Edible Urban Landscapes: the future of food security and city-dwelling well-being

December 20, 2009


In Public Produce: The New Urban Agriculture, Darrin Nordahl illustrates the necessity of accessible food in cities and lays out a comprehensive plan for how local governments can develop a productive system of public produce. He uses cities like Des Moines, Chicago, Detroit and Berkley to show that municipally championed public produce is successful in supplying a more stable food source to urbanites, bringing people together, and beautifying downtowns.

It isn’t hard to see why urbanites need fresh produce. The level of obesity is rising and it is fed by system of agriculture that depends more upon fossil fuels than upon solar radiation. With the rising price of fossil fuels and the impending doom of global warming, the local food movement is sweeping the nation. Foodies everywhere are signing up for Community Supported Agriculture programs and shopping at farmers markets.  But local and fresh food should be accessible to all, not only those who can afford to pay the prices farmers need.  Nordahl believes granting access to fresh food is an obligation of local government.  With mounting chronic disease, access to healthful, fresh food must be an imperative for the future of city planning and public policy.

With all the underutilized urban space in cities, why not grow food downtown? Small plots around the city, parking garages, parks, even the space between the curb and the street can be planted with vegetables or fruit trees for public consumption and enjoyment. Some folks think that tree cleaning after fruit drop and maintainance for aesthetics and pests makes growing produce undesireable.  Nordahl argues ornamentals require nearly the same attention.

On October 21 Diane Rehm of American University Radio talked with Nordahl about the book and his concept of “public produce”. He talked about the urban agriculture initiatives happening now in Des Moines, Iowa, the capital. This lead to the introduction of Teva Dawson, horticulture inspector for the city of Des Moines. She spoke of the community gardens that have taken root in low-income neighborhoods and next to schools, churches, a battered women’s shelter, and food banks.

These gardens are meant to serve the community at large.  Many people who could otherwise not afford high-quality, fresh vegetables can harvest them from city grounds, but upper or middle class families reap the benefits as well.  People who have shaded yards, desk employees that like to be outside, and learning children all benefit from these luscious urban spaces. Edible landscaping is also a component of the project in Des Moines, which offers long-lasting, sustainable sources of fruits, nuts and berries to food pantries and schools for years to come.

More than a must read, this book is a must read and act. Give a copy to your local government.  Ask for a public place to harvest apples or pick strawberries or grab a handful of rocket.  Our cities need not be barren slabs of cement that depend only on distant food production.  To Darrin Nordahl, our cities must change if they are to survive at all.   Food is health is happiness, even for urbanites.

The Diane Rehm Show (10.21.2009)
Quad City Times article about Nordahl and the book

Other great urban agriculture stuff: HomeGrown.org, Window Farms

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2 Responses to “Edible Urban Landscapes: the future of food security and city-dwelling well-being”

  1. Alex said

    very very awesome stuff! thanks for posting about it Sig.

  2. Aubergine said

    Being from Davenport, I thought I might shoot Mr. Nordahl an email to tell him how much I enjoyed his book and ask him to pop over to The Veg Table.
    Here is what he said:

    I had a chance to read your post last night. Thank you for the kind words, and I am thrilled you found the book moving. You write well, Signe, and you have a good graphic eye. The blog is well done, unlike the majority of blogs out there. You should be proud of your work.

    And, yes, there are reasons to be proud of your hometown. I feel we are making big, progressive strides. Did you know we have green roofs on our new police station downtown? Not food, but it is a start.

    I wish I could say the recent progress being made in Davenport is the result of native Davenporters, but I don’t believe that to be the case. Davenport has attracted, recently, many educated, well-traveled folks from other parts of the country. I hail from the SF Bay Area, and since I’ve been hired, we have hired people from Minneapolis, Seattle, Denver, Austin, Cleveland, and other larger cities. These people bring with them big ideas (which are cultivated in big cities), and have been able to look at the parallels between Davenport concerns and concerns in other major places. People’s minds are opening up out here, even in the 4 years since I’ve been here. And it is heartening to see. I would like Davenport to not only be on the bandwagon, but leading it! Don’t know if that will happen, but we are getting less afraid of being pioneers.

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