Monday, April 02, 2012

Book Review: Carrot City

Carrot City: Creating Places for Urban Agriculture by Mark Gorgolewski, June Komisar, Joe Nasr
The Monacelli Press, 2011
Hardcover, 240 pages

Urban agriculture in its latest guise is a concept I first encountered in 2004 when I wrote an article on Chicago's aptly named City Farm and its Mobile City Farmstead. Run by Ken Dunn, the project occupies vacant city lots of a certain minimize size, and grows vegetables for sale to the public and to restaurants. One of the latter is Rick Bayless's well known Frontera Grill, among other high-end restaurants in Chicago that serve this locally grown produce. City Farm is an example of urban agriculture that is echoed in the admirable Carrot City by Mark Gorgolewski, June Komisar, and Joe Nasr, but it is just one way of reintroducing agriculture into a context long paved over and supplied by fields far beyond the city's edges.

About half of the projects assembled in Carrot City are built precedents, typically small in scale, while the remainder are theoretical projects that tend to imagine urban agriculture on a larger scale. I'm drawn to the former for a number of reasons: It's very easy to imagine integrating farming into cities, but the reality is more complicated and requires testing, so working precedents are valuable; like City Farm, many of the built precedents are small, but they have a substantial impact on their surroundings, extending beyond the land being used for producing food (social, aesthetic); and these examples of urban agriculture can actually be visited, not just imagined.

The book breaks the 40 projects into four chapters: Imagining the Productive City, Building Community and Knowledge, Redesigning the Home, and Producing on the Roof. Highlights include the Inuvik Community Greenhouse, a conversion of an old skylit skating rink; the Curtis "50 Cent" Jackson Community Garden in Queens; the Edible Campus at McGill University in Montreal; Mole Hill Community Housing's sculpted alleyway in Vancouver; Fritz Haeg's popular Edible Estates; and the roof of the Gary Comer Youth Center in Chicago (the top photo on the cover). There is plenty for everybody.

A fifth chapter, Components for Growing, focuses on the pieces that go into creating urban farms -- composters, greenhouses, planting beds, etc. -- to better give readers an arsenal for implementing even smaller scale interventions on their own property, in community gardens, or some other location. Lots of recent and upcoming books are picking up on the urban agriculture trend, tackling it from different points of view, be it broadly (sustainability), theoretically (changing cities), or practically (how to___). Carrot City, as the name indicates, focuses on "creating places," and in this regard it should be referenced by individuals and groups when they take steps towards growing food in cities.

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