Participants needed for online survey about sustainable urban and peri-urban food provision!

SUPURBFOOD logo

SUPURBFOOD is an international research project carried out by a consortium of ten research and ten SME (small and medium-sized enterprises) partners, in which novel solutions to urban and peri-urban food provision have been examined in three thematic areas. These thematic areas are: (i) nutrient, water and waste cycles, (ii) short food supply chains, and (iii) multi-functional land use. While positive developments are found in all of these, additional steps are needed to make full use of the potential of these innovations. Hence, the project team formulated a set of recommendations and would like to ask relevant stakeholders (e.g. policymakers, entrepreneurs, civil society organisations) for their opinion about their effectiveness. For that purpose an online survey has been launched, which takes 10-15 minutes to complete. If you considers yourself to be a relevant stakeholder, you are kindly requested to complete the online questionnaire, which is available in seven languages: English, Dutch, German, Italian, Latvian, French and Galician.

Interesting forum discussion: Urban and Peri-urban agriculture and short food chains: Lessons from the South

The SUPURBFOOD project (www.supurbfood.eu) is looking to identify experiences from the global South and North with recycling of nutrients, waste and water in urban and peri-urban agriculture, short chain delivery of food in urban and peri-urban areas, and multifunctional agriculture in urban and peri-urban areas in order to enrich South-North exchange and collaboration. We are specifically interested in innovative experiences – with a special focus on the type of business models that were applied, the role of Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) and their sustainability.

This specific discussion will run on the Forum from 4-30 March 2013. Continue reading

Worm farm

Making your own vermiculture or ‘worm farm’ is not very difficult (see the many instructions on internet). Maybe the most difficult bit here is acquiring the right type of worms. The ‘red wiggler’ which you can order by mail in Australia, US or the UK is not available through the mail man in the Netherlands. The manure heap – a left over of last year –  in the corner of our allotment garden proved the solution. The red wiggler likes manure. We dug in and ‘harvested’ around a hundred last year september and again a hundred in the spring. By now we have a healthy population which reproduces and soon we might need to expand our farm or donate worms to a new farm…. Continue reading

Metabolic rift

Organic recycling was part of the urban ecology during the middle ages. “However, as cities grew larger, their self-regulatory ecosystems began to break down” Carolyn Steel writes in her instructive chapter ‘Waste’ in Hungry City (2008:251). “If the ‘filth and muck’ of fourteenth-century Coventry caused a nuisance, that of London, a city 10 times the size, can be readily imagined.” (ibid). The other side of the coin was the state of agriculture, which was facing a rapidly decreasing soil fertility (see earlier blog 18-8). It was what Marx called ‘metabolic rift’ a rift in the metabolism of the human relation to nature through labor which “disturbs the metabolic interaction between man and the earth, i.e. it prevents the return to the soil of its constituent elements consumed by man in the form of food and clothing” he wrote (cited in Foster 1999:379).

Marx was not alone in his opinion and he himself was greatly influenced by Justus von Liebig. Proposals to compost human waste as part of the design of the urban waste disposal system were propagated and sometimes tried in the UK, France and Germany (see Steel chapter Waste) and in the Netherlands (in Groningen see earlier blog 16-8). The sewage system with no in-built recycling won, most of the world sewage is dumped in the ocean untreated. The metabolic rift in terms of Marx widened and its effect is only delayed by chemical fertilizers and global transport. Yet, “nutrients found in sewage are a finite commodity” (Steel 2008: 259). In a few decades when the mines with phosphates are empty and the oil has leaked away in the sea, human sewage will most probably become a valuable resource again.

The household nutrient cycle

Growing plants on the balcony? I do, and tomatoes need lots of fertile soil. Worms make fertile soil for free. In my bicycle shed (typically Dutch I suppose). While in Iowa last year, I was inspired by the ‘urban ag movement’ and I saw an instruction on the cityfarmer website which led me, on return, to close my household nutrient cycle better by composting my own vegetable food scrapes. It took a while to get the right balance in the three-story box that we build out of plastic storage boxes but it is working well now. The worm castings are extremely fertile as is the liquid (their pee and the muck water from the food scrapes). And it is fun, I think, to compost and close part of the cycle in this way.

Back in the 19th century, Marx was worried about disrupted nutrient cycles since large amounts of nutrients were traveling to city and town while none of that returned to the field. During 1830 – 1870 the depletion of the soil fertility was the overriding environmental concern in Europe and the US. Prior to the discovery of chemical fertilizers, bone and Peruvian guano (accumulated dung of sea birds) were massively imported in Britain to relieve soil exhaustion while other countries had to search for alternatives because of the British monopoly on guano (Foster 1999).

“The second agricultural revolution, associated with the application of scientific chemistry to agriculture, was therefore at the same time a period of intense contradictions” Foster (1999:377) writes. The discoveries in soil sciences also made farmers even more acutely aware of the depletion of the soil and the need for fertilizers. Marx understood that soil fertility is “not so natural a quality as might be thought; it is closely bound up with the social relations of the time” (Marx in Foster 1999; 375) captured in his concept of metabolism. His writings about metabolism can be seen as one of the earliest writings on what is now called ‘sustainability’.