Monday, February 23, 2009

Uptown's Urban Farmland

Uptown is a pretty "green" place to live. The area is packed with people who care about environmental issues, and both the local neighborhood boards as well as the recent Uptown Small Area Plan address options for improving the neighborhood's impact on the environment. Uptown's lakes offer residents and visitors with an opportunity to get outside and enjoy nature in all seasons, as does the Midtown Greenway. And, while the lakes offer multiple obvious environmental and quality of life benefits, it's the Midtown Greenway and its possibilities that really excite me.

The Midtown Greenway Coalition advocates for the use of the Greenway as a "green urban pathway," and suggests adjacent community gardens as a way to "showcase native plants, on site water management, and ecological sustainability." I completely agree with all of this, but how about putting additional emphasis on organic, local, appropriate food production? I would love to see the length of the Greenway dotted with continuous, or near continuous, gardens. These gardens, whether owned and operated by community groups, the city or park, schools, private landowners, or any other organization, business, or individual, would provide Minnesota-appropriate organic food for area residents, thereby increasing everyone's access to fresh, affordable produce, decreasing the environmental costs associated with the transportation of food from elsewhere, adding beauty to the Greenway, and providing additional Greenway safety as a result of increased people presence in the form of Greenway gardeners.

The Soo Line Garden, a community garden located just outside of Uptown (at Garfield in Whittier) is already well into its second decade of existence. According to the Midtown Greenway Coalition, talks are underway with the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board to investigate the possibility of formally transferring ownership of the land to ensure its continued and permanent status as a public garden. Interest in these and other gardens across the city is high (with many gardens lacking space to accommodate all who would like to participate), and will presumably continue to grow as a result of rising food costs coupled with an increased awareness of and interest in the local foods and urban farm movements. Let's build on the concept of community gardens and line the Greenway - including the portion running through Uptown - with fruits, vegetables, and other edibles. These plants, in accordance with the Midtown Greenway Coalition's existing resolution on native plants, could be selected from native species wherever possible.

I'd like to expand this idea even more and suggest that additional agricultural options also be included along the Greenway. Chickens, dairy goats, honey bees - all could find a place in what could be a stretch of urban agriculture running through the heart of the city. This would involve, among other things, the loosening of current city regulations to encourage and support responsible, well-run urban mini-farms up and down the Greenway. The farms could be both public and private, selling their products (an Uptown Cheese Company? Lyn-Lake Honey?) at the eventual Uptown's Farmer's Market or even directly from their plots to walkers and bikers making their way up and down the Greenway.

The urban farm movement isn't new, but it does seem to be picking up speed in recent years. It's admittedly a new world to me, and I have a lot yet to learn. The Greenway is still fairly young and is still evolving, so this is our chance to truly do something radical that will help the environment, our neighborhood, and the city. I would welcome any input from readers who have information on already existing conversations on this or similar topics.

The Midtown Greenway is already a highly artificial, human-shaped pathway through the city. It's not an existing untouched native landscape. While lining the shores of Lake Calhoun or Lake of the Isles with food-producing gardens wouldn't make sense, doing so on the Greenway does. It's not even necessary to have a full, complete community garden - thin strips of fruit trees, bean plants, corn stalks, or thin beds of herbs, whatever we can squash into the space available, whether in raised beds, in the ground itself, or even in boxes hanging from nearby building walls - along the route could fill in sections between the larger, more formal parks and gardens. Let's take the concept of a "green urban pathway" to the next step and provide Uptown - and south Minneapolis - with this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to develop and implement a modern vision of a more self-sustainable and environmentally-friendly urban life.

1 comment:

  1. Right on. I've been thinking there is an uptapped niche market for small sustainable food growers to sell their (tasty) wares near biking/hiking trails. Actually, I think about it a lot these days. I've been making my way around the country in recent bicycle... to learn about sustainable food... and I've been lamenting the food options along the way: huge swathes of the country, even urban areas, without much by way of local, seasonal (nevermind organic) food in the midst of existing or potential green spaces. Hmmm. Hmmm.

    I'm heading into the Twin Cities for a few days and look forward to learning about the fledgling urban farm scene. Is there a resource for locating farm and local food folks in the area (beyond a google search)? Thanks! :)