Feature: Carolyn Leadley of Rising Pheasant Farm and Noah Link of Food Field
Article Title and Link: URBAN FARMING IS BOOMING, BUT WHAT DOES IT REALLY YIELD?
Author: Elizabeth Royte
Media: Ensia Magazine
Date published : April 27, 2015
Leadley, of Rising Pheasant Farms, realized long ago that she wouldn’t survive selling only the vegetables from her outdoor garden, which is why she invested in a plastic-draped greenhouse and heating system. Her tiny shoots, sprouts, amaranth and kohlrabi leaves grow year-round; they grow quickly — in the summer, Leadley can make a crop in seven days — and they sell for well over a dollar an ounce.
Nodding toward her backyard plot, Leadley says, “I grow those vegetables because they look good on the farm stand. They attract more customers to our table, and I really love growing outdoors.” But it’s the microgreens that keep Leadley from joining the ranks of the vast majority of U.S. farmers and taking a second job.
Perspectives from Food Field:
“Lots of local institutions want to source their food here,” says Detroit farmer Noah Link, whose Food Field, a commercial operation, encompasses a nascent orchard, vast areas of raised beds, two tightly wrapped 150-foot (46-meter)-long hoop houses (one of which shelters a long, narrow raceway crammed with catfish), chickens, beehives and enough solar panels to power the whole shebang. “But local farms aren’t producing enough food yet. We’d need an aggregator to pull it together for bulk sales.”
Link doesn’t grow microgreens — the secret sauce for so many commercial operations — because he can break even on volume: His farm occupies an entire city block.
Detroit as prime for Urban Agriculture:
In the U.S., urban farming is likely to have its biggest impact on food security in places that, in some ways, resemble the global south — that is, in cities or neighborhoods where land is cheap, median incomes are low and the need for fresh food is high. Detroit, by this metric, is particularly fertile ground. Michael Hamm, a professor of sustainable agriculture at Michigan State University, calculated that the city, which has just under 700,000 residents and more than 100,000 vacant lots (many of which can be purchased, thanks to the city’s recent bankruptcy, for less than the price of a refrigerator), could grow three quarters of its current vegetable consumption and nearly half its fruit consumption on available parcels of land using biointensive methods.
A critique on indoor farming:
Reducing food miles reduces transit-related costs, as well as the carbon emissions associated with transport, packaging and cooling. But growing indoors under lights, with heating and cooling provided by fossil fuels, may negate those savings. When Louis Albright, an emeritus professor of biological and environmental engineering at Cornell University, dug into the numbers, he discovered that closed-system farming is expensive, energy intensive and, at some latitudes, unlikely to survive on solar or wind power. Growing a pound of hydroponic lettuce in Ithaca, New York, Albright reports, generates 8 pounds (4 kilograms) of carbon dioxide at the local power plant: a pound of tomatoes would generate twice that much. Grow that lettuce without artificial lights in a greenhouse and emissions drop by two thirds.
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