May 12, 2010

Community Connected: The Evolution of Urban Farming

Watch this short film, and you'll get a good sense of the early days of urban farming, Novella Carpenter, the author of Farm City: The Education of an Urban Farmer, is an obsessive, anti-conformist personality, who slowly built the vacant lot next to her west Oakland, CA, home into a hotbed for fava beans, tomatoes, chickens, rabbits, and goats. Her work was grungy under-the-radar urban farming. (She looted the dumpsters of organic, Bay Area restaurants for food for her animals.)

In recent years though as agricultural production has grown in densely populated areas throughout the country, urban agriculture has softened its rough edges--and in some cases, even come to represent cache and good taste. The latest issue of the New York Times Style magazine included an entire story on rooftop gardens. The roof of the city's luxurious Crosby Street Hotel hosts rows of heirloom tomatoes, lettuce and herbs--as well as a blueberry patch and coop for Araucana hens (which lay blue eggs). Roberta's, a Brooklyn pizzeria harvests chiles, herbs, tomatoes and beets from the 40,000-square foot rooftop farm it runs in conjunction with Brooklyn Grange, a commercial farm. And the super hip, Ace Hotel is setting plans for its garden too.

As urban farming has expanded, so has the type of product coming out of these gardens. Where fresh produce one predominated, there are more chickens and rabbits. And raising these animals in confined spaces has become easy because of companies like Omelet, which makes urban chicken coops.

Even Boulder has begun to catch this urban agricultural fever. For now, its efforts are personal or small scale. (Eric Skokan of Black Cat operates his own 10-acre farm and CSA. Big Red F restaurant group has a number of window boxes it uses to grow herbs.) But next year, downtown Boulder plans to launch an effort to develop rooftop gardens. We're crossing out finders that this becomes a reality. Just imagine what this might mean for local restaurant--or possibly even First Friday lunch.

Cathryn Olchowy
Culinary Director

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