Adaptive Use: Community Revitalized Through Urban Agriculture

In Friday’s Session CS 18, Jessica Blemker-Ferree’s presentation was titled “Adaptive Use: Community Revitalized Through Urban Agriculture,” which is a presentation based on her thesis.  She said that urban agriculture has been discussed a lot recently, but needs to be brought into community development more.  With the future decrease of water availability and the increase of oil costs, food sources need to be brought closer to the urban populations.  For years food production was close or within cities; however, that has changed in the last 50 years.  Yet, since the 1970s, urban farming is a reoccurring, growing paradigm for food production, which is motivated by community activism.

Seen today, many are incorporating urban agricultural uses into remediated lots.  In those situations it is best to use raised beds on old urban lots, to reduce contamination of the grown food.  There are many benefits, such as it increases community connections, lessens crime and involves youth with older generations all while learning skills and producing food.  All across the country, cities are peppered with brownfields (abandoned gas stations) and grayfields (abandoned malls, parking lots).  These both are ripe for adapting.  Particularly since grayfields do not often require remediation (brownfields do).  But even for the brownfields, one can plant the area with non-food plants to improve the soil and neighborhood.

Jessica provided several examples of urban agriculture:

  • East Village in New York City.
  • Chicago Honey Co-Op.
  • Alameda Point Collaborative Urban Form, CA built on a closed naval air base, where farming within abandoned buildings improves the site and improves the neighborhoods.

She recommends that this approach be expanded.  Rather than reuse the land, we need to be able to incorporate the old buildings.  Factory to loft use is a known reuse conversion, but converting them to use as farms are also helpful.  In this vein, she provided additional examples:

  • Wall gardens in Los Angeles, California’s skid row.
  • 1886 railway tunnels now an exotic mushroom farm in Australia
  • Hoop houses put on roofs to create rooftop farms on empty industrial buildings

Indoor farming has many advantages.  As such, one can do vertical farming, an example of which is hydroponic grown farms over fish farms, all within the same area.  Examples include:

  • Milwaukee, Wisconsin’s Sweetwater Farm
  • Also “The Plant,” located in Chicago, Illinois, which has 93,500 SF of space that is a farm with a brewery and landscaping business.

In conclusion, is the future of food production related to preservation concerns?  Yes.  It is already practiced in cities today and provides:

  • efficient food production,
  • saves applicable reuse options, and
  • explores alternative methods to grow food.

For more information, Jessica recommended a new book “The Vertical Farms.”

Lonnie J. Hovey, AIA, FAPT
Program Manager, Historic Preservation

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