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Produce Hoisted From Rooftop Vertical Farm to Kitchen

Shawn-Eric Toth, urbangardens.web
Food doesn’t get any fresher or local than this: Manhattan restaurant Bell, Book, and Candle’s Owner/Chef John Mooney and I were up on his restaurant’s rooftop hydroponic vertical farm when he plucked a small Sunburst tomato from the vine, added a fresh-picked basil leaf to it, and handed them to me to taste. This is what the restaurant’s 94 clients enjoy every night as most of the menu is created from what is freshly grown six floors above them. “I only use what I have,” said Chef John Mooney, who decides the day’s menu by climbing the stairs to see what’s fresh on the roof.

My culinary taste tour that day included flavor bursts from Whirleybird Nasturtium, a purple-tinged Calypso Cilantro, chives, Poblano Peppers, red okra, numerous varieties of lettuce, fennel, and loads of herbs including a mountainous tower of sage which Mooney uses in his fried chicken.

The farm utilizes 60 vertical hydroponic tower systems manufactured by Future Growing. The white, food-grade plastic towers are stacked upon 25-gallon reservoirs. To feed the plants, a rich nutrient solution is fed into the soil-less towers. The tower system requires less maintenance than a traditional soil system, and it is also lighter which was important because the farm sits on the roof of a 1929 building that would not have supported the weight of a soil system. Growing vertically allows Mooney and restaurant partner, Mick O’Sullivan, to maximize their available space producing upwards of 1000 plants at a time…
(8 September 2011)
Suggested by EB reader Luane Tod, who commented:

I thought this was a good idea-generating article. It could be modified for lower-tech inputs and illustrates ways to expand potential food producing techniques for many people with little land. -KS

Vegetable Gardens Are Booming in a Fallow Economy

Sabrina Tavernise, New York Times
As the economy continues to stagnate in towns and cities across the country, here in eastern Kentucky it is causing things to sprout.

Garden plots are dug into the green hills, laid out in fuller force than people have seen in years. People call them sturdy patches of protection in uncertain times.

“You see a lot more people turning up ground,” said Wanda Hamilton, 61, a lifelong gardener who sells her surplus vegetables at the farmers’ market in West Liberty, a small town in the Appalachian foothills. “It’s the economy. You just can’t afford to shop at the store anymore.”

It is not just eastern Kentucky. Vegetable gardening has been on the rise across the country, according to Bruce Butterfield, research director at the National Gardening Association, driven by rising food prices and a growing contingent of health-conscious consumers. Garden-store retailers have reported increased sales over the past two years, he said, and many community gardens have waiting lists.

“Our sales have skyrocketed,” said George Ball, chief executive of Burpee, one of the largest vegetable-seed retailers. The jump, he said, began around the time Lehman Brothers collapsed in 2008, when anxiety about money started to rise.

In urban areas, the words “locally grown” conjure images of affluent shoppers in pricey farmers’ markets. But in rural America, consumers are opting for locally grown food — from their own gardens and neighboring farmers — largely because it is cheaper…
(8 September 2011)

An Apple Tree Grows in Suburbia

Stephanie Simon, Wall Street Journal
Used to be, developers built high-end suburban communities around golf greens.

The hot amenity now? Salad greens.

In a movement propelled by environmental concern, nostalgia for a simpler life and a dollop of marketing savvy, developers are increasingly laying out their cul-de-sacs around organic farms, cattle ranches, vineyards and other agricultural ventures. They’re betting that buyers will pay a premium for views of heirloom tomatoes—and that the farms can provide a steady stream of revenue, while cutting the cost of landscaping upkeep.

Forget multimillion-dollar recreation centers—”our amenities are watching the cows graze and the leaves change,” says Joe Barnes, development principal for Bundoran Farm, a 2,300-acre development set amid apple orchards and cattle pastures outside Charlottesville, Va.

To be sure, the shaky economy has taken a toll on some of these developments, including Bundoran Farms, where the developers are moving ahead with new financial backers after a co-owner of the acreage went into foreclosure. Still, Bundoran’s developers say they have sold 19 lots, which run from about $250,000 to more than $1 million, in the past 10 months. And new communities centered on agricultural development are in various stages of planning and construction in cities from coast to coast, including South Burlington, Vt., Hayes, Va., Boise, Idaho, and Stockton, Calif.

“Agriculture is the new golf,” says Ed McMahon, a senior resident fellow at the Urban Land Institute, a nonprofit group focused on land-use planning…
(12 September 2011)
Suggested by long-time EB contributor westexas. -KS

The Harvest: new film reveals scourge of child labour in US farming

Rosie Spinks, The Ecologist
Despite campaigning to reduce child labour internationally, the US is home to at least 230,000 child labourers toiling in the fields to pick blueberries, tomatoes or cotton

From the cocoa plantations of the Ivory Coast to the textile factories of India, the prevalence of child labour in the world today is staggering. The UN estimates that roughly 250 million children are subjected to a life of work instead of schooling, with nearly half that number working full-time.

But now a new film – The Harvest – documents the occurrence of this trend where few would expect to find it: the United States agricultural industry.

U Roberto Romano is an award-winning American filmmaker who spent over a year documenting the lives of three migrant worker families and their children across the US. He said that while he was aware of child labour from his work in other countries, what he found in the US was shocking.

‘I, like many people, thought this was a problem that affected brown skin children in the rest of the world’, Romano told the Ecologist. ‘I didn’t expect to find it here in [the US] with children that were American citizens’…
(1 September 2011)

Monsanto Denies Superinsect Science

Tom Philpott, Mother Jones
As the summer growing season draws to a close, 2011 is emerging as the year of the superinsect—the year pests officially developed resistance to Monsanto’s genetically engineered (ostensibly) bug-killing corn.

While the revelation has given rise to alarming headlines, neither Monsanto nor the EPA, which regulates pesticides and pesticide-infused crops, can credibly claim surprise. Scientists have been warning that the EPA’s rules for planting the crop were too lax to prevent resistance since before the agency approved the crop in 2003. And in 2008, research funded by Monsanto itself showed that resistance was an obvious danger.

And now those unheeded warnings are proving prescient. In late July, as I reported recently, scientists in Iowa documented the existence of corn rootworms (a ravenous pest that attacks the roots of corn plants) that can happily devour corn plants that were genetically tweaked specifically to kill them. Monsanto’s corn, engineered to express a toxic gene from a bacterial insecticide called Bt, now accounts for 65 percent of the corn planted in the US.

The superinsect scourge has also arisen in Illinois and Minnesota. “Monsanto Co. (MON)’s insect-killing corn is toppling over in northwestern Illinois fields, a sign that rootworms outside of Iowa may have developed resistance to the genetically modified crop,” reports Bloomberg. In southern Minnesota, adds Minnesota Public Radio, an entomologist has found corn rootworms thriving, Bt corn plants drooping, in fields.

Monsanto, for its part, is reacting to the news with a hearty “move along—nothing to see here!” “Our [Bt corn] is effective,” Monsanto scientist Dusty Post insisted in an interview with The St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “We don’t have any demonstrated field resistance,” he added, pretending away the Iowa study, to speak nothing those corn fields that are “toppling over” in Illinois and and Minnesota…
(8 September 2011)