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turning vacant city lots into farms

The urban agricultural movement in this nation is progressing rapidly. Cities from New York to Seattle are combating economic struggles by turning vacant city lots into farms and feeding their impoverished neighborhoods with locally grown foods.

Urban agriculture is the practice of growing plants and raising animals within or around cities. Urban residents usually provide the labor necessary to cultivate, process, and distribute food, and urban residents are often the consumers of this food.  Organic waste can be used as compost, and organic wastewater can be used for irrigation.

According to the New York Times, demand for locally grown produce is at an all-time high. Farmers markets are becoming more popular as traditional markets continue to sell inorganic produce and genetically modified foods.

Here are some examples of the urban agricultural movement at work:

A Farm at New York’s Battery

A one-acre farm grows at the Battery, and it’s designed in the shape of a turkey. A real wild turkey even lives there—her name is Zelda. The bird-shaped garden is defined by a fence made from bamboo poles originally used in a roof garden at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The garden shakes whenever the subway runs underneath. The vegetables grown include broccoli, cucumbers, tomatoes, and more.

Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport

Fresh organic produce is grown in this “aeroponic” garden nestled in the rotunda building between terminals. The garden uses a solution of water and minerals instead of soil. The seeds start in containers made of “a natural volcanic ash material” and are moved to tall towers once grown. The garden produces 44 organic vegetables and herbs, and it uses and recycles water.

Chicago Botanic Garden’s Windy City Harvest Program

This boot-camp urban garden program prepares inmates for jobs in the growing green-collar industry. Behind razor wire, Cook County inmates manage a three-quarter-acre vegetable farm that produces tomatoes, carrots, peppers, and kale. Inmates receive instruction and certification in sustainable horticulture in partnership with the City Colleges of Chicago.

Some cities are building greenhouse farms on urban roofs. Others are forming groups to raise chickens so they can deliver fresh eggs to urban dwellings. Many cities and groups are promoting policies to encourage the growth of farmers markets. According to the USDA, there are now more than 6,000 farmers markets nationwide.

Detroit currently has our country’s largest urban farm, but urban farms are being planted everywhere—even on city hall properties.  Obviously, urban agriculture is not just here to STAY … it’s growing!

Vegetated Urban Rooftops

U.S. cities are going “green.”

Gravel. Asphalt. Black tar. Cement. That’s what you get with the typical urban rooftop. But many U.S. cities are going “green.” Fly above Chicago, Atlanta, Portland, and other cities, and you’ll see rooftops displaying aesthetically green wonders. Homeowners and businesses are catching onto this growing movement.

A green roof is a roof covered with vegetation. It’s designed for both beauty and energy conservation. A green roof is made up of several layers. It starts with a high-quality waterproofing membrane, a root repellant layer, and a drainage system. The layers vary slightly at that point, depending on the manufacturer, but the plants make up the top layer.

There are two types of green roofs: intensive and extensive. An intensive roof is park-like in design. It has walkways and benches, bushes and trees. It’s a heavier, thick- layered system. An extensive green roof usually covers the entire roof with a small selection of plant life. It requires little maintenance and exists solely for environmental benefits. The rooftop of Chicago’s City Hall is an example of both an intensive and extensive rooftop.

A green roof has many varied benefits:

  • It brings beauty to the building and to the environment
  • It creates a peaceful retreat accessible to people and/or wildlife
  • It produces oxygen and captures airborne pollutants and gases
  • It retains much rainwater and precipitation, thus reducing the amount of runoff water.
  • It reduces energy costs by insulating in winter and cooling in summer.
  • It helps reduce Urban Heat Island Effect (when cities are hotter than their surrounding regions) by providing shade and removing heat from surrounding air.
  • It potentially increases the value of the building
  • It can last twice as long as a common rooftop. It costs more at start-up, but a number of U.S. cities have policy incentives to encourage green roof building.

Green roofs have been popular in Europe for a long time, and now they’re gaining popularity in the U.S., too. With green roofs, we can conserve energy while creating green environments for our cities, homes, and businesses.

Click here to view examples of green roofs.