Event: Food Groups
Location: Housing Works Bookstore, 02.12.08
Speakers: Amy Franceschini — Artist, Educator, Futurefarmer; Michael Hurwitz — Director, Greenmarket & Co-founder, Added Value
Moderator/Host: Kate Zidar — Environmental Planner, Youth Ministries for Peace and Justice & Professor, Pratt Institute Graduate Center for Planning and the Environment
Organizer: Housing Works Bookstore; Center for Urban Pedagogy
The definition of a sustainable city begins with food, not wind turbines or solar panels, argue artist, educator, and “futurefarmer” Amy Franceschini and Greenmarket director Michael Hurwitz. The food supply in many urban areas comes from afar, arriving by truck, train, or ship, greatly exacerbating cities’ ecological footprints. Urban agriculture can offer a more sustainable alternative to the “don’t ask-don’t tell” mentality of food sourcing.
For Franceschini, urban environments represent a great untapped source of food production. As lead artist for Victory Garden 2007+ program, currently being developed by Garden for the Environment and the City of San Francisco’s Department for the Environment, she helps city dwellers transform their backyards into mini-farms. While NYC does not boast a burgeoning backyard mini-farm movement, its extensive network of farmers markets provides some of the freshest local produce to New Yorkers. Established in 1976, Greenmarket operates the city’s 46 farmers markets. It was purposely designated as separate from city government and allows the organization to speak out on issues that may not align with current city policy. For example, Greenmarket is advocating further integration of food stamps into farmers markets. Also, it is fighting to incorporate urban agriculture into Mayor Bloomberg’s PlaNYC.
Mini-farms are also known to the city, albeit at a smaller scale. Hurwitz also co-founded Added Value, a group that works with youth in Red Hook to help develop skills necessary to “grow food from seed to sale.” The group’s first plot was an abandoned ball field in the Rockaways. Local kids turned a community eyesore into a community asset. Unfortunately, development pressure for that “undeveloped” lot proved too great and the farm is now gone.
The fight to use vacant lots for agriculture seems to be a losing battle in the city, considering the few small-time urban farmers versus an army of real estate developers. Although neither Hurwitz nor Franceschini have a solution for preserving established urban farms against development pressure, they believe the answer lies in the city’s undeveloped rooftops. Green roofs are currently proposed as either turf grass or inedible native plantings. Instead of bringing grass to our rooftops, why not bring food?