Urban farming on the rise in Bloomington, Indiana
Photos by Jami Scholl
Urban farming on the rise
By Carrol Krause
February 13, 2010
Jami Scholl is a local garden designer who uses permaculture principles to create beautiful, edible landscapes that taste as good as they look. Jami is now taking her passion for “foodscaping” one step further; she has begun working with city government council members and planners in order to clarify the elements of urban agriculture that will be acceptable throughout Bloomington.
But what is urban agriculture?
According to Jami, it refers to growing one’s own food within city limits. This includes vegetable gardens but can also include urban chickens, bee-keeping, small animals such as rabbits or goats, and aquaculture (rearing fish for protein). Urban agriculture is practiced in many of the world’s largest cities (Mumbai, Beijing, Bangkok, and Cairo, for starters) where it produces a significant amount of the local food supply. Havana, Cuba, is famous for producing up to 90% of its own food within the city limits, and a large chunk of nineteenth-century Paris was made up of gardens enriched by the manure of city horses. Impressively, intensive small-scale farming can be significantly more productive than conventional factory-farming and is perfect for city lots.
“The old city ordinances did not adequately spell out what people could and could not do,” Jami pointed out. “My personal goal is to create opportunities for responsible agriculture to flourish in an urban environment.” (This of course is no different from what millions of Americans did with their Victory Gardens during both of the World Wars.)
“But wait,” a number of readers will object at this point, “I don’t want my shiftless neighbors to import a bunch of smelly goats and chickens!”
“Education is a key component to all of these concerns,” Jami answered. “None of us want smells, or flies. Unsanitary smells are indicators of bad design or lack of attention to the system: the compost not composting properly, the chicken coop not being cleaned regularly.” Jami proposes that before acquiring animals or poultry, it would be a good option to take a workshop and connect with a mentor who could answer ongoing questions that might arise later.
Bear in mind that the vast majority of would-be urban agriculturalists will find it far simpler to raise vegetables than keep poultry or goats. Those few who do want to build rabbit hutches or chicken coops are in general extremely motivated in their desire to succeed, and will receive the education to do these things correctly.
Factors that have led to increased interest in urban agriculture in America include the economic downturn, increased alarm about the lack of wholesomeness of industrial foods, and concerns about the carbon footprint (the average supermarket item travels between 1200 – 2000 miles before reaching the shelf). The City of Bloomington’s Peak Oil Task Force Report recommends urban agriculture as a way to ensure food for residents while minimizing the use of petroleum products.
“Though considerable potential for urban food production exists, at present this potential is barely realized in Bloomington,” the report noted. “….One critical way to mitigate the effects of ever-increasing food costs is to grow more food locally. In addition to farmland available in the rural areas surrounding the city, there are many spaces to grow food within the city itself. Some of these spaces are held by local government, some by IU, and some by private entities. Much productive land is available right in our own backyards. Maximizing the amount of food we produce just within the city has the distinct advantage of reducing the amount of energy it takes to get the food to the people and the people to the food.”
John Jeavons, author of How to Grow More Vegetables Than You Ever Thought Possible on Less Land Than You Can Imagine, claims that sufficient food can be grown on 4000 square feet to support one adult for one year without compromising nutritional requirements. Using his formula, the city task report concluded, “…arable land available within the City of Bloomington alone (as much as 8,000 acres, or upwards of 5,000 square feet per resident) is potentially sufficient to meet most of the vegetable, fruit, egg, and some poultry requirements of city residents were it to be cultivated to the maximum extent possible using the most productive and intensive garden?scale methods.”
Jami hopes to make urban agriculture not only doable but beautiful as well. She has traveled abroad to document what other cities are doing to make urban agriculture aesthetically pleasing, and has used her camera to record neat French composting bins designed with modernist elegance, and brightly colored beanpoles planted near Chicago’s Loop.