Monday, December 21, 2009

Revising the Urban Landscape: Is Suburban Farming the Next Big Trend?

Urban gardening is all the rage. From chickens in the city to beekeeping, from rooftop gardens to community garden plots on vacant lots, urban dwellers are getting into the swing of things when it comes to growing food. But what about those in the suburbs? There, the availability of land and the needs of the population are somewhat different. While urban residents often have stores close by, those in the suburbs may not have a store nearby, making food gardening an even more important way of reducing store trips and greenhouse gas emissions. Residents of the suburbs also have the luxury of land – parks and open spaces and front and back yards can all grow food, if we will let them.

The suburban backyard food garden is a comfortable first step. People in the suburbs have been growing small gardens for years, usually in the back yard where passers-by will not be offended by the sight of a tomato on the front lawn. Gradually, home gardens are creeping onto front lawns as well, as the interest in urban gardening grows and the idea of the new victory garden becomes more popular. Food gardens are gaining in popularity, and they’re becoming more social acceptable to suburban-dwellers.

What about food in public spaces, though? Sometimes public spaces play host to community gardens, it is true. But how about larger-scale food production. Can we farm the boulevards and grow fruit trees in public parks? Dare we do such a thing? The City of North Vancouver in Canada is considering such a thing. Namely, the city is examining options for a farm in a public park, Loutet Park. It’s a space that is long and narrow and not particularly well-used at the moment. The idea has met with substantial public support. If the plan comes to fruition, the city will contract a farmer to create and manage the farm. There will be public education workshops and a public market where people will be able to buy local vegetables – not local from the areas on the urban and suburban fringe, but local from the end of the block.

It’s an innovative idea, and one that promises to spark debate about the future of urban agriculture. While public parks have valued sport, playgrounds and the enjoyment of native plants, aside from small community garden plots agriculture hasn’t really been a part of the concept of parks. Can we expect to see public tree plantings of apple trees on boulevards, the fringes of urban parks covered in broccoli for the soccer teams to snack on? Maybe not, but it would be an intriguing and lovely transformation.

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