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An Urban ‘Agrihood’ Is Worth Considering In St. Louis

Fox Park Farm is now of many community gardens in St. Louis
Fox Park Farm is now of many community gardens in St. Louis

The recent Sunday Poll was actually two polls, both n0n-scientific. First, the questions and votes:

#1: Which of the following, if any, should residents be allowed to raise in the city? Animals would be subject to minimum space requirements. (Check all that apply)

  1. Chickens 29 [24.17%]
  2. Rabbits 26 [21.67%]
  3. Goats 15 [12.5%]
  4. Sheep 10 [8.33%]
  5. Alpacas 9 [7.5%]
  6. None should be allowed 8 [6.67%]
  7. TIE 6 [5%]
    1. Emus
    2. Ostriches
    3. Dairy Cows
  8. Pigs 4 [3.33%]
  9. Unsure/no opinion 1 [0.83%]

#2: Agree or disagree: With so much vacant land in the city, much more land should be used for urban food production

  • Strongly agree 16 [44.44%]
  • Agree 7 [19.44%]
  • Somewhat agree 8 [22.22%]
  • Neither agree or disagree 1 [2.78%]
  • Somewhat disagree 1 [2.78%]
  • Disagree 0 [0%]
  • Strongly disagree 3 ]8.33%]
  • Unsure/No Answer 0 [0%]

I think it’s fair to say among readers there is general support for some farm animal and increased agriculture. For a few years now I’ve been seeing stories about new suburban subdivisions with a farm in the center instead of a golf course:

From 2013:

There’s a new model springing up across the country that taps into the local food movement: Farms — complete with livestock, vegetables and fruit trees — are serving as the latest suburban amenity.

It’s called development-supported agriculture, a more intimate version of community-supported agriculture — a farm-share program commonly known as CSA. In planning a new neighborhood, a developer includes some form of food production — a farm, community garden, orchard, livestock operation, edible park — that is meant to draw in new buyers, increase values and stitch neighbors together. (NPR: Forget Golf Courses: Subdivisions Draw Residents With Farms)

From 2015:

The phrase “planned community” conjures up a lot of images — maybe a swimming pool, obsessively manicured lawns, white picket fences — but a farm is probably not one of them. 

Pushing back against that stereotypical image of suburban living is a growing number of so-called “agrihoods” springing up nationwide. These developments center around a real, functional farm as their crown jewel. According to CivilEats, there are currently about 200 of them nationwide. 

The latest, called The Cannery, officially opened this past Saturday on a site that was previously home to a tomato cannery facility located about a mile outside downtown Davis, California. The 100-acre project of the New Home Company development company is considered to be the first agrihood to take root on formerly industrial land. All of its 547 energy-efficient homes will be solar-powered and electric car-ready, KCRA, NBC’s Sacramento affiliate, reports. (Huffington Post: ‘Agrihoods’ Offer Suburban Living Built Around Community Farms, Not Golf Courses)

Also from 2015, a CBS News story, video below:

This CBS News story was recently repeated on CBS’ Sunday Morning. So this story and taking a survey on urban food production in the city got me thinking: must the “agrihood” movement be limited to very expensive suburban developments? I could see an agrihood being part of the development of the near north side. In an agrihood, the farm is professionally run. It’s not a community garden run my neighbors. It could be a way to create jobs for area youth. I’d want housing to be a different price points and not displace current residents.

We have more land than we’ll likely ever have residents to fill. For years, in cities coast to coast, people have been farming on vacant urban land.  St. Louis is no exception — see RFT’s 10 Local Urban Farms We Love.

— Steve Patterson








Sunday Poll: Two Questions on Urban Food Production

Please vote below
Please vote below

A number of things online recently got me thinking about urban food production:

City and suburban agriculture takes the form of backyard, roof-top and balcony gardening, community gardening in vacant lots and parks, roadside urban fringe agriculture and livestock grazing in open space. (USDA)

One of the things that got me thinking about this was a Facebook post by Ald Cara Spencer, which included a link to a local survey on policy:

St. Louis Food Policy Coalition wants to hear from you about your interest in growing food in the city!

We want to learn from St. Louis residents 1) what you and your neighbors are already growing, 2) what types of agriculture activities you would like to see in the city, and 3) how you would like those activities to be regulated. (SLU)

Because of the range of topics, I decided this deserves two questions today.

Question #1

Question #2

Please respond to both before they close at 8pm. If you haven’t already, please also respond to the survey mentioned above.

— Steve Patterson



Reusing Reusable Shopping Bags; Need For A Bag Giveaway Event

August 22, 2016 Environment, Featured 1 Comment

I’ve been using reusable shopping bags for years now, it’s just habit. I’m also a fan of laws that ban single-use plastic bags or impose a fee for their use. About 160 cities in 17 states have such laws, source. Discount grocery store chain Aldi has charged for bags for years, encouraging customers to reuse them.

In a June 2012 pol, readers favored banning single-use plastic bags. Click image to view that post.
In a June 2012 pol, readers favored banning single-use plastic bags. Click image to view that post.

I keep two bags on my wheelchair — both cloth bags I purchased: one at Trader Joe’s and the other at Eataly Chicago. The TJ’s bag is large, this is my regular bag. The Eataly bag is secondary, in case I want to buy more than the other will hold.  The large cloth bag from Trader Joe’s is the same design as the free Farm Aid bag I got in my media kit when the charity concert came to St. Louis in 2009. That well-used bag is in the trunk of our car, along with 2-3 heavy non-fabric bags.

So we have 5-6 bags that get used on a regular basis. Logically, the heavier the bag the more resources it took to produce and transport it. If it gets reused often it is less of a burden on the environment.

Some reusable bags need to be used over 100 times before they’re better for the environment than single-use plastic bags. Polyethylene bags need to be used four times, a polypropylene bag must be used at least 11 times, and a cotton bag must be used at least 131 times, according to a study by the U.K. Environment Agency. (MarketWatch: The truth about reusable shopping bags)

I estimate the Farm Aid bag I got in 2009 has been used over 1,000 times. Because of the size, it easily replaces 2-3 typical plastic grocery bags. The newer TJs cloth bag has been used hundreds of times at this point — I occasionally toss it into the washing machine to keep it looking good.

While we get regular use out of 5-6 bags, we have many more not getting used. These days every event, conference, etc has a bag. Attend a major car show, for example, and you could go home with a dozen bags — from one event! We both show restraint at events, taking only one bag to hold materials collected. We go for the highest quality available.

Then what? No, we don’t discard them — that would be wasteful. Sometimes a new bag will replace an older one we’d been using regularly. But most end up in our spare closet.

We have four bags of bags, The IKEA bags are ones I've had for at least a decade.
We have four bags of bags, The IKEA bags are ones I’ve had for at least a decade.

We don’t need the closet space, but there’s no point to us having all these bags when others might get use out of them. I wasn’t even sure how many bags we had, so I got them all out and organized them based on size from small to extra large.

Left to right: Small-5, medium-7, large-19, extra large-5
Left to right: Small-5, medium-7, large-19, extra large-5

Yes, nearly 40 reusable bags not being reused! Many, however, have been used more than once. Still, I’d love a way to get all of these into the hands of people who will use them to help give up taking single-use plastic bags at stores. Plus we have an assortment of other bags: lunch, courier, etc. I don’t want to organize it, but I’d love to see an event where bags are collected from people than distributed to the community.

Any ideas? Does this already exist?

— Steve Patterson


Cobra Heads Shine Light Up Into Our 4th Floor Windows

Street lights are important for safety, so motorists and pedestrians can see better at night. Good lighting can help reduce crime. Sadly, most cities, including St. Louis, have bad lighting. Instead of lighting the road and sidewalks we also light up the night sky.

The International Dark-Sky Association estimates that 1/3 of all lighting is wasted at an annual cost of $2.2 BILLION dollars. The light projected directly upwards from a cobra-head streetlight is about 30% of the total light it emits! (James Mason University/John C. Wells Planetarium: Light Pollution: The Overuse & Misuse of Artificial Light at Night)

Our loft is on the 4th floor of our building, our windows don’t directly face Locust St. Still, a cobra head light across the street blasts our uncovered windows with light every night.

Looking South from our balcony toward Locust St, two cobra head lights can be seen -- one per side
Looking South from our balcony toward Locust St, two cobra head lights can be seen — one per side
This cropped version narrows down to the two lights
This cropped version narrows down to the two lights
Cropping again you can see
Cropping again you can see

The solution is to replace the old cobra head lights with more efficient LED lights, right?

The new plan for security was put in place before the recent robberies. It calls for four more surveillance cameras, license plate recognition cameras, and brighter street lights.

“What we want now are the surveillance cameras that have red and blue flashing lights on them so that people realize they are on camera and that is a really critical next step to make people realize this is a watched area,” said Missy Kelley with Downtown St. Louis, Inc.

The plan calls for all 3,000 downtown street lights to be replaced with LED lights that are brighter.

“Change out all of the cobra head lights downtown to LED lights which are brighter and whiter and will splash back onto the sidewalk. They will light the streets but also light the sidewalks,” Kelley said.

Areas around the Busch Stadium, the Peabody Opera House and Scottrade Center will see the new lighting first. (More security measures coming to downtown St. Louis)

The word “brighter” was used three times in the above quote. But, again, LEDs are the solution, right?

Not necessarily says the International Dark-Sky Association — they detail five myths about LED streetlights:

  • Myth #1: The use of LEDs reduces light pollution and is “good for dark skies” because they’re highly energy efficient.
  • Myth #2: The use of LEDs reduces light pollution and is “good for dark skies” because they make it easier to control where the light lands on the ground.
  • Myth #3: LED lighting increases traffic safety
  • Myth #4: LED lighting improves security by discouraging crime.
  • Myth #5: Energy savings from LEDs automatically means a lower carbon footprint, which is better for the environment.

Just like most regions, we’re replacing bright cobra heads that scattered light in all directions with brighter LEDs that scatter more light in slightly less directions. Brighter isn’t necessarily better or even safer.

— Steve Patterson




Our Sprawl Means Lots Of Grass To Cut, Room For Urban Food Production

During the recent Board of Aldermen session where the budget was passed, a lot of time was spent discussing the cost of grass cutting. The discussion mostly focused on city/LRA-owned lots. We’re fortunate enough to have many parks throughout the city, but we also have many useless patches of grass that require regular cutting for months.

One example:

Waiting for the #90 MetroBus on Hampton Ave. I watched as at least three Forestry Dept workers were edging, April 15, 2016
Waiting for the #90 MetroBus on Hampton Ave. I watched as at least three Forestry Dept workers were edging, April 15, 2016
Seven minutes later one was up along Hampton
Seven minutes later one was up along Hampton

Throughout the city we have areas like the one shown above, a result of decades of suburban planning. The state mows the grass in the highway right-of-ways, but the city must cut it elsewhere. Before moving downtown I’d see Forestry cutting grass at Minnesota & Delor — see Google Street View. No telling how many total acres areas like this we’re cutting.

For the vacant lots the city has a new mow to own program, but there’s no easy solution to these scattered strips throughout the city. Some might work for food production, crops or fruit trees. In 2014, Seattle harvested almost 14 tons of fruit from public trees.

St. Louisans will come up with a laundry list of reasons why public land can’t be used to produce food.

— Steve Patterson