As we here at EB and no doubt many of our readers have noticed, Grist is currently running a wonderful series of articles on urban agriculture. From Tom Philpott’s exceedingly informative look at the historical connection between cities and their immediate foodsheds, to the continuing articles which highlight other aspects of this very topical issue, few things are as important to relocalized resilient urban communities as their food supply. -KS

From the intro:

Feeding the City series intro

Staff, Grist
As Tom Philpott explains in his introductory essay to this series, cities for centuries have played an integral part in producing food for their residents. Only recently did cars and trains replace horses—and garden-friendly horse poop—a switch that made possible the long-distance supply chain of big-farms-to-big-supermarkets that’s the foundation of the modern American urban food system.

Thanks to a confluence of pressures—rising fuel prices, a nostalgic desire to reconnect with our food sources, a new awareness of the environmental and moral costs of industrial agriculture—that model is losing ground. Not since the Victory Garden movement of World War II has America seen such an explosion of urban food-growing. Cities are once again green with lettuce and alive with the cackling of chickens.

Over the next few weeks and beyond, the Feeding the City series will explore the many alternative food systems taking root in major cities around the country, with profiles of New Orleans, Baltimore, Detroit, Oakland, Philadelphia, and Seattle. You’ll meet agtivists such as Annie Novak, who’s farming a rooftop in Brooklyn (above), and an entrepreneur who’s got a wildly ambitious plan for abandoned big-box retail stores in blighted urban neighborhoods. We’ll show you painless ways to compost, even if you live in a studio apartment, and some of the ingenious places that urbanites have found to grow food.
(August 2010)

From the lead article:

The history of urban agriculture should inspire its future

Tom Philpott, Grist
“Few things scream ‘Hipster’ like an apartment garden.” Thus spake the New York City music magazine Death + Taxes, and
it’s easy to see why. In trendy neighborhoods from Williamsburg, Brooklyn, to San Francisco’s Mission district, urban youth are nurturing vegetables in window sills, fire escapes, and roofs. Down on the street, they tend flourishing garden plots, often including chickens and bees. Even Grist has launched a comic strip (left) devoted to the exploits of urban-hipster homesteaders.

But growing food in the city isn’t just the province of privileged youth — in fact, the recent craze for urban agriculture started in decidedly unhip neighborhoods. Nor is it anything new. As I’ll show in this rambling-garden-walk of an essay, urban agriculture likely dates to the birth of cities. And its revival might just be the key to sustainable cities of the future.

Gardens sprout where factories once thrived

Like jazz, soul, and hip-hop, the recent revival of city agriculture started in economically marginal areas before taking hipsters by storm. Unfashionable neighborhoods hit hard by post-war suburbanization and the collapse of U.S. manufacturing together proved to be fertile ground for the garden renaissance…

(3 August 2010)
There are a slew of good books on this topic that have come out in the last few years. One that I can’t recommend highly enough (in other words, if you ignore all of my other recommendations, at least check this one out) is Carolyn Steel’s Hungry City. Enough said, the book speaks for itself. Another one that I haven’t had a chance to read yet but looks extremely informative and comes well recommended is is Dirt: the erosion of civilizations by David Montgomery. We posted a Deconstructing Dinner episode that included excerpts from an interview with the author a few days ago on EB. On the more academic (and expensive) side is Continuous productive urban landscapes by Andre Viljoen. I had the pleasure of hearing a talk by Andre at a seminar in Bristol and hope to one day be able to afford the book! -KS

The New Agtivist: Urban farmer Annie Novak aims sky high

Paula Crossfield, Grist
In our New Agtivist interviews, we talk to people who are working to change this country’s f’ed- up food system in inspiring ways. For the next few weeks, as part of the Feeding the City series, we’ll be focusing on urban agtivists.

Urban farmer Annie Novak is on a mission to inspire New Yorkers to grow, cook, and eat good food — and to nurture the relationships that make it all possible.

Born in Chicago, she is the oldest daughter of an artist mother and a father who worked for the Chicago Board of Trade, where he dealt with corn and soybean futures in the marketplace. After college, farming became central for Novak, 27, who is now a passionate advocate for sustainable practices. She helped start Eagle Street Rooftop Farm in Brooklyn, New York — a test farm utilizing green roofing materials for growing vegetables. In its second growing season, the farm has become a center of community, with a weekly market, a popular volunteer program, and farm talks on subjects like composting, artisanal food businesses, and chicken-raising. It has also already inspired similar projects. (See Grist’s previous coverage.)

Somehow, Novak finds time to run an education program she also cofounded, called Growing Chefs and work as the Children’s Gardening Program Coordinator at the New York Botanical Gardens. She participates in triathlons, and can be seen zipping around town on a bike that she built herself.

I spoke with her recently about her passions for growing food in the city and community organizing…
(4 August 2010)
Paula Crossfield is also the editor of Civil Eats. We have linked to many of CE’s articles and are occasionally kindly given permission by Paula to repost some of their excellent articles on the modern sustainable food movement.

Related articles:

How to make your own low-tech vertical farm

Are vertical farms the future of urban food?

Smart city governments grow produce for the people

Darrin Nordahl, Grist
There’s a new breed of urban agriculture germinating throughout the country, one whose seeds come from an unlikely source.

Local government officials from Baltimore, Md., to Bainbridge Island, Wash. are plowing under the ubiquitous hydrangeas, petunias, daylilies, and turf grass around public buildings, and planting fruits and vegetables instead — as well as in underutilized spaces in our parks, plazas, street medians, and even parking lots. The new attitude at forward-thinking city halls seems to be, in a tough economy, why expend precious resources growing ornamental plants, when you can grow edible ones? And the bounty from these municipal gardens — call it public produce — not only promotes healthy eating, it bolsters food security simply by providing passersby with ready access to low- or no-cost fresh fruits and vegetables.

But is this really city government’s job?

As long as municipal policymakers strive to create programs to reduce social inequity and increase the quality of life for their citizens, I contend that it is. Access to healthy, low- cost food helps assure the health, safety, and welfare of citizens every bit as much as other services that city governments provide, such as clean drinking water, protection from crime and catastrophe, sewage treatment, garbage collection, shelters and low-income housing programs, fallen-tree disposal, and pothole-free streets….
(5 August 2010)

EB contributor Carl Etnier adds:
“As one of the people organizing the nation’s first vegetable garden in recent times at a state capitol (, I’m pleased to see Nordahl do such a good job of documenting other public places, including at least one other capitol, growing food in public places. There are some nice pictures at the original.”

Darrin Nordahl is the city designer at the Davenport Design Center, a division of the Community & Economic Development Department of the City of Davenport, Iowa. He has taught in the planning program at the University of California at Berkeley and is the author of My Kind of Transit and Public Produce, which makes a case for local government involvement in shaping food policy.

Related: A growing interest at Statehouse. Carl Etnier features in in the article.