Shipping container gardens among solutions discussed at urban ag summit

newspaperShipping container gardens, aeroponic growing towers and “green roofing” were among innovative solutions discussed at Virginia’s second annual Urban Agriculture Summit.

Held in Richmond and at nearby urban gardens, the summit aimed to expand knowledge of urban agriculture and explore ways to grow fresh produce in food deserts, or areas in which residents have limited access to healthy foods.

“Seventeen percent of all Virginians live in food deserts,” noted Virginia first lady Dorothy McAuliffe, the summit’s keynote speaker. “Local agricultural economic development opportunities are crucial” to correcting that.

The summit was sponsored by 16 organizations, including the Virginia Farm Bureau Federation, the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, Virginia Cooperative Extension, the Virginia Department of Health and the Virginia Foundation for Agriculture Innovation & Rural Sustainability.

Ben Greene, owner of The Farmery in Raleigh, N.C., shared his solution to food deserts—portable gardens housed in shipping containers. Greene created the CropBox, a portable garden container that allows urban farmers to “grow food in people’s neighborhoods.”

The Farmery is a collection of four CropBoxes, a retail store, a kitchen and a dining/entertainment area. “It’s farm-to-fork with science mixed in,” Greene explained.

Inside CropBoxes, hydroponic systems are used to grow vegetables and herbs on each wall, leaving a middle aisle for customers to come in and pick the produce. CropBoxes use 90 percent less water than conventional and greenhouse cultivation and 80 percent less fertilizer. One acre of crops can be grown in 320 square feet.

At the Harding Street Community Agriculture Center in Petersburg, conference attendees learned that aquaponic and hydroponic systems combined with aeroponic growing towers will enable the center to sell produce daily to people currently without access to fresh foods.

“This is to provide a healthy food supply for inner city residents,” said Duron Chavis, the center’s director.

Conference attendees also toured one of Tricycle Gardens’ urban operations and the Jerusalem Connection Community Garden. Tricycle Gardens are community gardens where members rent small plots of land to grow food for themselves and beautify their neighborhoods.

The Jerusalem Connection garden produces fruits and vegetables in two greenhouses and 31 raised-bed gardens and serves as a food distribution hub. The harvest is donated to local food pantries and community organizations and sold at farm stands in areas identified as food deserts.

Summit participants also heard from Ben Flanner, president of Brooklyn Grange Farm in New York, the largest rooftop soil farm in the United States. The farm grows more than 50,000 pounds of produce annually.

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