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Archive for the ‘Desertification’ Category

Watch a new animation from ASLA’s “Designing Our Future: Sustainable Landscapes” online exhibition that shows how to turn a conventional community into an edible city. Learn how to transform unproductive spaces into agricultural landscapes that help fight obesity and reduce food deserts:

According to the United Nations, some one-fourth of all agricultural land is seriously degraded. As a result, people are now turning to untapped urban land. In fact, some 800 million people a year worldwide are practicing urban agriculture. Beyond creating green spaces, urban agriculture may aid those who don’t have secure access to food. In the U.S. alone, some 49 million Americans experience food insecurity and another 23 million live in food deserts where there is little fresh produce or public space. To fight insecurity, many Americans, even those in poorer areas, are taking food production into their own hands: Some 38 percent of households or 41 million people grew vegetables, fruits, or herbs on their property. (Sources: Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations; RUAF Foundation and Feeding America; “Urban Agriculture: Practices to Improve Cities,” Mia Lehrer and Maya Dunne, UrbanLand, Urban Land Institute )

While growing food breaks the law in many U.S. cities, innovators like New York, San Francisco, Chicago, Detroit, Cleveland, and smaller cities like Madison, Wisconsin, are now changing regulations to accommodate the growing numbers of urban farmers. In those communities, many types of private and public spaces — front and backyards, courtyards in multi-family complexes, abandoned lots, and building rooftops — can now be legally transformed from unproductive spaces into low-cost sources of nutrition. In Washington, D.C and Portland, homeowners can even lease out their yards to local organizations and reap the benefits. In Cleveland and Detroit, abandoned lots owned by the city are leased at almost zero cost to farmers if they promise to grow things on them. In Chicago, the rooftop of one youth center was redesigned as a farm and now produces 1,000 pounds of organic produce each year while teaching urban kids where food comes from. (Sources: Backyard Farmer; DC City Farmer; Rooftop Haven for Urban Agriculture, Designing Our Future: Sustainable Landscapes, ASLA / Gary Comer Youth Center, Chicago, Illinois; and “Keeping Urban Farmers Safe,” The Dirt, ASLA)

Commercial urban farmers are also starting to make money on rooftops. In New York City, the Brooklyn Grange, a 40,000 square foot farm, grew some 15,000 pounds last year. Underutilized spaces can be leased out for around $1 a square foot, creating enough financial incentive for urban farmers to take root. Another great idea being considered: big-box stores could lease out their massive rooftops to farmers, and then purchase the food there to re-sell. However, many landscape architects argue that for these new urban agriculture projects to really work, they need to be knit together into a network. Produce grown in neighborhoods can be distributed via farmers’ markets, shops, coops, food banks, even mobile storefronts. With local networks in place, nearby suburban farms can also participate, finding new markets and creating a more healthy food system in the process. (Sources: “Farm the Rooftops,” The Dirt, ASLA and “Urban Agriculture: Practices to Improve Cities,” Mia Lehrer and Maya Dunne, UrbanLand, Urban Land Institute)

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The Buckminster Fuller Institute announced that the African Center for Holistic Management International’s “Operation Hope” project won this year’s $100,000 challenge grant. Allan Savory, who founded the non-governmental organization, has spent the last 50 years developing and promoting a method of holistic land management that provides a model for reversing desertification,  writes Fast Company. The Buckminster Fuller challenge says the project transforms “parched and degraded Zimbabwe grasslands and savannahs into lush pastures with ponds and flowing streams, even during periods of drought.”

The Buckminster Fuller Challenge is an international competition that takes a “comprehensive, anticipatory, design approach to radically advance human well being and the health of our planet’s ecosystems.”  The challenge is sponsored by the Buckminster Fuller Institute, which is focused on deploying system-based solutions for addressing climate change, water scarity, sustainable food production, and other major environmental challenges. Elizabeth Thompson, the Institute’s executive director, told Fast Company: “The approach was pioneered by Fuller. We’re looking for strategies that solve multiple problems at once, not just surgical implementations that don’t address the root problem.”

Operation Hope’s approach to land management runs counter to conventional practice, which calls for land to rest after animal grazing. The project involves the use of “grazing local livestock in super dense herds that mimic the grazing patterns of big-game (which have since disappeared). Those livestock in turn till the soil with their hooves and fertilize it with their dung–thus preparing the land for new vegetation in a cycle that was evolved over millions of years.” The Buckminster Fuller Institute adds: “Savory’s holistic management process re-establishes the symbiotic balance between plant growth and the behavior of herding animals, returning unusable desert back into thriving grasslands, restoring biodiversity, bringing water sources back to life; combating global climate change, and increasing crop yields to ensure food security for people.”

Savory argues his approach works because land set aside to rest doesn’t regrow vegetation as many expect; it simply stays barren, contributing to soil erosion. He said “when you range animals correctly, the land starts returning.” The method has since been used on over 30 million acres of land in Montana, Wyoming, Idaho, and Australia’s Outback. In Zimbabwe alone, Savory’s team has restored the soil in over 6,500 acres, leading to other benefits. “Even though livestock herds have increased by 400 percent, open water and fish have been found a half mile above where water had ever been known during dry season.” A key component of the project involves educating local farmers about how to move their herds and plan herding routes to maximize soil restoration. 

This year’s runners-up include:

  • “Barefoot College, which teaches illiterate, rural women in India and Africa to be solar engineers within their communities, providing energy to their communities, catalyzing their local economies and improving their quality of life;
  • Brooklyn-based BK Farmyards, a leading model in the urban agricultural movement, which is creating a web-based crowd-sourcing platform to advance urban farming as a viable business and food source for local communities;
  • UrbanLab, which has re-conceived the Chicago street-grid as a holistic Bio-System that captures, cleans and returns 100 percent of the city’s wastewater and stormwater to the Lakes, ensuring constant regeneration of that natural resource while producing added economic, energy, social, and environmental benefits; and
  • The Living Building Challenge, which has developed the most advanced green building rating system in the world.  Living Buildings are virtually self-sustaining, generating their own power, using renewable sources, and capturing and treating all their own water.”

The challenge originated in 2007 and awards $100,000 annually.

Read the article and learn more about the winning project and runners-up.  

Image credit: Fast Company / African Center for Holistic Management International’s “Operation Hope”

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mongolia1
AFP has a fascinating article about a new “green wall” that has been planted in Inner Mongolia. The wall, consisting of pine trees, grasses, and apricot bushes, aims to hold back the growing Gobi Desert. Chinese officials already see positive results from the new barrier, citing a decrease in the number of large sandstorms affecting the area. The wall also aims to protect Beijing from blowing sand during the upcoming Olympic Games.

Skeptics, however, note that

the root of the problem, overpopulation and unsustainable development, has not been addressed by a narrow corridor of grass and trees.

Jiang Gaoming, of the Institute of Botany at the Chinese Academy of Science, said that 60 billion yuan (7.6 billion dollars) spent on projects to control sandstorms hitting Beijing had been largely wasted. “Do not get too excited by those recovered grasslands and forests you see alongside the highways. They only cover 10 percent of the total affected area. The other 90 percent causes the continuing sandstorms,” said Jiang.

So what do you think, Dirt readers? Will the Gobi be reined in by a living wall? Or is this pre-Olympic Games “greenwashing”?

[photo of Mongolia by tiarescott]

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