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Gardener: Urban pioneer Greensgrow Farm leads by example

Joe Lamp’l, courier press
Just three miles north of downtown Philadelphia, tucked within a sea of tightly packed row houses, lies Greensgrow Farm. Much is crammed into this one-acre setting. And although there is a full-service garden center, it’s the many other things going on there that have made the farm the nationally recognized leader in urban sustainable farming.

Ten years ago, the land where this urban farm now sits was an abandoned galvanized steel plant, hardly the kind of place most people imagine as an ideal site for growing fresh fruits and vegetables. But then again, most people aren’t Mary Seton Corboy, the co-founder and visionary behind all that happens at Greensgrow. At the time she discovered this plot of land, Mary was looking for a place to grow fresh, locally grown lettuce to supply area restaurants that were craving produce harvested at the peak of freshness.

But there was one slight problem with this location. The soil had been contaminated by its former use; Mary had to come up with an efficient way to grow the lettuce safely and organically. Growing hydroponically aboveground and without soil solved that challenge. Soon she had perfected her techniques, and the demand rose for more varieties from Mary’s urban farm. To solve the next challenge of growing crops that prefer soil to water, Mary created very deep raised beds and trucked in tons of soil. Her relatively small farm was now growing and supplying top Philadelphia chefs with everything from cabbage to carrots, tomatoes, peppers and even figs from trees growing in large containers.

As Mary continued to take on one challenge after another, she realized that her location provided an even bigger opportunity. By providing fresh fruits and vegetables to a community where access to such goods was very limited, it gave her the chance to share the bounty and touch the lives of her neighbors in an important way…
(15 Oct 2009)

Quick and Not So Dirty: No-Sweat Composters

Gwendolyn Bounds, Wall Street Journal
Last weekend, I fed my plants and vegetables some compost made from my kitchen scraps and yard waste. But I didn’t spend months outside mixing piles of the organic brew with a pitchfork. Instead, I whipped up a batch in 14 days, with the push of a button—in my laundry room.

Call it speed composting. Manufacturers and retailers are rolling out gadgets that help consumers make compost faster, more discreetly and, in some cases, with less of the “yuck” factor. The move comes as more cities are encouraging and even mandating that residents who don’t compost at home take time to divide their food and yard waste from other trash so it can be recycled elsewhere. Next week, San Francisco will implement a new rule requiring that its citizens separate such items into green “composting” carts or potentially face fines.

Compost is earthy material produced from the natural decomposition of organic matter such as grass clippings, leaves, vegetable remains, and coffee grounds. It’s nutritious for plants and lawns and reduces the amount of trash sent to landfills. Yard trimmings and food residuals constitute about 24% of the U.S. municipal solid-waste stream, the Environmental Protection Agency says.

But many homeowners who readily recycle don’t bother composting. (Guilty.) That’s partly because it’s more of a hassle than just tossing plastic bottles and newspaper into colored bins….
(13 Oct 2009)

How High Speed Rail Can Spread Across the U.S.

asladirt, The dirt
The U.S. High Speed Rail Assocation, a new group formed to advocate for high speed rail, organized a conference in D.C. attended by Congressional representatives, smart growth advocates, and Governor Ed Rendell from Pennsylvania, a leading high speed rail proponent. Rendell argues that a nation-wide high speed rail network is critical and called for a “dedicated federal government capital budget” to fund the program. “We have just been nibbling at infrastructure,” Rendell argued. Rendell sees a dedicated ”infrastructure bank,” which would “take the politics out of transportation decisions,” funneling funds to high speed rail, transportation rehabilitation, and transportation improvement projects. Rendell noted that the American Society of Civil Engineers said the U.S. needs to invest $2.2 trillion to ensure the country’s future competitiveness.

In addition to strengthening the U.S. competitive position, Rendell argues that high speed rail would help restore the U.S. construction and manufacturing base, and “bring millions or tens of millions of jobs and new factories.” Rendell compared current opposition to a country-wide high speed rail network to the early opposition against the Erie Canal. He noted that the $9 billion investment in the Erie Canal was repaid within nine years, and the investment helped revolutionize the U.S. economy.

In terms of high speed rail networks, the U.S. is falling even further behind other developed countries. Japan’s already advanced network will add 16,000 miles of high speed rail line by 2020. Spain is spending $100 billion on another 6,000 miles. While the U.S. spends 2.5 percent of its GDP on infrastructure, Spain is spending up to 10 percent. The U.S. has spent $1.3 trillion on highways, but only $53 billion on passenger rail.

While the Obama administration has put $8 billion in recovery funds and $5 billion of the budget towards high speed rail, this will really only help in planning and making relatively minor improvements to existing networks. Rendell fears much of the funds have already gone to mid-speed rail. California alone requires $45 billion for their high speed corridor plans, which would run from the northern to the southern part of the state…
(22 Oct 2009)

“Agriburbia” sprouts on Colorado’s Front Range

Jason Blevins, The Denver Post
Six years ago, Matthew “Quint” Redmond suggested to Milliken planners that a corn farm north of Denver could increase its agricultural value and still anchor nearly a thousand homes.

“I got laughed out of the room,” Redmond said.

Today, Milliken’s 618-acre Platte River Village is ready for construction, with 944 planned homes surrounded by 108 acres of backyard farms and 152 acres of drip- irrigated community farms. The plan is for the farms to feed local residents and supply restaurants while paying for community upkeep. And Redmond, a 47-year-old planner-farmer, has 13 other Front Range projects mulling his “agriburbia” concept.

Redmond, co-founder of the Golden-based design firm TSR Group, travels the country preaching his urban farming and development idea. He envisions a future where the nation’s 31 million acres of lawn are converted to food production. He sees golf-course greens redefined with herbs; sand traps as “kale traps.” He sees retirement homes engulfed by farms and office buildings where workers escape cubicles on farming breaks.

Redmond, along with his born-on- a-farm biologist turned planner wife, Jennifer, sees an urban landscape like none before.

“This is where we are all going to go. We need this,” said Redmond. “Everyone thinks they are so smart by crafting a 2030 plan for the future. I say we need a $180-a-barrel plan, on how our communities can be self-sufficient when oil becomes too expensive to ship food across the country.”

Self-sufficient. Sustainable. Locally produced. Agriburbia incorporates all three concepts…
(24 Oct 2009)