A discussion of how we can increase the security our local food supply at a time when rising fuel costs, climate change and political turmoil make it particularly vulnerable. As seen through the lens of the Imani Gardens, located at 1680 Pacific Street and 87-91 Schenectady Street.
It seems that the drought in California is really kicking in. According to today's New York Times, experts estimate that over 500,000 acres will not be planted in the Central Valley this year. As you may know, the Central Valley is the single largest source for fresh fruits and vegetables in the United States. The four most productive agricultural counties in the US are in the Central Valley. The total agricultural production of the Valley amounted to $17 billion in 2002. It is the leading source in the US for tomatoes, almonds, grapes, cotton, apricots, and asparagus.
No water has flowed in irrigation canals for three years now at some farms and drilling wells, if one can find a well-driller who isn't booked years in advance, is very expensive. Without regular rain to replenish the aquifer, it's only a matter of time until the water in the wells dries up as well.
In a February 13th article in the National Geographic, Celeste Cantu, manager of the Santa Ana Watershed Project Authority, states that "the cost of fruits and vegetables could soar" because of the drought. In the same article, B. Lynn Ingram, a paleoclimatologist at the University of California at Berkeley who has studied 1,000's of years of drought history, states that "California needs to brace itself for a megadrought—one that could last for 200 years or more."
Because we receive most of our fresh fruits and vegetables from areas such as California, the implications for NYC are clear. We need to obtain a lot more food independence. One of the ways we can do this, in addition to relying on local farmers, is to begin growing food on vacant lots.
With some 596 acres of city land sitting vacant, growing in community gardens is a real possibility. And because we need to eat year around, we need to grow food year around as well. Growing fruits and vegetables inexpensively in the winter in the Northeast requires a special kind of greenhouse, one that maximizes the sun as a heat source.
Several gardens have been developing this capability for years. One example is at the Central Rocky Mountain Permaculture Institute at Basalt Colorado. Jerome Osentowski, their executive director, has been growing semi-tropical plants year around using what he calls a "climate battery" to capture the warmth of the sun. More well known in the Northeast of course is Eliot Coleman, whose Four Season Farm in Maine is an example of what can be grown year round in a cold climate.
The Imani Garden, at Schenectady and Dean in Crown Heights Brooklyn, is about to build a greenhouse that uses a climate battery and a below grade design that should achieve semi-tropical temperatures throughout the winter with few external inputs. Working with the architectural firm of SRY Rainbow, Imani and its sponsor Green Phoenix Permaculture with the assistance of Citizens Committee NYC, Project Green Thumb and New York Restoration Project, hopes to begin construction this spring. By using earthbag construction that incorporates earth from the excavation to build walls on three sides of the greenhouse, construction costs will be kept to a minimum.
If you would like to attend a pre-construction fund raiser to help us raise funds for the construction and view the design for this new greenhouse, please contact me at