Art and Urban Ag: The Sustainable Connection


city farm google maps

How is a protea bottle like a vacant city lot? Both can be turned into something beautiful and useable, that’s how.

Upcycling ,or “creative reuse,” often takes an artistic form – you can see that with many of the protea bottle projects we’ve highlighted – but at its root is the quest to live more sustainably. That’s something it shares with the trend toward turning empty urban lots into gardens or even farms.

While still a small part of the wider agricultural picture, the urban farming movement is surprisingly robust. Forbes contributor Jeff McMahon reported recently that in the city of Detroit alone, “community gardens now produce 200 tons of fresh fruits and vegetables per year.” Not only is this inspiring more healthy eating — residents who work in the gardens eat two and a half more servings per day of fruits of vegetables than their neighbors, McMahon wrote – but “property values near the gardens are rising by up to 20 percent.”

In Chicago, a leader in the urban farming movement is City Farm, where the mission is to transform “fallow, vacant land into amazingly productive farmland.” City Farm says it uses chemical-free, small plot production farming techniques to produce 25,000 pounds of produce from a mere acre, growing thirty varieties of tomatoes as well as beets, kale, chard, garlic, carrots, potatoes, gourmet lettuces, herbs and melons.

Emphasizing the interconnectedness of art, agriculture and sustainability, City Farm recently hosted an event that caught our eye – “Sustainable Vows,” which featured everything from music and dance performance to upcycled fashion to fresh food workshops. The event was put on by Art Depth; check out their Facebook album to see some photographs. (Art Depth is also planning another collaboration involving urban farming – learn more about that here).

Another organization drawing the connection between art and ag is the New Orleans based Life is Art Foundation. The art came first for this post-Katrina project in the St. Roch neighborhood of New Orelans, then came the urban farm –  a kind of art of its own. As the foundation put it, “The seamless introduction of a living, food-producing ecosystem introduces beauty at the center of a blighted environment and begins a ripple effect that addresses equally the human impetus for creativity and sustenance.”

Image: City Farm in Chicago, from Google Maps.

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