Sunday, 15 June 2008

Alternative Farming

Spirit Park

Back in May I heard a piece about urban agriculture on CBC Radio’s Dispatches (if you want to listen to it scroll down to Food Crisis: City Farming).

The piece was about how the high price of food, fuel and improper transportation and storage infrastructure has made the “100 metre diet” a regular thing for decades in even the most modern cities in countries like Uganda and Kenya. Tiny plots inside the city – ditches, culverts hillsides are officially, or unofficially, taken over to produce food.

The story stated that there are as many as 800m urban farmers worldwide producing 15% of the world’s food.

This, of course, isn't something incredibly new in North America either but the rising price of fuel may push the topic into the limelight even for places like Winnipeg.

In the 'Peg there is a bit of urban farming going on through various community gardens around town. My first recollection of a community garden was on Burrows Avenue where I grew up. Nearby there was a hydro corridor that people, presumably, rented patches of land for growing.

West Broadway Community Garden

In recent years two parks sprang up on unused land in the West Broadway area. One is on Sherbrook that is owned by a neighbourhood land trust.

Spirit Park

The other is Spirit Park, the former site of two homes that burned down. The empty lot, owned by the city, was turned into a park with focus on a community garden.

Community Garden

Near my new place I see there is a community garden on a vacant lot on McGee Street.

West Broadway Community Garden

Should we consider urban farming as a solution to providing food for Winnipeg ?

We face the same concerns, not to the same degree of course, that other cities do. We have poverty, we have relatively expensive food, especially as fuel prices rise.

The other night on the Colbert Report, of all shows, Colbert interviewed professor Dickson Despommier from Columbia University, about Vertical Farming . Vertical farms, many stories tall, protected from the elements and pollutants. These would be located inside city limits providing fresh, organic food without the inputs of everything from fertilizers to fuel for the harvesting and shipping.

I thought that was intriguing. Winnipeg is close to agricultural land but we have a short growing season and many types of crops like citrus fruit will not grow here. We also face some serious downsides to intensive farming like pollution from runoff that is impacting our rivers and Lake Winnipeg.

The thought of a fresh, tasty, branch ripened grapefruit in the middle of February is appealing !

Some good info sources I found that I will explore more later include BC based cityfarmer.org as well as the Kansas City Centre for Urban Agriculture. There is also an inner-city youth gardening program "DIG" in Durham, South Carolina that looks really interesting as both a way to give something to the youth to do as well as provide food for the community.

1 comment:

Rox Sen said...

To re-localize food production, what is needed is a franchise-ready sub-acre farming system. That is the concept behind SPIN (S-mall P-lot IN-tensive ) Farming. SPIN, developed by Canadian farmer Wally Satzewich, makes it possible to earn significant income from growing vegetables on land bases under an acre in size. SPIN farmers utilize relay cropping to increase yield and achieve good economic returns by growing only the most profitable food crops tailored to local markets. SPIN's farming techniques are not, in themselves, breakthrough. What is novel is the way a SPIN farm business is run. SPIN provides everything you'd expect from a good franchise: a business plan, marketing advice, and a detailed day-to-day workflow. In standardizing the system and creating a reproducible process it really isn't any different from McDonalds.
SPIN-style farming removes the two big barriers to entry – sizeable acreage and significant start-up capital. By offering a non-technical, easy-to-understand and inexpensive-to-implement farming system, it allows many more people to farm. You can see some of the growing corps of entrepreneurial SPIN farmers in action at www.spinfarming.com