America’s largest urban farm to be planted in Pittsburgh

September 19, 2017 by  
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Pittsburgh , once a site of heavy industry, could soon be home to the biggest urban farm in the United States. The 23-acre Hilltop Urban Farm will be located in the city’s Southside, an area underserved by supermarkets , where it could help supply nutritious, fresh produce to those who otherwise would have little access. Coal, steel, and manufacturing once boomed in Pittsburgh, until the city experienced an industrial decline in the 1950s. The healthcare industry has recently helped revive the city, but neighborhoods on Pittsburgh’s outer ring have yet to see a comeback. That’s where the Hilltop Alliance , the group behind the Hilltop Urban Farm, is working. The city is also home to the largest percentage of people living in areas with low-supermarket access for cities with 250,000 to 500,000 people, according to a 2012 report from the United States Department of the Treasury. Related: 20 kids transform a rough Pittsburgh neighborhood with solar art & charging station The Hilltop Urban Farm could offer an answer to the issues these Pittsburgh residents face. The farm will occupy space that was once filled with low-income housing – and according to Aaron Sukenik, Hilltop Alliance executive director, the land “was just kind of sitting there, fenced and looking very post-apocalyptic.” Soon it will be home to a farm where people will grow winter peas and other produce. There will be a fruit orchard, and an almost one-acre youth farm. There will be a 3.36-acre farmer incubation program, and a 57 plot community garden . There will also be a 3.31 community-supported agriculture (CSA) farm. Also part of the urban farm will be a 200-person events barn and a farm market building, where a seasonal farmer’s market will occur. According to the Hilltop Urban Farm Facebook page , green infrastructure, energy-efficient buildings, stormwater management , and native plants will be part of the design. Hilltop Urban Farm is slated to open in 2019. Via Reuters Images via Hilltop Urban Farm Facebook

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America’s largest urban farm to be planted in Pittsburgh

Dozens of Japanese cities and towns quietly go off-grid

September 19, 2017 by  
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Dozens of cities and towns in Japan have quietly shifted from traditional utility-based grid power system to a more local, resilient model of generating and storing energy where it is used. After significant damage caused by the 2011 earthquake and tsunami, many Japanese municipalities rebuilt to be more equipped for the 21st century through the country’s National Resilience Program. The Program offers 3.72 trillion yen ($33.32 billion) in funding each fiscal year to be distributed to local communities seeking to become more self-reliant and locally empowered. “Since Fukushima , there has been a gradual elaboration of policies to realize that kind of local autonomy, local consumption paradigm,” said Andrew Dewit, a professor of energy policy at Rikkyo University in Tokyo. Although the Resilience Program was designed for recovering from and adapting to natural disasters, it has blossomed into a powerful tool in the fight against climate change . “At the time of the Great East Japan earthquake, we couldn’t secure power and had to go through incredible hardships,” said Yusuke Atsumi, a manager at HOPE, a utility created to service this new localized energy model. Under the old system, a “blackout at one area would lead to wide-scale power outages. But the independent distributed micro-grid can sustain power even if the surrounding area is having a blackout.” Related: Japan’s new mushroom solar farms produce sustainable energy and food In its recovery from the earthquake , which destroyed 75 percent of its homes and killed 1,100 of its residents, the city of Higashi Matsushima constructed micro-grids and decentralized renewable power generation that currently allows the city to produce 25 percent of its power needs without tapping into the main grid . Additionally, the city has installed batteries capable of storing enough energy to run the city for three days without access to the grid. “We are moving towards a day when we won’t be building large-scale power plants,” said Takao Kashiwagi, renewable energy luminary who serves as head of the New Energy Promotion Council and designed Japan’s first smart city . “Instead, we will have distributed power systems, where small power supply systems are in place near the consumption areas.” In light of the program’s success, the Japanese government seeks to increase funding for the Resilience Program by 24 percent in the next fiscal year. Via Reuters Images via Save the Children Canada/Wikimedia ,  DepositPhotos , and Pavel Ahmed/Flickr

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Dozens of Japanese cities and towns quietly go off-grid

New Orleans golf course transformed into citys biggest urban farm with an Eco-Campus

September 18, 2017 by  
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A former golf course in New Orleans’ City Park has been transformed into the city’s biggest urban farm— Grow Dat Youth Farm . The seven-acre sustainable farming nonprofit features a low-energy Eco-Campus built with seven recycled shipping containers and designed by Tulane University architecture students. The urban farming and leadership program teaches local youth how to sustainably grow fruits and veggies that are then sold to CSAs, local restaurants, and markets, as well as donated to neighborhoods lacking access to healthy, fresh food. Founded in 2012, Grow Dat Youth Farm wants to do much more than grow delicious chemical-free food. The nonprofit farm’s central mission is to bring local youth and adults from different backgrounds together in a safe collaborative environment where they can learn how to grow their own food and develop personal, social, and environmental change. Most of the educational workshops take place within the Eco-Campus, a simple low-energy structure with an open-air classroom, two climate-controlled offices, kitchen, bathroom with composting toilets , and storage. A bioswale under the front timber walkway prevents flooding and manages water sustainably. The City Park birding corridor runs along the side of farm and provides a more wild contrast to the farmed environment. Grow Dat Youth Farm has a long-term lease for seven acres of land in New Orlean’s City Park and is currently growing on two acres with plans for expansion. Formerly a golf course that had been uninhabited before Katrina, the site comprised very sandy or mostly clay soils—poor conditions for farming. The team remediated the soil with lots of organic matter—mainly a mixture of coffee grounds, processed dried sugar cane, and chicken manure—and use crop rotations to add minerals back into the earth. Today, the diversified farm grows over 50 varieties of fruits and vegetables, from avocados and satsuma to beets and kale. “Food justice is a big part of who we are,” said Michael Kantor, Interim Director at Grow Dat Youth Farm, who stressed the program’s primary purpose to develop youth leadership skills. “Black farmers in particular have historically been marginalized so we create opportunities here to give young people of different races the chance to take control of food production, either here or in their neighborhoods, and increase access to fresh healthy produce—something many New Orleans neighborhoods do not have.” Grow Dat Youth Farm partners with nine local schools to recruit around 60 high school students annually. Starting January, these youth Crew Members participate in a paid, five-month leadership program held after school and on Saturday that prioritizes diversity and inclusion. The program time is evenly split between lessons on sustainable food , cooking, and farming, and team-building and leadership exercises. Graduates of the program are invited to enroll in the next tiered leadership position as Assistant Crew Leaders; a fellowship program brings in extra help around the year. Related: Inspiring urban farm teaches kids how to grow their own organic food “Our farm is pretty active from September to June,” said Michael. “That’s when we’re harvesting crops for the CSA , our main distribution channel that starts in October, or for the Crescent City Farmers Market or farm stand. We’ve also sold to restaurants and have been in Whole Foods too. We donate 30% of our food to households without access through our Shared Harvest program.” Grow Dat Youth Farm has donated over 26,000 pounds of food. In addition to funding from grants, donors, and market sales, Grow Dat Youth Farm raises funds through their seasonal farm dinners , where they invite celebrated local chefs to cook up locally focused, family-style meals on the farm. This year’s first farm dinner, on September 28, features chefs from Cochon and Peche, while the October 8th dinner features a chef from Shaya. Tickets are still available for these farm dinners. Learn more information about Grow Dat Youth Farm by following the link below. + Grow Dat Youth Farm Images © Lucy Wang

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New Orleans golf course transformed into citys biggest urban farm with an Eco-Campus

Incredible rooftop farm takes over Israels oldest mall to grow thousands of organic vegetables

January 9, 2017 by  
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An amazing farm has sprouted in an unlikely place—the rooftop of Israel’s oldest mall in the heart of Tel Aviv . Hidden between high-rises, “Green in the City” is a rooftop farm that produces 10,000 heads of leafy greens a month year-round using organic and hydroponic methods—no dirt required. This thriving example of urban agriculture is one of many surprising sustainable initiatives at the Dizengoff Center shopping mall , which includes bird habitat, a tree nursery, rooftop apiary, and even a bat cave for native fruit bats to call home. According to the United Nations , over 54 percent of the world’s population lives in cities, a proportion that is expected to grow to 66 percent by 2050. The challenge of producing enough food to feed the increasingly urbanized and growing population is one of the impetuses behind Green in the City, a rooftop farm launched in 2015 by Lavi Kushelevich of the hydroponics company LivinGreen and the Dizengoff Center’s sustainability department. The urban agriculture project was created to raise public awareness about the food crisis, provide affordable organic produce to Tel Avivians, and to give city dwellers the tools they need to start hydroponic gardens at home. Today the farm grows 10,000 heads of leafy greens a month year-round, with 17 different kinds of vegetables and herbs on rotation at a time, inside two greenhouses that total 750 square meters of growing space. The vegetables, which are grown from seedlings, are primarily cultivated using a Deep Water Culture foam raft system. The plant’s roots grow through holes in the floating foam rafts, which insulates the water and blocks sunlight. The water is oxygenated with an air pump and the pH and nutrient levels are carefully monitored. Thanks to these soil-less hydroponic farming methods, the vegetables are grown twice as fast with less spoilage, water usage, and land as compared to traditional agricultural practices. The vegetables are also grown without pesticides or synthetic fertilizers, however, aren’t certified organic due to Israel’s agriculture laws that require organic foods to be grown in soil. However, organic certification isn’t the goal behind the project. Green in the City’s primary aim is to promote urban farming in Israel and beyond through educational workshops and community outreach programs. Workshops led by Lavi teach visitors how to build and use hydroponic systems at home; other workshops teach participants how to cook the fresh greens, like bok choy. The educational area includes demonstrations of Deep Water Culture systems, Nutrient Film Technique vertical and horizontal PVC pipe systems, an aquaponics system, home biogas unit, a compact Living Box greenhouse, as well as smaller hydroponic home starter kits. The hydroponic systems are developed by LivinGreen for both home and commercial use and are sold by Green in the City to help fund the initiative. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vW_5ZSqYFF0 Related: World’s largest rooftop farm sprouts 10 million pesticide-free crops each year Green in the City sells everything that they grow and the majority of the produce is sold to Tel Aviv restaurants and homes, with orders made online and shipments delivered by bicycle. A portion of the vegetables are also sold downstairs in the shopping mall through the Honesty Stand, the first model of its kind in the city, where produce and their price tags are displayed in a timber kiosk. The high-quality organically grown produce—such as chives, lettuce, basil, and celery—are sold at affordable prices thanks to the Honesty Stand’s lack of staff and reliance on an honor system and collection box. Lavi says that 80 percent of people who take produce do pay, and its high success rate has inspired him to install more Honesty Stands in the future. The Green in the City rooftop farm is still young but has already sown seeds for great success. The initiative not only provides city dwellers the means to grow their own food simply and affordably, but has also found a way to become economically sustainable with income generated through sales of vegetables, hydroponic systems, and educational workshops. The initiative also has plans for expansion, with sights set on a ground-floor urban farm in Tel Aviv’s Sarona Market. + Green in the City + Vibe Israel Tour courtesy of Vibe Israel Images © Lucy Wang

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Incredible rooftop farm takes over Israels oldest mall to grow thousands of organic vegetables

America’s first urban ‘agrihood’ feeds 2,000 households for free

December 7, 2016 by  
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When you think of Detroit , ‘ sustainable ‘ and ‘ agriculture ‘ may not be the first two words that come to mind. But a new urban agrihood debuted by The Michigan Urban Farming Initiative (MUFI) might change your mind. The three-acre development boasts a two-acre garden , a fruit orchard with 200 trees, and a sensory garden for kids. If you need a refresher on the definition of agrihood, MUFI describes it as an alternative neighborhood growth model. An agrihood centers around urban agriculture, and MUFI offers fresh, local produce to around 2,000 households for free. Related: Amazing farm-to-table, eco friendly housing development in California is a locavore’s paradise In a statement, MUFI co-founder and president Tyson Gersh said, “Over the last four years, we’ve grown from an urban garden that provides fresh produce for our residents to a diverse, agricultural campus that has helped sustain the neighborhood, attracted new residents and area investment.” Through urban agriculture , MUFI aims to solve problems Detroit residents face such as nutritional illiteracy and food insecurity. Now in the works at the agrihood is a 3,200 square foot Community Resource Center . Once a vacant building, the center will become a colorful headquarters and education center. As MUFI is a non-profit operated by volunteers, they’ll receive a little help to restore the building from chemistry company BASF and global community Sustainable Brands . Near the center, a health food cafe will sprout on empty land. MUFI describes the agrihood as America’s first sustainable urban agrihood. There are other agrihoods around the United States, such as this one Inhabitat covered earlier in 2016 in Davis, California. But the California agrihood is expensive; many people couldn’t afford to live there. The Michigan agrihood is far more accessible. MUFI isn’t stopping with the community center. They’re also working on a shipping container home, and plan to restore another vacant home to house interns. A fire-damaged house near the agrihood will be deconstructed, but the basement will be turned into a water harvesting cistern to irrigate the farm. + The Michigan Urban Farming Initiative Images via The Michigan Urban Farming Initiative ( 1 , 2 )

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America’s first urban ‘agrihood’ feeds 2,000 households for free

Cedar Rapids turns tragedy into triumph with new LEED Platinum public library

December 7, 2016 by  
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Tragedy struck Cedar Rapids, Iowa in June 2008, when a devastating flood swept the city and destroyed hundreds of homes, businesses, and several prominent public structures, including the public library. In the wake of the unprecedented natural disaster, the community and local studio OPN Architects joined together to rebuild the library. The new Cedar Rapids Public Library was reborn as a vibrant, multipurpose center that’s earned numerous architecture awards and LEED Platinum certification. Completed in 2003, the new Cedar Rapids Public Library is located a couple blocks from the original site and overlooks Greene Square Park. OPN’s meetings with the community guided the 95,000-square-foot library design, which, according to the architects, was “driven by the desire to embrace openness, transparency and foster public engagement with and within the space.” The building features large expanses of floor-to-ceiling glass to engage the streetscape and to overlook views of the park and cityscape. Large windows and a two-story central atrium allow natural light to penetrate deep into the building and reduce dependence on artificial lighting. The library spaces are organized around the central atrium in a hub-and-spoke system in which the cafe and coffee shop are located in the Service Core Zone, while the children’s, young adult, and adult fiction areas branch out from the hub. Clear sight lines and open vertical circulation help users navigate their way to their destinations. The second floor includes adult non-fiction collections, a conference space, offices, and a 200-seat auditorium facing the park that spans both the second and third floors. A breakout lobby for the auditorium sits on the third floor, which provides access to the 24,000-square-foot green roof . Related: Boxy new library by Schmidt Hammer Lassen Architects designed to regenerate Halifax The Cedar Rapids Public Library achieved LEED Platinum certification thanks to its lowered energy footprint, which exceeds the Iowa Energy Code by 55% and uses energy at a rate of 37 ktbu per square foot—a significant savings compared to the pre-flood library’s rate of 100 kbtu per square foot. The exterior glazing that covers over a third of the building envelope is insulating with low-E coating. The building also includes a pump & re-inject geothermal HVAC system, daylight sensors, LEDs, and thermally broken aluminum framing. The accessible green roof harvests rainwater for irrigation, and combined with pervious paving, helps retain 90% of normal annual rainfall and 100% of all rainfall up to one inch in a 24-hour period on site. + OPN Architects Via ArchDaily Images via OPN Architects , by Main Street Studio – Wayne Johnson

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Cedar Rapids turns tragedy into triumph with new LEED Platinum public library

Canadian nonprofit builds North America’s first urban earthship in Calgary

October 26, 2016 by  
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Since earthships make use of recycled and reclaimed building materials , they can be constructed at a very low cost. Grow Calgary’s volunteers began building this one in 2014, but their project was threatened after the city issued a demolition order due to code violations. After an appeal, the nonprofit won the right to continue and found ways to get the earthship to meet the city building requirements, thus earning proper permits. Scottie Davidson of EcoNerds led a renewed effort this past summer to complete the construction, and the team is almost at the finish line. Related: Earthships heading to Canada will provide First Nations communities with low-income housing Due to their partially subterranean design, earthships are ultra energy efficient . Being partly underground greatly reduces the need for artificial heating and cooling by taking advantage of the earth’s steady temperatures, which is also the feature that makes an earthship a wonderful spot for a greenhouse. Many earthships, like this one, can also eschew artificial lighting, thanks to abundant windows that also help draw in warmth from the sun. With walls made from old tires, beer cans, and other trash-turned-treasure, Grow Calgary’s earthship greenhouse will be open to the public once it’s complete, and crops grown in the greenhouse will (like the rest of the urban farm’s yield) be donated to the Calgary Food Bank. The earthship sits on the organization’s 11-acre plot that is already home to traditional crops. Adding the greenhouse will unlock the key to year-round production, even in Calgary’s long, frigid winter. Via Calgary Herald Images via Grow Calgary

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Canadian nonprofit builds North America’s first urban earthship in Calgary

Farm 360 in Indianapolis grows veggies with 100% renewable energy and 90% less water

October 26, 2016 by  
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Farm 360’s hydroponic growing system relies on an array of thousands of energy-efficient LED lights which bathe rows upon rows of vegetables with pink light. Nutrient rich water is pumped below the plants through large, plastic drums and is then channeled to each individual through small tubes. “We’re going to keep redesigning to become as efficient as possible,” said farm manager Jim Bloom. “We’re even looking into solar power. We really want to be as self-sufficient as we can.” There are currently five separate growing areas within the warehouse that are used to produce basil, mint, kale, lettuce, spinach, chard, and arugula. “In total, the farm grows around 35 different types of greens,” Bloom said. “And we can turn a head of lettuce in about 30 days.” Related: Freight Farms are super efficient hydroponic farms built inside shipping containers Sustainable Local Foods Indiana in partnership with the Englewood Community Development Corp.  selected the warehouse site with the goal of injecting  energy and resources into an area that has been federally designated as a “Promise Zone,” highlighted by the Obama Administration as high priority for redevelopment. “We like to repurpose what we consider to be underutilized buildings in communities where it can add real value,” said Bloom. In 2015, the neighborhood had a 47 percent poverty rate and about 24 percent unemployment rate. Since opening, Farm 360 has created living-wage twelve jobs within the community and will be staffed with thirty employees by the end of 2016. “We want people to be able to walk or ride their bike to work,” Bloom said. “The goal is to have 70 to 75 percent of our employees live right here on the east side. These are the people who want to revitalize the area.” + Farm 360 Via No Mean City Images via Esther Boston

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Farm 360 in Indianapolis grows veggies with 100% renewable energy and 90% less water

2017 Countryman crossover is the first MINI plug-in hybrid

October 26, 2016 by  
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It’s been six years since the last electrified MINI, the MINI E was made available. Although BMW has confirmed plans to introduce a new fully-electric MINI in the next few years, if you’ve been hoping that MINI would introduce a plug-in model sooner, your prayers have been answered. MINI has unveiled the all-new 2017 Countryman crossover, which marks the introduction of the automaker’s first plug-in hybrid . The new Countryman is now the biggest MINI to date, but at the same time it is also the greenest model in MINI’s current lineup. Standard versions can be equipped with efficient three- and four-cylinder engines, but even more noteworthy is the new plug-in hybrid version. The Countryman plug-in hybrid is powered by a 1.5L three-cylinder mated to an electric motor for a total combined output of 221 horsepower, which is more than either of the standard gasoline powered versions. The 7.6-kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery gives the Countryman plug-in hybrid an electric driving range of 24 miles at speeds up to 77 mph. Related: MINI Unveils Three of the World’s Tiniest Luxury Campers “The addition of the plug-in hybrid option is a major milestone for the brand and we look forward to bringing this exciting new vehicle into one of the top performing market segments,” said Thomas Felbermair, Vice President MINI of the Americas. MINI hasn’t announced the pricing for the Countryman plug-in hybrid , but when it arrives next summer it will be called the Cooper S E Countryman ALL4. + MINI All images @ MINI

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2017 Countryman crossover is the first MINI plug-in hybrid

9 questions with eco architect William McDonough on the future of agriculture

October 3, 2016 by  
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We’re excited about urban farming here at Inhabitat, and we’ve been following the work of green architect William McDonough for years , through his groundbreaking Cradle to Cradle manifesto and book , to the inspiring Ford Factory renovation to the new Method Factory with sprawling greenhouses on the roof in Chicago. So imagine our delight when we learned that William McDonough was tapped to design the master plan for a new “Silicon Valley of agriculture” in Aarhus, Denmark. We recently had a chance to catch up with him to discuss this new project and his vision for the future of agriculture. He had a lot of fascinating ideas to share, from Thomas Jefferson’s design ideas to poop recycling – read on for the full interview… Inhabitat: Thank you for agreeing to chat with us today – we are very excited about your vision for this new “Silicon Valley of agriculture” in Denmark . Can you tell us about the Agro Food Park? William McDonough: The Agro Food Park is a whole complex right now with 75 companies, about 1000 people. It’s part of the Danish Agriculture and Food Council and was opened in 2009, about 460,000 square feet . There’s about half a million square feet already in place with 75 companies, and they’re looking to expand and build an additional roughly three million square feet over the next 30 years. That’s what we’re doing here as the master plan and then conceiving how this sort of agricultural technology and food production thinking in Denmark can be expanded as commercial opportunities for people and their synergies. This is a place, literally, where people could be engaging in the business of feeding the world safe, healthy food. That, to us, is very exciting. Inhabitat: Is it an office park that people commute to from towns nearby, or will it house a community of full-time residents? William McDonough: The Agro Food Park is kind of a research and incubator hub, but not residential housing. The nice thing about the Danish landscape is that people get there easily on bicycles. They live around it, all around it. It’s like like working in the Netherlands where it’s relatively flat, and people ride their bikes. The key thing here, we typically prefer very dynamic mixed-use in basically everything that we can. It’s one of the great discoveries of the obvious is that live-work is probably the most important element of transit, which is you don’t need it in many cases, you know, when you look at history. This is meant to be a hub for the people who work in agriculture to rub elbows and share the same coffee and compare notes all the time. It’s a giant watering hole. RELATED: Denmark is building the “Silicon Valley of agriculture” in Aarhus, Denmark Inhabitat: Does the Agro Food Park engage in actual commercial food production, or is it mainly research and development? William McDonough: I’m going to invite Alastair Reilly who’s sitting here with me to speak on this. Alastair Reilly: Right now, this is really an R&D hub, so it’s the confluence of the Danish agriculture lobbyist for the farm group. There’s government entities there. Aarhus, the local university, is doing a new biotech lab there, and then it’s commerce business. Some of the large Danish food exporters, Arla, who’s building a new R&D center there. Then the agro-food park is really stitching all those entities together and also providing incubator startup space for small groups that are doing innovations around all kinds of food production. Inhabitat: Can you tell me a bit about the role that the agro-food park currently plays in Aarhus and in Denmark in general, and then how you see this evolving over the next 30 years? Alastair Reilly: Sure, I can start. As Bill mentioned, there’s about 75 companies there. They’re scattered around this campus. It’s an old farm with some R&D buildings, labs, so our idea is to stitch those entities together, but currently it’s a mystery what happens there. Everything is very inward-focused right now, so our idea is also to make it very open and transparent to the public and create a test lab. One of the main pieces of this new master plan is a lawn which would be a test lab. It would be open for the public for viewing but also allow the different R&D and users to see the other technologies that are being tested there. It’s really designed to create some density so they can cluster all these different groups together, but with a central gathering space as well, so we can have overlaps of technologies between the different firms. William McDonough: One of the things that I find really important at this point in my career is that I’m very focused on soil health. It’s interesting to note that humus, human, and humility all come from the same Latin root, and to have humility means to be grounded. If we look at the whole earth as a system, as Francis Crick pointed out when he looked for what he called the “nature of vitalism,” what does it mean to be a living thing? His conclusion was in order to be alive, you had to have growth, because otherwise you’re dying. If you don’t have cells growing, you’re dying. You have to have income in order to grow, and that income on the planet is essentially from the sun. I like to note it’s also from carbon dioxide and nitrogen from the atmosphere coming toward the earth. Then you have to have an open metabolism with chemicals operating for the benefit of the organisms and their reproduction. That organism, essentially for us as terrestrial creatures, comes from soil. Soil is the basis. I find it very interesting to look at all the agricultural systems in the world and ask as a first question, “Is the soil improving in health?” That is the first question because, over the eons, you’ve got natural systems building soil. Otherwise, it’s a dead rock in space. Are we healing the soils? Are the soils growing? Are they healthy? That takes us to the fungi, the bacteria, the microbes, and then on to us. These projects that start with that fundamental question is very exciting for me. We’re doing quite a few projects around this issue of how do humans inhabit soil, and how do we feed ourselves from it? Inhabitat: This makes sense. So how does that view impact your master plan for this design of the Agro Food Park? What is the general design premise for this master plan? William McDonough: Having been the dean at the University of Virginia in the School of Architecture and living on Thomas Jefferson’s lawn , the power of that space as a gathering place relies on its very specific dimensions. The Great Lawn at University of Virginia – designed by Thomas Jefferson as an academical village Thomas Jefferson was very precise. The length of the lawn was the amount of distance at which you could still recognize another person, in his mind. He wrote specifically about it. In the Agro Food Park, there is a lawn in the center of the design, which is where these experiments are going on. It would be the place to come and wander around and see what everybody’s doing around it and be present as an organizing space. This is what Jefferson would have characterized as academical village , here might be characterized as essentially commerce and culture radiating around it. It’s really a research village around a great lawn that isn’t a lawn. It’s food. Inhabitat: Can you elaborate on how or whether you were able to integrate Cradle to Cradle thinkin g into this design? William McDonough: Well, the whole idea of agro-urbanism is Cradle to Cradle at its roots. The idea that we connect our food and our buildings into daily lives is how Cradle to Cradle translates into buildings. Also, one of the reasons we’re here and working with GXN and the other partners on the team, including the Danish architects and landscape designers, is that I helped our partner, Kasper, here. We wrote the Cradle to Cradle for the social environment guidelines for the Danish design industry together. He and I have been working very closely on the idea of bringing Cradle to Cradle at all levels into Danish design. Inhabitat: I’d like tie this into what you see as the future of global agriculture. Here at Inhabitat we’ve done a lot of coverage of urban farms, particularly the idea of the indoor vertical farms, and trying to bring large-scale agriculture closer to dense urban areas. I’m wondering what you think of those ideas versus the large, flat, terrestrial farm that’s out in the countryside. How do you think we’re going to feed the world globally in the future? William McDonough: It’s a great question and it deserves its length. I was born in Tokyo in 1951 and every night was awoken by the farmers coming with the ox carts over the cobblestones and these giant oak wheels and coming to collect our sewage. My mother would sing a song as we woke up as little babies, and the songs were really funny, actually, in retrospect. They were stuff in American tunes from my mother who was from Alabama, and they were sung in Japanese with a southern accent and kind of cute. Anyway, for a little kid, this is heaven because she would make up songs about poop. You’re 3 years old, you’re lying on a futon in a paper house in Tokyo, all made of joinery, and your mother, who the farmer is waking up with the ox cart, collecting the sewage to take it to the farms. You’re lying on your back giggling because this is so great. I always thought the city and the farms were one organism, and the farmers came back with their ox carts laden with food during the day for the market. Paris was the same. It had a system of market gardeners that would come into Paris with their fresh peaches and the vegetables. They would go to the markets, and they would go to the very streets where there were people in the streets who essentially captured the horse manure of that street. That was their world. They would collect the horse manure in that street that belonged to them, and they would pile it up in the corners. The farmers and the gardeners would bring the food, and they’d deposit quickly. Then they would go to the corner and collect horse manure and straw and take it back to their gardens. The cities and the gardens are one thing, and for me, they still are. The idea that we would grow close by fresh, healthy food and use our own nutrients as part of the cycle is the part that interests me. I’ve been very involved in studying vertical gardening and articulating the issues around it. I’m quite involved in the Netherlands where artificial agriculture is predominant from an industrial perspective. A lot of this agriculture is growing in greenhouses. The things that I get a little concerned about are what happens to our sewage because it’s not necessarily incorporated in the formula. Part of that is because a lot of it has been contaminated by industrial systems that combine storms and sewer and industrial waste and things like that that are of a concern to people. I am really interested in cities being able to create fertilizer factories instead of sewage plants where it is possible. If we can capture the phosphates, the nitrogen, carbon, we can use it as fertilizer. I’m working on projects like that to see where we can do that – this is very exciting to me. Urban farming with artificial light is very dynamic because we see that tomato plants, for example, only care about five wavelengths of light; 3 blues and 2 reds. With LEDs, you can actually articulate the growing light that the plants actually desire. At the same time, Grow Lights use an incredible amount of energy. Unless we have renewably-powered energy that’s actually of a different kind that I’m working on on another scale, it’s of concern because if we replace one problem with another we have to be careful. The energy balances of these things are important. That’s why we put all of these greenhouses on the roof on top of the Method Factory in Chicago. [It’s the world’s biggest rooftop greenhouse] . RELATED: World’s largest rooftop farm sprouts 10 million pesticide-free crops each year It’s pretty exciting being able to do this. In India, we’ve got greenhouses on factories. The jobs and their people are right there, and these are areas that are in the sunshine that weren’t previously occupied, so we now grow food there. We make water there. We make solar energy there. We use the carbon for growing. We use the cooling system to take water out of the air in the deserts because we have condensates. We can do many things at once up there, so we do that. Part of it’s providing food for people right there to take home to your families. It’s pretty exciting. As far as large-scale agriculture; I’m very concerned about monocultures and the exploitation of the soil in the conventional American situation, because it doesn’t yield soil health. We now see soil depletion. Soil health is so important and that’s another reason I think the working with the Danes is so exciting, because it’s such a big part of the focus. The Italians are doing incredible work on this, too, by the way, at University of Trento . They’re realizing that the viruses that are attacking the hazelnuts and the olive trees, are coming from Costa Rica and Africa via Rotterdam on the seeds being used in the Global Agro seed business. This is really devastating for our local, regional food crops. Olives and hazelnuts? Can you imagine Italy without olive oil? What they’re realizing is that it’s the soil that is the first line of defense for the plant. They’re developing new compost optimizations for those plants so that the plants are feeding vigorously from composts that are natural to them and allows the right micro eco system: the bacteria, the microbes, to fully engage the plant with its health, so the viruses have a tough time getting it. That’s the first line of defense for the organism, so soil, soil, soil. The thing I see in the future is beautiful fields of solar collectors. They would be Cradle to Cradle, obviously, which we now have, deployed high above the ground so that you can move around underneath them. This would utilize the shade to encourage the perennials to come back, which they do immediately – it is quite amazing. We can get 15 foot deep roots. We can get agriculture going under there, water comes back, soil health comes back, they’re carbon-positive, in my language. You get food, you get jobs, you get fiber, you get water, you get soil health, and carbon retention. You get kilowatt hours like sugar on an apple. You don’t just go out and put solar reflectors out there, baking the earth, without considering the entire ecosystem. Instead we can actually use raised photovoltaics as if they were trees and shade the ground and have cool places underneath for all the organisms that need that for the soil and the water making it grow. That’s the part that’s really got me excited because then we can build large-scale agriculture with revenue streams and jobs galore. Everything from basic agricultural labor to high-tech all at once in the same place adjacent to cities. Then allow the cities to provide fertilizer through their internal metabolisms, so people can start to feed themselves when we recapture the nutrients. Otherwise, we’re all going to end up trying to go to Morocco for phosphate, and that’s going to be a problem. It is a problem already. Inhabitat: What do you see as the relationship between soil health and climate change? What do you think is necessary for the kind of global paradigm shift that we so desperately need to slow the pace of climate change? How is this project related to that? William McDonough: Well, just think about Denmark and the conversations that we get to have with people there when we do our work. If you say in Denmark, “We could renewably power this without fossil fuel ” they don’t look at you funny. They nod their heads because guess what? That is what they’re already doing, so that seems natural to them. That’s an unusual culture to be working in on that front. You also look at a country with 5 million people growing enough food for 30 million people. That’s interesting. Then you look at the kind of research that will go on here on how do you accrue carbon in soil because if you are going to have a growth economy, you will be wanting to grow your soil health so that you can be perpetual. This is agriculture, and this is living soil, so you support the life of your soil. This project and this culture, Danish culture, are really a key place for us to be working, so that we can bring this model to other places. We’re already in discussion about bringing many of our ideas to China at scale. This is an important place for us to stand humbly in the soil while we play in the dirt so to speak, as children. It’s playful, but it’s a tool. One of the terrifying things about tools sometimes is when they’re used for what we might consider negative purposes. The value of a tool is placed there for the intention of the human who’s using it. If you look at soil or a hammer. For a child, hammer immediately becomes a toy. For a carpenter, it becomes a house. For a maniac, it becomes a weapon. The tool doesn’t know. The people and their use and their intention for the tool give it the value that either builds or destroys. When I was a baby, poop stories were entrancing for all children. Then children get connected to the soil. When we moved to Hong Kong after Japan, my mother, who was an American, would always say to us that we were no longer allowed to go barefoot. As little kids, this was so difficult for us. She said, you cannot go barefoot because we have ringworm, scarlet fever, cholera, typhoid, typhus, et cetera, so you’re just not allowed to go barefoot. All we wanted to do was play in the dirt, so she used to tell us, “When you get to the states,” because every summer we spent in the Puget Sound, my dad was from, and my grandparents lived in the forest of the Olympic Peninsula. She said, “When you get to the states, you can play in the dirt, because we have clean dirt there.” First thing we did coming off the airplanes, we took off our shoes. Then she said, “You’re not supposed to go through the airport barefoot.” We would always say, “Mom, you said we could go barefoot when we got to the United States, so now we’re going barefoot.” I think that notion is really important when you think about what has happened to the soil because of various kinds of agricultures. It’s as if we wanted to kill the soil. If we wanted to kill our soils, we couldn’t be doing much better. Look at what is our intention in the Great Plains, and you watch the erosion. You watch the inability of soils to take up nutrients. You look at the chemical fertilizing and so on and so forth. I mean, it’s really, it’s almost like it’s a weapon instead of a playful place for a tool. Agriculture is using nature as a tool. Children use nature as a toy. Farmers use nature as food production. Inhabitat: What do you see as a solution to making the soil better? William McDonough: It’s astonishing what the addition of a small amount of compost will do to rev up the engine of bacteria, fungus and microbes in soil. It’s unbelievable how things start to kick in and start to heal. I would say we should review all sewage treatment plants and see where we can extract essential agricultural nutrition in various forms that’s safe and treat them as businesses. For example, phosphate literally can be recovered from sewage treatment even if it’s from mixed sources as a mineral. You get away from all the yuck factors of various things because you’re dealing with a mineral and that kind of thing. We should look quickly at an inventory as well as the phosphate, nitrogen, and so on, and see how we’re going to optimize those for our national security, for resilience, for local production, and economic benefit. It’s going to be important. That’d be one thing. Good soil is valuable. We have to use the economy to drive these things. When we look at some of the agricultural systems, the ones that are healing the soil are incredibly productive. They may have higher costs and inputs because of the higher quality for the soils, but the soils then can accrue more materials from the atmosphere and previous uses. It becomes a virtuous cycle of growth instead of a vicious cycle of amendments that require more amendments. It’s amendments that allow the soil to extract its own amendments. That’s a very important basic shift in the agriculture is feed the soil – but not with Twinkies. That’s the kind of thing with this project that is so interesting because this is the kinds of research that will be done at the Agro Food Park. Inhabitat: Just a last question on turning sewage into soil – do you know of any high-tech examples of towns or municipalities using sewage and extracting fertilizer? Finding a better way to deal with sewage than just the typical treatment plants that we have in most cities? Have you seen anything where they’re actually able to use some of that and take it back into agriculture to amend the soil? William McDonough: Yes. There are more and more chances every day. They’re just getting going because a lot of technologies they’re in their adolescence. The ones that you’d want to look at for simple technology would be Vancouver for example . They have a company there. I haven’t checked with them lately to see how they’re doing but called Ostara , that makes a phosphate fertilizer from their sewage plants there. Very clever. Also the Dutch and the Swedes I think have both created laws. In fact, we’ll be checking with them soon. They’ve actually created laws that are asking municipalities to recover phosphates, so it’s coming. Once you start seeing laws or requests by the government to do things like this, you all of a sudden start to see the innovation. That means something is going on that stimulated both the concern but also the interest in the business community. + Agro Food Park William McDonough + Partners

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9 questions with eco architect William McDonough on the future of agriculture

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