Urban Dirt and Design

Urban Dirt and Design

Charlotte Leib has looked forward to her Doebele Community Service Fellowship as an opportunity to get her hands dirty and help other urban dwellers do the same. She reports on her experiences working with Barbara Knecht (LF ’93) this summer to develop a design manual for the Urban Farming Institute in Boston.

Fowler Clark Epstein House

The historic Fowler-Clark-Epstein Farm in Dorchester, Mass., which the Urban Farming Institute is developing into an urban farm and educational center in partnership with the Trust For Public Land and Historic Boston, Inc.

Question 15: “You have to harvest Beets, Arugula, Kale, and Eggplant, which do you harvest first?

I thought I’d escaped the classroom after wrapping up my second semester at the GSD just last week, but on Thursday evening, I found myself taking a quiz on urban farming at the Mattapan Community Center.  As I sat beside students in the Urban Farming Institute of Boston’s Urban Farmer Training program, I used my best logic to figure out the answers to the questions like this one.  I can’t say I aced it the quiz, but I’m learning.  Why? Because this summer, with the support of a Doebele Community Service Fellowship, I’m working with the Urban Farming Institute and Loeb Fellow Barbara Knecht (’93) to develop an Urban Farm Design Manual, which will present the principles and technical details for the design and construction of urban farms in Boston.  Our goal for the manual is twofold: to help farmers build better farms, and to help policymakers to better understand the role that urban farming–and design–can play in developing healthy communities in cities.

In order to make the manual useful to farmers and responsive to their immediate needs, we’re asking farmers what challenges they’ve faced farming in Boston, and where they’ve found success.  By asking these initial questions, our goal is to develop a manual that demonstrates to farmers and policymakers how farm components can be designed to work as a system that sidesteps the challenges of growing in a city, creating combined spaces that catalyze community growth.

The manual aims to build upon the kind of organization that farmers already use to manage their farm operations–and to answer questions like #15 on the urban farmer training quiz–by applying this same organizational logic to urban farm design.  For example, a good farmer might know to harvest arugula and kale first, and then eggplant and beets–given that the greens would wither in the heat if not harvested in the morning and that eggplants and beets require more water for washing–but she might not consider exactly where to site the washing station, or that she could collect and filter rainwater to be used in that operation.  The Urban Farm Design Manual aims to extend the agency of the urban farmer-as-designer, and, in turn aims to influence the development of urban farms that are both productive and pleasurable, and that give back to communities.

Further updates about Charlotte’s work this summer will appear on the LOEBlog, on the CSFP blog, and on Twitter @charswim.

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