Friday, May 28, 2010

Green Hillsides


Ubiquitous Agriculture

Food Security and Recreation in the Cosmopolitan Neighbourhood

By John Taylor; 2010 May 28, Azamat 10, 167 BE

As we have seen, the sun-facing slope of hillside block construction projects is devoted mostly to gardens and greenhouses. Since hillside projects house hundreds of people, it probably would be impractical for even the most intensely cultivated hillside to attempt to provide complete subsistence.

Greenies on the Hillsides

Instead these terraced fields, gardens and greenhouses would concentrate on supplementing the local diet, supplying perishable foodstuffs and crops that are difficult to pack or transport. These include tomatoes, lettuce, herbs, celery, cucumbers, and other "greenies" -- this is the familiar term used at the Scott-Amundston research station at the South Pole. There, in consultation with NASA, researchers are exploring scientific ways of supplementing their diet with locally grown greens. The lessons learned at remote locations where everything has to be flown in will be applied around the world through the World Belt and the hillside housing developments that arise out of it.

Security in a Hillside Agronomy

With farming going on so close by, many improvements would be possible, not least of which is to security.

Hillside developments are designed so that even in urban settings they will be semi-independent in food. Having gardens and greenhouse literally on their backside, they are assured of a constant, ready food supply to fall back on in emergencies. In the event of a breakdown in transportation, crop failure or even bio-terror, food interruptions, much less mass famine, would be easily staved off. A disaster in one part of a city would not cripple other parts, since each neighbourhood can adjust resiliently by growing more or different crops, or by taking different routes to nearby farms.

The green slope of a hillside block project provides basic foodstuffs to kitchens situated a few metres away, and from there to dinner tables also separated by mere metres rather than kilometres. This short journey from ground to fork protects public health by permitting close, comprehensive inspections by professionals and the public alike at every stage of food production. A short production cycle can be monitored, from crop to compost, not only by experts but also under the supervision of casual passers-by, what Jane Jacobs called the "eyes on the street" system of security.

By reducing distances so radically, food will not only be fresher and more healthful, far less can go wrong on the trip. Every bite that residents take can be easily traced to its source in a nearby operation. This contrasts sharply with the thousands of miles our food presently travels, the admixture it undergoes in closed factories using proprietary recipes with unknown chemicals and additives.

This plan is very different from proposed "vertical farms" currently being researched and implemented for urban agriculture. Although as a form of urbiculture it seems superficially similar, these large skyscrapers will be designed to grow food in ways that are closer to the present model of agriculture than the hillsides of a cosmopolitan order. Filled with hydroponic monoculture crops, the whole process of food preparation is permanently shut away from public view by walls, albeit glass ones.

Vertical farms are run for private profit by large agribusiness corporations. Hillside projects are agrarian socially, and economically are designed to involve almost everybody in growing and preparing food. Most importantly, as locally owned cooperatives, everybody in a hillside block by right shares in the profits of the agricultural activities they perform.

Advantages of a Local Diet

In most developed countries the number of farmers in the population has dropped below five percent. Like our democratic system, the work is specialized and involvement by the public minimized. The agricultural system puts quantity before quality and encourages passive, ignorant consumers. In spite of this, most people are becoming aware that this system is not sustainable. They agree that it is desirable to become what is now being called a "locavore," someone who eats food that is grown as close to the point of consumption as possible. We know that locally-grown produce is not only fresher, cheaper and more nutritious than imported foodstuffs, it is also inherently easier on the environment, since the trains, planes, trucks and boats carrying food around the world burn fossil fuels.

The residents of hillside projects are locavores by default. The local economy is designed to make it difficult, though not impossible, to do otherwise. Only a conscious decision to go out of their way to buy imported food and a willingness to pay a great deal more for it would keep someone from eating local food, if not from the same building, then from the nearest available farm.

Ubiquitous agriculture also contributes to diversity and robustness in a localized economy. Even a specialized district, such as one with a large hospital or university, will still be balanced by a large number of farmers, cooks and other artisans in the local population. This will act as democratic ballast, the effects of which we will discuss in the section on democracy.

Hillside Recreation

The main purpose of the hillside farms, orchards and gardens is the utilitarian one of feeding residents and guests as efficiently as possible. But that is not to say that the agricultural sector will be without recreational value for residents. It will be a convenient place for residents to take short strolls and climbs during the day. Slides and water slides down the slope would add excitement for young and old. In recognition of this, flower gardens will be planted in conspicuous places, since walks in natural areas tend to lower stress and bolster the mental health of visitors.

Next time, let us look closer at eating, food preparation and the kitchen facilities of a hillside development.


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