Waste not…

28 September 2012

…feed the world.

Previous post: How did all this stuff get here. (incl. link to The Story of Stuff)

I’ve just started reading Waste by Tristram Stuart, in which he documents his investigation (chiefly in the UK, but relevant for North America as well) into the waste of food. It makes the claims that GMOs are necessary to feed the world moot, as with a more efficient food chain, we can already feed the entire world and then some. Considering our global food chain is global, there is no excuse not to (but boy do people come up with some creative attempts).

Tristram Stuart’s Waste web site

Thinking Smart About Cities, Space, and Efficiency

12 September 2012

Jane Jacobs would be proud.

North America’s First Vertical Urban Farm is Being Built in Canada

Vancouver-based Alterrus Systems will begin building North America’s first VertiCrop urban farming system on the top level of a downtown Vancouver parking lot.

Alterrus’s VertiCrop vertical-farming technology uses hydroponic technology to grow leafy green vegetables and herbs in a greenhouse without pesticides or herbicides.

Its produce will be transported directly to local Vancouver markets, reducing carbon footprint. The produce will be available in Vancouver in October.

“The VertiCrop technology represents a radical shift in sustainable food production,” said Christopher Ng, Alterrus CEO. “Current food-production methods are ineffective in dealing with the challenges of growing populations and decreasing amounts of farmland. VertiCrop’s high-density urban farming is an effective way to grow nutritious food using fewer land and water resources than traditional field-farming methods.”

“The smaller carbon footprint involved is a critical point,” he added. “Food production represents one of the world’s largest sources of unwanted gas emissions.”

Alterrus expects the facility to produce more than 150,000 pounds annually. The facility will be 5,700 square feet with 4,000 square feet devoted to growing the produce in trays. The remaining 1,700 square feet will be used for picking and packaging. It will use 10% of the water required for traditional field agriculture while producing higher yields.

The urban farm will operate year round. “That reliability offers benefits to the retailer and consumer,” noted Christopher. “This nutritious produce can be grown and delivered to our customers any time throughout the year.”

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Check this out! Kent Larson shares new technologies that make the most of increasingly dense cities. Hint: it looks nothing like big box stores, bedroom communities and the atrocity of urban sprawl.

100 Days to Dec 21st 2012

Jundiai, Brazil goes Greener

4 August 2012


Jundiai offers vegetables in exchange for recyclables.

Brazilian City offers Vegetables in Exchange for Trash

In many urban centers throughout the world, vibrant waste recycling programs aren’t just eco-minded niceties, they serve an essential role in keeping communities clean and clutter-free. But thanks to one forward-thinking initiative in the Brazilian city of Jundiaí, trading in trash has never been tastier.

Ten years ago, the city’s Municipal Utilities department launched “Delicious Recycling“, a program aimed at encouraging residents to get into the habit of collecting recyclable waste in exchange for fresh vegetables, grown locally in a public-run garden — and boy did it take off. Today, the garden boasts more than 30 thousand plants to meet the demand of thousands of veggie-loving recyclers, turning aluminum cans and plastic bottles into edible greens.

Ultimately, the program has done wonders for the health of the environment as well, by ridding the city of improperly disposed waste.

“What once cluttered and even choked the flow of water from storm drains is today used as currency for healthy food,” local mayor Miguel Haddad tells Jundiaí Online. “Everybody wins with this.”

As innovative as Jundiaí’s “Delicous Recycling” may seem, it’s actually not the first of its kind, but given the program’s success, it’s no wonder why. Though a number of other Brazilian municipalities offer similar incentives to reward recyclers with food, the idea seems to be catching internationally — like in Mexico City, where residents recently exchanged trash for nearly three tons of vegetables!

Such an improvement over the North American food waste system, where food becomes garbage. Urban gardening and recycling are certainly key parts in making our cities more sustainable, but I have to harp on (and on and on) about reducing our consumption. More is the disease, and less is the treatment. The greatest problems we face are due to an inability to accept reducing our consumption of unhealthy food (i.e. garbage and poison), energy (especially dirty energy), celebrity news, disposable anything, and so on.

Simple. Reduce your waste and increase your intake of fresh, local produce. win-win.

139 Days to Dec 21st 2012

Animal Bridges

20 July 2012

How to avoid roadkill on the highways.

It’s yet another thing that baffles me about developers – they don’t take animals, whether wild or domestic, into account when designing buildings, green spaces or infrastructure. Considering how many cats, dogs, raccoons, caribou and all sorts of other critters there are running around, you’d think we’d give them a second thought when laying down asphalt through their turf. Alas, they are often an afterthought, depending on the insurance costs for hitting a moose, or the amount of roadkilled endangered species.

That’s why these following bridges, built to allow animals a means of crossing highways safely, have demonstrated a consideration of our four-legged neighbours.

Images from grist.orgthese Beautiful Bridges are just for Animals

the Netherlands

Alberta, Canada


Here’s a few more from Overground Bridges for Animals in the World


Montana, USA


Lake Kecheelus, USA

this last one is from Wildlife Crossings around the World


I hope to see something akin to this in further urban development, especially considering how much urban wildlife we have hereabouts – I’ve had encounters with skunks, raccoons, deer, foxes, groundhogs, squirrels, coyotes, mice, rats, snakes, etc… in heavily developed areas – not just the edges of the suburbs. If we designed our cities to take them into account, as well as dogs and cats, then it might be a better place to live. Provided we stop polluting the air, ground, and water.

Here’s a great example, the Little Slocan Lodge – I had a very minor hand in helping out (mostly digging out rocks) with construction, but the landowners went about this in the right way. They sourced sustainable timber, had the land scouted to know where the bears and wolves travelled through the turf, learned where other animals resided or fed, and built around those areas to leave them out of the way of construction and travel. Pretty smart. But then again the folks who built this have their heads and hearts in all the right places.


154 Days to Dec 21st 2012

Living in a Treehouse

2 July 2012

Although I’d need a slingshot for the Ewoks.

Reminded myself that I’d love to live in a treehouse. A comfortable one, without the rusty nails sticking out all over the place like when I was a kid. I’m not sure what type of tree or arboreal setting would be for the best, but something akin to the tree of life, which bears all the fruit imaginable. That would be super sweet.

simply because treehouses > condos.

Although you have to beware Ratatosk, should he show up – hazards of living in the tree of life.

172 Days to Dec 21st 2012

Garbage in Garbage out

28 June 2012

or, Garbage out of the factory, into the store, out to your house, and into the landfill.

I was asked to post this image after I posted The Story of Stuff in How Did All this Stuff get Here? I’ve heard tales of young activists following recycling trucks to the landfill because the city wasn’t prepared for the huge response to its recycling program. They have since cut back on the types of plastic they will process (and are currently making a mess of a centralized green bin “composting” program). Ottawa may be Canada’s political capital, but it lags behind in any kind of sensible urban development. Truly, it is run in short-sighted planning that has the next election cycle as its goal. Truly a pathetic spectacle.

Further, the three Rs: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, are often reduced to one: Recycle. Reducing the amount we consume, and reusing what we have is often left behind for the disposability that comes along with consumption. A fourth R has been suggested: Refuse. Refuse plastic bags when offered. Refuse to shop at disreputable sites. Refuse to drive a car. Etc…

I’m moving, yet again (that’s 25 residences and counting), and am giving stuff away (books to the library, plants to friends, clothes to charity), selling stuff (furniture mostly), recycling electronics (through approved channels), and throwing out an awful lot of other stuff for which I cannot find a home, or have no use. Over all these moves, I have pared down my possessions with each move, and yet I never seem to keep on top of it. I’ve shredded all kinds of documents that I couldn’t simply recycle (sensitive information and all), and this alone has greatly reduced the weight I have to carry.

I think my ideal situation is living in a treehouse with enough comfort for myself, a few visitors, and foster pets or something. I’m growing a few trees, but it will be well over a decade until they are large enough to support a house. I suppose I should start scouting out the arboretum.

In any case, I think that any new product (and old ones, why not), cannot be put up for sale unless there is a sustainable plan for their lifespan, from material acquisition to disposal. I doubt plutonium would have been approved under such scrutiny.

Anway, here’s something about garbage.

Life of Garbage
image by: BusinessDegree.net

176 Days to Dec 21st 2012

Feed the City that Feeds You

21 May 2012

 Urban Food Production is Growing.

According to most estimates, the majority of the world’s population became urban for the first time in human history somewhere in 2005-6. Which means that most of us are living in a dense cluster of technological infrastructure, very little of which is used for growing food (aside from gardens, which by no means reach 40 acres).

Ottawa has a lot of green space (for which I’m grateful, despite how much is being sold off to developers), and there’s a farm in the middle of the city (an experimental farm, it’s not like any of it is deemed edible just yet).

Before I get into urban agriculture, I thought that this TED talk about the math of cities was intriguing, particular the focus on trends regarding growth, development and in comparison to corporations.

I’ve come across some great urban agriculture sites in the past week, and thought I should share them around. Since most of us live in cities, and most of us eat food to live (don’t know about those Yogis), there seems to be a natural progression towards uniting the two. I know a few urban foragers who feed off of native plants that grow in the region where they live. It’s pretty important to know if the city uses pesticides/herbicides (fortunately, more and more of them don’t), and whether the food is growing on former toxic sites (ex-gas stations, coal slag, etc…), or if it’s in a dog park (mmmmm, yellow snowcones).

Architect Carolyn Steel sums it up the relationship between food, agriculture, and cities beautifully in the following TED talk. If I could even come close to her eloquence, I would try. Just watch it, and then I’ll say “word.”

I remember seeing the oranges growing on trees in Guatalajara. However, they were planted along a busy street, and the amount of exhaust they absorbed made them completely unappetizing to consider. In Vancouver, there are cherry trees everywhere, but they are ornamental. Fortunately, there are plenty of food-bearing trees, such as Apples, Pears, Figs, Plums, Persimmons, edible Cherries and others. It’s a great city for food (blackberries anyone?). The Fruit Tree Project there was a great idea. People who made arrangements with property owners to harvest trees from their property and share the bounty around. It has since spread to other cities, and recently a version of it started up in Ottawa, Hidden Harvest.

Why would anyone do this? I recall the first place I stayed in East Vancouver was on the property next to a huge pear tree. The property owner never harvested it, and we were allowed to take however much we wanted. Great deal until they decided to cut it down to make more room for parking (don’t even get me started…)

Along with harvesting fruit & nut trees, or berry bushes, there are plenty of native plants and “weeds” that are edible, or useful as medication. I’m no herbalist (except for garlic, which I ingest by the sprig), however, there are a few helpful types online who provide advice. Edible Wild Food is one, focusing on the food that grows all around us (I believe they’re based in Canada), which includes things like plantain (not the banana, see image below), lamb’s quarters, dandelions, and plenty more.

Aside from foraging and harvesting, there are also groups who are working on designing, planting and developing the city to contain more food sources. Huzzah!!! Three cheers for that. A few I’ve encountered recently include:

Seattle creating a massive edible forest filled with free food.

Manhattan’s 15,000 square foot mobile urban farm.

 Beacon Food Forest

 It certainly seems like a better idea than making feeding the homeless illegal.

And don’t forget to share with the local fauna – they don’t have the commercial option to shop at food boutiques.

214 Days to Dec 21st 2012