Thursday, June 25, 2009

Rooftop Urban Ag Team Begins!

Fun, sustainability, improving our environment, and once again fun is why I like urban agriculture ... and you can too!

Thinking logically, we simply must change our cities from sterile rock faces into natural settings where things grow. Look at your average apartment building from the outside. It's basically a large rock, that absorbs sunlight and emits poop. No wonder cities are hot and stinky!

In the long run, we have no choice but to rework our cities so that nearly every surface that gets sunlight converts it to usable energy and/or biomass. Since we're an intelligent species, we get to pick the biomass, and food seems like a good choice. Not only does it absorb the sunlight and some CO2, it produces food we can consume on premises, further saving energy, and not incidentally providing much pleasure.

On a more emotional level, growing food can be very satisfying. Let's never forget the value of fun! And for those of us with a competitive streak, imagine satisfying the Local Food Challenge
"For one full day this week, eat only local foods. No tropical fruits from across the world ... no veggies that traveled hundreds of miles to get to your table ... only locally grown foods (this includes meats, dairy products, etc., if you eat them)."
...with food from your rooftop!

But, as anyone knows who's worked on a project of any size, there's a lot of detail in implementation that has to be determined experimentally. (Heck even the 787 is being reworked two years after rollout!) Urban agriculture is not simply a question of installing dirt and whatever seeds some centralized authority has determined is best; as I tinker with my pots on the patios, I've discovered that social aspects are extremely important. People interact with the pots! There's a continuing battle (often a losing one) with people who think that naked dirt is better than what they consider a "weed"; Wednesday I came home to discover a lot of "clean" pots, stripped of low grass and ad hoc mulch, suiting the pro-naked-dirt sentiment of a paid plant care specialist. You can only laugh and learn, I suppose.

The good news from this week is that the City of Seattle has DELIVERED! on its plan to use Centennial Towers as one of a number of experiments in urban agriculture. A team delivered some large tubs, soil and starts. The City team and some residents (with myself as Unskilled Labor) assembled the units and the plants are growing as I write. Since it's a City project, the fruit of our work goes to a food bank (no private benefits from public money!) but we're allowed to have as much fun as we want! And I'm learning from the experience many things useful to my own private gardening.

The residential side of our team is very fortunate to have a lead resident gardener who is both a very experienced pea-patcher, and who also knows local food banks very well. Thus she picked plants that local food banks actually want! As you might have guessed, although zucchini is easy to grow, food bank may not want it, since everybody, and I mean everybody, gets way too much zucchini when it's in season ... even food banks!

One quick lesson was that, since some of the plants needed staking, we need sustainable stakes. I contributed some bamboo salvaged from another project, but we'll need more later. It seems to me that we should plant some native bam in an unused pot, to provide structural material for later in the season, or next year. It's little details like these that can be learned only by experimenting.

I'm really enjoying being part of this experiment. By this time next year, it may be possible to have a day of meals grown on our very own building!

But at any rate, what we learn will be helpful for the larger urban rooftop gardens being planned for the future. It's a small seed but promises to bear profusely!


Maurie Kirschner said...

Great thought piece, Randy. I am agree that we shouldn't forget the fun factor. That and the very simple way of meeting a basic need can make gardening anywhere attractive to a wide variety of folks. SOme of the folks down in the office said that there have been very postive responses from tenants. Maybe we'll see more of the private balconies and widowsills growing food before this is all over!

I didn't get my plant list to the city folk before Carl had picked them out, so he gets all the credit on plant choice for this round.

And a funny thing about the zucchini. I was talking to my brother-in-law and he agreed that most food banks get an over abundance of zucchini from gardeners, but some, like the Cherry Street one do not. We speculated if it had to do with more gardeners being in the other neighborhoods - but he said zucchini would be more than welcome at the Cherry Street Food Bank. Hehe...I wonder if he's going to regret those words if that little tidbit gets circulating among the local gardeners!

- Maurie aka the Plant Mother ; >

Small Footprints said...

Leave it to Seattle to come up with a great plan like urban agriculture on roof tops. I love it! Of course, I'm biased ... I grew up in Seattle. :)

Roof top gardens are great. They not only provide food, clean up some CO2 and offer us some fun ... but, if constructed correctly, they keep the building's interior cooler as well. As you pointed out, they aren't as simple as tossing some dirt and a few seeds up there but ... they really aren't all that complicated either.

Thanks for sharing ... I hope you'll post more articles as the garden advances.

Small Footprints