Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Temple U's Final Recommendations

Here's my final segment on the Temple U. Food Assessment Report. Thanks for bearing with me.

One thing that bothered me was that much of the report dealt with providing food for our low income families yet when it came to urban agriculture and edible landscaping, most of the Temple recommendations would cost money our low income families don't have. A community garden plot takes an investment not only in plants or seeds, but in soil amendments like peat moss, top soil and fertilizer, landscaping cloth to fight weeds, fencing (or other ways to discourage pests), and unless you start a garden within walking distance, a car and gas to get to your plot.

Edible landscaping? I love the idea of planting berry bushes, herbs, and edible perennials like asparagus not only in a back yard veggie garden, but as functional edible gardens surrounding our homes. But most of our households can't afford to hire a landscaper or buy things like gooseberry bushes, let alone have the knowledge to maintain such plants.

What we need is some kind of grant program to train homeowners in edible landscaping or urban farming and help families buy the materials to get started. Yet one thing I thought evident in the Temple report is that the people who put it together didn't seem to think any special knowledge, training, or much funding was necessary to set up gardens of any kind.

They also didn't seem to have a grasp of geographical or infrastructure issues. For instance, they recommend transforming some of our open space into community gardens, and provided the map shown, which seems to say "Look at all the open space your town has." Okay, let's start by eliminating any open space covered by trees, because those trees are not only vital to decent air qulaity but a valuable part of our water runoff retention system. Our floods are bad enough here without chopping down trees to make way for agriculture.

Next, are we going to give up public athletic fields, playgrounds, and other active recreational space? Not likely. They mark Eisenhower and Stewart's school athletic fields as temporary open space that could be used for gardens. Property close to open schools should NEVER be used as community gardens for security reasons. School gardens, fine, but we shouldn't be encouraging non-school personnel to hang around school grounds.

Then there's the definite errors, such as them marking St. Francis's front lawn. Still even if you eliminate all those spots marked in error or that can't be converted, a lot of what you're left with is too steep for annual planting (they obviously did most of this with a flat map and never went out to look at the sites), or too prone to flooding, like the whole Saw Mill Run area--the reason Hancock School had to abandon their garden. Or paved over, which would be too cost prohibitive to make into a garden.

I'm not saying there are no spaces that could be converted--Roosevelt Field could, for instance. Just that a better assessment of open space that would work for community gardens needs to be done, on the ground and by people who know the lay of the land and who've actually done some gardening.

They recommend a town-wide program to compost "food waste," which sounds ideal, but they don't explain that a lot of food waste can't be composted and how you'd keep people from throwing meats, fats, dairy, oils and sugar into the composing bins.

They recommend "zoning changes" that would allow for chicken coops, community gardens on vacant lots, and fruit trees along the streets. They point out that a small chicken coop of under 150 sq. feet (which is pretty big in my opinion) and under 12 foot high is considered a "shelter for pets" and doesn't need zoning approval. I don't think we want to encourage anyone to have a bigger coop than 10 x 15 feet, nor should roosters be allowed in town, because they can't help but violate the noise ordinance. (And again, how would low income families be able to afford to get a coop started?)

I don't know why community gardens on vacant lots would violate zoning as long as the owner gives permission.

As for fruit trees along our streets, for one thing, most fruit trees aren't very tall. Park an SUV alongside one and your passenger will exit right into the branches. I'm pretty sure no one would want to park their car under a fruit tree either, unless you want cherry stains or dents from falling apples. People can plant fruit trees on their property already, so I'm not sure why they should be along the streets, too. But fruit trees don't produce well near taller trees or buildings--they need sun--so that's likely why you don't see many around town.

While I think that some of the Temple recommendations have potential, I don't think most were well thought out or researched. I have to admit I was disappointed in the assessment. It seemed like the people who put together this report possibly never raised vegetables, had no farming experience, never composted anything, never slept overnight in a place that had a chicken coop, and probably saw a fruit tree or the ground under it at harvest time. All of their recommendations seem to come straight from trendy articles on urban planning and not from experience, or from much time spent in our town.

Their last recommendation was that a Food Council ought to be formed to "manage progress" and advise our government what changes could be made. I think it's a good idea as long as the council isn't filled with planners, but with people who know and understand gardening, emergency food, agriculture and other aspects of the topic. 

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