Eat – Plant – Drawdown: Why Designing for Climate Matters

by April Philips, FASLA

VF Outdoor Headquarters in Alameda, CA is LEED Platinum, 100% off the energy grid, and a certified Bay-Friendly Landscape. / images: April Philips Design Works, Inc.

Landscape architects must look at the hidden connections between climate adaptation, urban agriculture, food waste, community equity, and public health. By applying systems thinking that integrates climate adaptation and carbon drawdown strategies with foodshed planning, the industry can advance innovative solutions to address these critical issues facing our urban communities.

There is a distinct advantage for designers and planners in gaining a deeper understanding of how climate positive solutions build greater community resiliency, why systems thinking is key to solving the climate crisis, and why addressing the food landscape matters in shaping a more equitable and healthier, more nourished world.

The Intersection of Food + Climate + Resilient Communities

Food and climate are intricately entwined, and human health—the health of you and everyone you know and everyone on this planet—is impacted by this intricate dance. Every single person on the planet needs to eat to live, to nourish our bodies, to grow. We all are affected by the climate we live in. Our food is affected by the climate it grows in. Food becomes the platform from which we can connect with both each other and the land. How might we commit to nourishing both?

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The Latest in Urban Agriculture

Riverpark Farm, located in a New York City neighborhood that previously had no grocery stores with fresh food, uses portable planters made from milk crates on a stalled building project site so it can move to its final location when the building is developed.  image: April Philips
Riverpark Farm, located in a New York City neighborhood that previously had very limited access to fresh food, uses portable planters made from milk crates on a stalled building project site so it can move to its final location when the building is developed.
image: courtesy of Riverpark Farm – photo by Ari Nuzzo

Interview with April Philips, FASLA

Spring seems like a good time to visit the subject of landscape architects and urban agriculture, and April Philips, FASLA, has put her time and passion to work in this rapidly emerging field that supports the creation of more sustainable cities and communities. In addition to her practice, April has written a book on the subject titled: Designing Urban Agriculture: A Complete Guide to the Planning, Design, Construction, Maintenance, and Management of Edible Landscapes, published by John Wiley & Sons. After reading her interview in The Huffington Post last July—“The Urban Jungle: April Philips Has a Concrete Plan for Tasty City Landscapes”— I thought that SDD members would appreciate some follow up.
–Lisa Cowan, ASLA, SDD PPN Co-Chair

From the research for your book, Designing Urban Agriculture, and your on-going work in designing and facilitating urban agriculture projects, have you learned anything that surprised or challenged you as a landscape architect?

Simply put, food can become a platform from which we address other important elements of community, ecology, and livability, including the physical, social, economic, cultural, and environmental health of the city. Food is the gateway to the stakeholder conversations between city, community, and project developer or funder. It is also surprising how many edible projects and ideas are out there to learn from so there is still tremendous interest in delving deeper into this complex subject.

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To vegetable or not to vegetable…Citizens revolt!

Front Yard Vegetable Garden
Front Yard Vegetable Garden
image: The Agitator

You can’t have a lifestyle trend such as urban farming or edible frontyards without some controversy. Did you know that there really are many cities and towns with old bylaws or zoning codes that prohibit a person from actually eating any food they grow in their own yard!  While some cities such as San Francisco, New York, Baltimore, Seattle and Detroit have begun to change laws and policy in support of urban agriculture, and as this trend continues to thrive because of food safety and security issues, the growing foodie locavore movement and urban hipster cred, many citizens in other cities and towns have been threatend with jail time or fines for planting a garden or organic farm on their own property.

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Can Urban Farms Translate Popularity Into Profitability?

Chicago Urban Farm
Chicago Urban Farm
image: Wikipedia

In the recent post, A Growing Concern, in The Earth Island Journal, Sena Christian raises legitimate questions about the national urban agriculture movement. She states that farms and community gardens in city centers seem to have struck a chord with the American public and have become media darlings attracting big grants from major philanthropies and the support of upscale chefs.

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Edibles While You Work -The Rise of Company Gardens

Corporate Garden at Harvard Pilgrim in Massachusetts
Corporate Garden at Harvard Pilgrim in Massachusetts
image: New York Times

Organic edible gardens are a rising trend not only in the residential sector but also the corporate campus. In a recent New York Times article, it was noted thatas companies have less to spend on raises, health benefits and other typical employee perks, the latest craze is to let them dig in the dirt. Not only are companies such as Google, Yahoo and Sunset Magazine doing it, where organic may be part of the regional urban zeitgeist, this sustainable trend is catching on at more traditional based companies too. Planting and harvesting edibles to take home,  incorporating fresh foods into the campus cafeteria menu, or even donating the harvested crops to a local food bank, are creative ways that allow employees a place to connect with nature, build morale and health, or give something back to the community. This eco-trend is one to watch to see if it will become just a  passing fad or mark the beginning of a transformation into a healthier, more sustainable lifestyle across the country.

by  April Philips