Nourishing Cities with Urban Micro Gardens
We all know that fresh, local produce is good for us. But it’s expensive to buy and hard to grow yourself – especially in cities. Whether it’s picking the right plants and seeds or matching it with the right spacing and planting times, gardening involves a lot of guesswork. Mistakes can prevent new or inexperienced gardeners from getting the results they want.
Americans are interested in eating local, fresh, organic food—so how can we reduce these barriers and get healthy produce into the hands of regular city-dwellers?
While a small produce garden might not provide a family with all of its produce, The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has presented research showing that a well-tended micro-garden of 11 square feet can produce as much as 200 tomatoes a year, 36 heads of lettuce every 60 days, 10 cabbages every 90 days, and 100 onions every 120 days. If people in urban areas who currently have an outdoor space – even a tiny one! – grew edibles, we would be able to kick start some serious, local, homegrown agriculture networks.
But you can’t just expect everyone to know how to grow. Not only do people need an affordable solution, but they also need education and resources as well.
Earth Starter—an urban agriculture startup
Urban agriculture is ripe for disruption. There are so many opportunities for entrepreneurs to step in and solve some of these challenges. My co-founder, John and I, are on a mission to empower city dwellers to become producers by giving them easy tools grow healthy fresh food. We have designed two products – a 4’ x 6’ Nourishmat and a 2’ x 6’ Herbmat – with the goal of turning consumers into producers.
The mat comes with non-GMO seedballs (seeds mixed with clay and worm castings to enrich the soil, and chili powder to keep pests away). To plant, you simply lay out the mat on top of a bed of soil, then stick the seedballs for the 19 different vegetables and herbs in their respective holes. The mat also doubles as a weed barrier and holds in water. The Nourishmat includes an optional built-in irrigation so users with an available water source can easily tend to the plants.
The Nourishmat is a market-based approach to growing healthy food with limited resources. In order to get the product off the ground, we performed a 22-state beta test over the last year and a half. We chose plants that would grow in all USDA hardiness zones. The combination of cool and warm weather crops with a mix of herbs for the summer allows for more successful yields. Bio-diversity promotes more pollinators and the seedballs help protect seeds against harsh environments and pests.
Schoolyards, food deserts and empty lots
Our plan is to focus on schools and encourage municipalities to create edible schoolyards. We hope to put a Nourishmat in every school and make growing food part of a student’s curriculum.
Furthermore, empty spaces in cities are community opportunity zones to us. We aim to tag areas in need of nourishment and present action plans to city governments whereby we can help create edible neighborhoods using the Nourishmat.
There is more space than entrepreneurs realize to innovate and collaborate in grow-local urban industry. At Earth Starter, we hope to be leaders in organizing this space and are already exploring partnerships with companies like EcoScraps, which converts food scraps into organic soil.
We need more gardens in the world, so I’d strongly encourage you to start thinking about what you can plant in your outdoor space. And check out our Kickstarter page if you’d like to be part of the Nourish Movement.
Leave your comment below, or reply to others.
Please note that this comment section is for thoughtful, on-topic discussions. Admin approval is required for all comments. Your comment may be edited if it contains grammatical errors. Low effort, self-promotional, or impolite comments will be deleted.
Read more from MeetingoftheMinds.org
Spotlighting innovations in urban sustainability and connected technology
Advanced Urban Visioning offers a powerful tool for regions that are serious about achieving a major transformation in their sustainability and resilience. By clarifying what optimal transportation networks look like for a region, it can give planners and the public a better idea of what is possible. It inverts the traditional order of planning, ensuring that each mode can make the greatest possible contribution toward achieving future goals.
Advanced Urban Visioning doesn’t conflict with government-required planning processes; it precedes them. For example, the AUV process may identify the need for specialized infrastructure in a corridor, while the Alternatives Analysis process can now be used to determine the time-frame where such infrastructure becomes necessary given its role in a network.
The introduction of intelligent transportation systems, which includes a broad network of smart roads, smart cars, smart streetlights and electrification are pushing roadways to new heights. Roadways are no longer simply considered stretches of pavement; they’ve become platforms for innovation. The ability to empower roadways with intelligence and sensing capabilities will unlock extraordinary levels of safety and mobility by enabling smarter, more connected transportation systems that benefit the public and the environment.
I spoke last week with Njogu Morgan, a post-doctoral researcher specializing in transportation equity in Africa, specifically South Africa, where he is based. As a historian, his research centers around how we can use historical context to better understand current transportation system inequities and access. He’s starting a new research network of emerging and developing scholars who are interested in mobility issues from a historical perspective.