Growing Food in the Built Environment

Feb. 23, 2009

BRATTLEBORO, VT – In a groundbreaking feature article and editorial, Environmental Building News (EBN) founder and executive editor Alex Wilson makes the case that food production should be a component of green building and describes how agriculture can be incorporated into our developed landscape. "Growing Food Locally: Integrating Agriculture into the Built Environment," published in the February, 2009 issue of EBN, describes fascinating projects from coast to coast that are demonstrating the potential for growing food on vacant land around buildings, as well as on roofs.

A recent study reported that 15 percent of urban land sits vacant in the average U.S. city. Dozens of organizations are showing how this land can be made productive, supporting small-scale community gardens, commercial vegetable farming ventures, and even urban egg production. Similarly, commercial buildings in the United States have approximately 1,400 square miles of total flat roof area-about the same area as Rhode Island. On many of these buildings, it is possible to create green roofs or build greenhouses to grow vegetables and other crops. New hydroponic growing methods such as nutrient film technique (NFT) are well-suited for rooftop greenhouses because of the low weight.

"There are major problems with our conventional food system," notes Wilson, "with an average mouthful of food shipped 1,500 miles from farm to dining room and an agribusiness industry that delivers ever-more-empty calories from ever-larger farming operations." Wilson argues in an editorial and feature article that more local food production would offer a wide range of benefits: fresher, healthier, and more flavorful produce; more green spaces in our gray cities; reductions in greenhouse gas emissions; and greater food security.

"Growing food on the vacant land around buildings, and on the buildings themselves," says Wilson, "opens up the potential for local food production, even in our most densely populated cities." During World War II, as much as 40 percent of our vegetables were homegrown in the United States. "We can get back to a high level of local food production and be healthier to boot," suggests Wilson.

Both the feature article, "Growing Food Locally: Integrating Agriculture into the Built Environment," and editorial, "Integrate Food Production and Green Building," are available free on

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