would be a job killer. But it could also be a different story altogether.
Hydroponic space age greens

Gotham Greens, the Sparrows Point “farmer” talks about “reconnecting with the community through food”, but what community is he talking about? Dundalk’s nearby Turner Station? Sellers Point? Wagner’s Point, Fairfield? Not likely. More likely, the farm will grow arugula and other salads for Baltimore area restaurants and grocery stores, or, pure speculation, be merely a front for a time when Maryland will legalize marijuana all the way and large scale grow houses will be sought after cash cows, a development that is already reality in Denver.
Gotham Greens’ boxed lettuces have been popping up on the shelves of high-end grocers in New York and the Upper Midwest since 2009, and with names like “Windy City Crunch,” “Queens Crisp,” and “Blooming Brooklyn Iceberg,” it’s clear the company is selling a story as much as it is selling salad. (Amy Crawford, CityLab, 2/15/2018)
Urban gardens as a way of reconnecting to nature
In reality it isn't likely that the latest addition to the redevelopment that is now known as Tradepoint Atlantic would jeopardize any of the urban green patches cultivated in Baltimore City and County;  nor is it likely that it would soon morph into a hashish farm. Gotham Greens is on a different mission:
Gotham Greens’ pesticide-free produce is grown using ecologically sustainable methods in technologically-sophisticated, 100% clean energy powered, climate-controlled urban rooftop greenhouses. (Company website)
The fascinating part of this new urban farming is its potential to finally get us us closer to the vision of local food, sustainable production and safe intense farming.
Grown in hydroponic greenhouses on the rooftops of buildings in New York and Chicago, the greens are shipped to nearby stores and restaurants within hours of being harvested. That means a fresher product, less spoilage, and lower transportation emissions than a similar rural operation might have—plus, for the customer, the warm feeling of participating in a local food web. (Amy Crawford)
For all the talk about growing food near population centers where it is consumed, there has been woefully little evidence that food can actually grown in urban areas in the quantities that are needed to really make a dent in past trends that brought food from ever further away places to the ever larger metro areas. Green roofs, green community gardens, green walls, green facades or even greenhouses on roofs, none of it has become large or frequent enough to be anything but the tiniest drop in the big bucket of urban food needs.
“The real benefits of urban farming are engaging communities and revitalizing neighborhoods. We can make a big impact on a small number of people but urban agriculture is not going to end hunger. It’s not intuitive at all.” (Tyson Gersh, co-founder and farm manager at the Michigan Urban Farming Initiative in Detroit)
The Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future supports this notion in a report published in May of last year. 
Johns Hopkins graphic about peri-agriculture
While difficult to tangibly measure, the preponderance of evidence suggests that urban agriculture’s most significant benefits center around its ability to increase social capital, community well-being, and civic engagement with the food system. The majority of literature in this area comes from studies of community gardens, but many urban farms have also established themselves as social enterprises dedicated more to social missions than to profits (Hopkins report)
It looks like Gotham Greens on Sparrows Point and community gardens operate in two different universes. Both are important responses to urbanization. The one provides a better notion of nature in the urban asphalt jungle while the other, in fact, moves food even further from nature than traditional agriculture has done already. Hydroponic food production in fully controlled environments is still in its infancy. Even basic research what artificial environment would be most conducive is still in its initial stages.
Urban farming for more equity, food access and workforce development
(Hoop farm Sandtown)
In the coming decades, it is expected that humanity will need to double the quantity of food, fiber, and fuel produced to meet global demands. However, growing seasons are predicted to become more volatile, and arable land (80% is already being used) is expected to significantly decrease, due to global warming [1]. Concurrently, public and private institutions are starting to take an increasing interest in producingspecific compounds and Urban Farming - A passing Fashion or a viable Solution?chemical elements using innovative agricultural platforms (MIT)
Rooftop greenhouses
Fully controlled environments in metro areas can produce higher yields than traditional farms which grow things on fields and are depending on seasons and weather. What temperature, light, moisture and air would grow which produce the best is still a field of intense exploration.
"Farmers know a lot about the conditions in their own environment, but not even the best farmer knows how to grow the plants optimally when you can control all these environmental factors at will," Risto Miikkulainen, vice president of research at Sentient (CityLab)
With its 100,000 square-feet in one space and its fully controlled environment Gotham Green's salad plant moves from Brooklyn's and Chicago's roof tops (video) to yet another scale and becomes maybe more space age innovation than snide arugula versus steel comments would suggest.

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

Gotham Green Press Release about its planned Sparrows Point location
Urban Farms Bring Us Together, but Can They Feed Enough of Us?

This article is part of a series of article on urban farming 

Urban Farming - A passing Fashion or a viable Solution?
Baltimore's urban green becomes famous for more than carrots and sticks
Green space for urban regeneration

No comments:

Post a Comment