Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Urban Agriculture?

I have had these thoughts percolating for a few weeks now and, from some of the things that I have been reading lately, now is the time to get them out.

Lexington has been plagued by poor development along some of our major streams, where seasonal flooding in some residential neighborhoods, has resulted in a pattern of repetitive insurance losses. The City, after identifying this pattern, initiated a program of funding the flood-proofing those properties with minimal damage and purchasing, for demolition, those with major repetitive damage. This has left the city with several areas of un-developable greenspace along these streams, most of them even unusable for anything but scenic open space.

I took a look at one of these areas, back in November, with the thought of "Why can it not be a part of the Wolf Run Park? It is adjacent to the park, so what is the best public use of this property if not for recreation?" And this is only one of a handful of similar situations around town.

In my research of urban agriculture, I came across several stories concerning a millionaire in Detroit who is acquiring large parcels, sometimes whole blocks, for the purpose of creating farm fields and growing fresh, local produce for the beleaguered city. The idea is to provide food products and employment for the needy and maybe re-establishing a farming presence in Detroit area.

Then, last week, Steve Austin posted a video on urban agriculture in Dayton, Ohio. This program is sponsored by the City of Dayton and allows local residents to grow gardens of flowers or food(especially ethnic vegetables for the large immigrant population) while using public property in the foreclosed neighborhoods. While watching the video, I could not help but be reminded of the great work that Jim Embry, Seedleaf and others are doing in the downtown area here in Lexington. Thanks, Steve, I needed to see that post.

So, Lexington does not have the vast wastelands of former neighborhoods like Detroit or Dayton but we do have some acceptable(and available) areas along side available water sources just waiting to be put to good use again. Most of them are in existing neighborhoods, accessible by foot, and as a bonus some of these neighborhoods are somewhat ethnic or are tending that way. Beyond that, we have a need for more locally grown produce(that, if grow organically will not pollute the adjacent streams), the need for more school children to learn how food is produced, and the need to supply better food to those living in our own "food deserts".

I know that even with all the good restaurants in the downtown area and the presence of the downtown farmers market, for a majority of the residents it is a "food desert". Those who need the good food cannot afford it and those who can afford it just don't live there. The folks that I mentioned before are already working on that, but there are these other areas too. Areas where we can start to reestablish the values that are important to a community. Areas where we can work toward becoming a sustainable community.

If the local farmers and landowners will not help grow our own food in Fayette County and agriculture is not more than 2% of our economic workforce( I think that is what the economist told the Council today) and not expected to grow any, then we will have to find some other way to begin to become sustainable for the future.

Anybody wish to help elaborate on this idea?

1 comment:

Bruce Wayne said...

This is an interesting thought. The major problem with it, though, is the idea itself.

1) Farming in floodplains (and possible riparian buffers). These areas are needed for a functioning and stable stream ecosystem. Many urban streams in Lexington are considered degraded, both because of pollutants and excess flow from sources like runoff, and because the riparian habitat has been removed, to a large extent.

2) Farming processes in general. Even organic farming uses fertilizer and pesticides that, even though natural, are not intended to be adjacent to a stream corridor and allowed to runoff with significant rains into the stream.

Now, that said, this idea is still valid--as long as the riparian buffers are reestablished, and the farming plots are high enough off the floodplains (i.e. close to the sidewalks). I'm familiar with the Wolf Run area you are referencing (I'm using WR Watershed for my thesis for locating stormwater BMPs), and it is possible to have 20' plots adjacent to the sidewalk.

Possibly better than farming though is to plant the buffers and attempt to return it to a functioning ecosystem--something that is sorely lacking in urban Lexington.