Urban Farming

Agriculture & Food

I’ve just started listening to Stewart Brand’s new book, An Ecopragmatist Manifesto (audio version | book version) whilst I was out getting the very last of the blackberries and doing some planting, weeding, apple picking, peeling, and making crab apple jelly. (It’s astonishing what one can get done in two hours.)

So far, it’s brilliant. He’s done an excellent summary introduction, hits up some key points, and succinctly summarises Saul Griffith’s 90 minute lecture of how we can practically avert utterly catastrophic climate change (which is excellent if you have 90 minutes to spare, which if you have an ipod and a commute you most certainly do: link to the MP3).

He also makes a compelling case for cities as one of the most important factors in a sustainable future. (There’s a lot he’s missing out to help his argument, but I’ll reserve judgement until the end.) One way or another he’s correct. An increasing number of us live in cities – we tipped the >50% balance in 2007 – and they are clearly a very big deal in any future scenarios. From a food perspective it makes a lot of sense for there to be a lot more urban growing in the next millennia.

We’ve been thinking about how best to use the land here at West Lexham. The main field we had in mind is sandier we’d like. In the driest county in the UK, that means a lot of watering; and since we’re supplied by a borehole, that’s not very desirable. So we were thinking of putting more pigs and chickens on there (HAM AND EGGS!) and focusing on the areas near the buildings for a few years until the pigs have added more organic matter, and thus better water retention, and the chickens have eaten all the pernicious seeds and tidied up.

Which ties in nicely with the education aspects. If the areas between the accommodation, teaching buildings, workshops, dining areas, and common rooms are populated with edible and useful fruit, herbs, and veg, more people will see more of the organic growing and permaculture principles in action. They will see and learn without having to make a conscious effort: conversations can be sparked, flowerbed notices can inform, fresh raspberries can be nibbled upon.

This is where the cities thing comes in. Since what’s seen will be in pots, raised beds, and small sections around the building it will be types of ideas and planting which are suited to both the rural AND the urban environment; thereby making the embodied learning even more relevant and useful.

These plans are still to be talked over and might not turn out this way. It’s a learning process and there are lots of things to factor in to sit comfortably within the whole project; but that’s what’s going through my head right now and I figured it was probably interesting enough to share.

Ed Dowding

Ed Dowding

Founder, strategist, writer, gadfly, TED talker, world-record holder, and (foolishly) reality-TV farmer. DOES: Innovation, Product, Advocacy THINKS: Regenerative Systems, Institution design, 300 year horizons

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