Food, food culture, food as culture and the cultures that grow our food

(Designs of the time)
Urban Farming

January 27, 2007

Projected picnic at the Museum of Modern Art in Middlesbrough © DOTT 07 Urban Farming

Urban regeneration, edible grow zones, kitchen playgrounds and town meals

In many communities fresh fruit and vegetables are hard to source and expensive. There’s little awareness of local food production, the possibility of growing your own and next to no supply chain for existing producers and consumers. Cooking is increasingly evolving into the warming up of processed foods. Supermarkets become the sole suppliers of food to an entire region. Often, there’s an oversupply of multiple retailers. But also there’s often an oversupply of redundant, vacant land. Could communities be more self-sufficient in their food supply? Could this also connect with more sustainable land use and urban design?

In September 2007, Designs of the time (DOTT 07) will host a town meal in Middlesbrough in the North East of England. Attended by several hundred people, the meal will be generated from fruit, vegetable and livestock cultivated by those who live and work in the town using mobile, personalised and containerised kitchen or community gardens. The meal will be based upon recipes generated by the same people that grow the produce, working closely with a professionally staffed cooking facility cum kitchen playground, known as a ‘meal assembly center‚’

A cabbage planter on Middlesbrough's Corporation Rd.

The Urban Farming project will be delivered by existing organisations, agencies and individuals in Middlesbrough. Some elements of the project are new - but many are already going on in the town operating under another name. Since the impulse is to create an enjoyable, sustainable, town-wide initiative, the project will engage with community groups, green-fingered schools, with community cafés, professional farmers, Finance Directors, hands-on mums and dads, hotel kitchen staff, the sales departments of local companies and coaching staff of Middlesbrough Fottball Club. They‚ll create their own gardens or ‘grow zones’ and bring their own food to the table.

What’s the opportunity for longer-term growing of food? How might urban agriculture in such a post-industrial community enable a more sustainable, zero-carbon economy? The project will chart the opportunity for permanent food-growing sites in the town in an opportunity map created by architects Bohn& Viljoen, designers at the forefront of creating what are known as ‘continuous productive urban landscapes’. The town’s new urban farmers will be mentored by a specially assembled team of local experts, made up of allotment holders, professional and amateur horticulturalists, students and domestic gods and goddesses who are already dab hands at growing food and are whisk-wielding wizards in the kitchen.

Impression of a single planter with giant rainbow chard

DOTT 07 is a year of art, design and community based projects devoted to enabling social innovation and make a positive difference to daily lives. Supported by the U.K. Design Council and regional economic development agency One North East, DOTT 07 seeks to enable new work by designers in real-life situations. In Middlesbrough, agriculture, well-being, design and land use are fusing to envisage a new, sustainable future for a place founded on heavy industry.

Senior Producer: David Barrie,
Service Design: Nina Belk, Zest Innovation,
Domain Expert: Debra Solomon,

Middlesbrough UK 2006-2007
A joint initiative between One North East, the Design Council, agencies, organisations, employers, the Third Sector and the people of Middlesbrough, England.

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Liquid chauvinism,
drinking with Muslims

January 22, 2007

you can't drink kefir lassis every single night
Buzzkill’s throwin’ a wrench in my terroir-ism.

From time to time a girlfriend coming over to dinner will burst in the door, plop down her big ‘ol handbag and announce with a performative voice loud enough for all to hear, ‘Oh, and I’ve stopped drinking!’

Pretty much always this means that Girlfriend has stopped drinking for the month of January, or that she’s trying to shed a kilo or two. I have never noticed that these temporary abstentions embrace extreme behaviours like refusing glasses of champagne. ‘Oh, and I only drink champagne!’ And cava and prosecco and cremant.

When this happens I don’t skip a beat. Ceremoniously and performatively I present non-drinking girlfriend with a wine glass full of water or try to make the tea feel fancier than it is. I then proceed to pour myself a wine glass full of wine and forget the matter entirely. Shortly thereafter dinner happens.

But what about the Boyfreund? This jewel of a gentleman dines (yet does not drink) here on an increasingly regular basis! Though his approach to his faith is chaotic and humanistic, (thank Gawd for that) it seems unlikely that he will start drinking beer any time soon like all the other Muslims I know.

He is emphatic about not ‘minding’ if I drink a glass with dinner, but when it’s just the two of us, it feels assymetrical for him to drink water while I enjoy my wine. No amount of hype can make a glass of Amsterdam tap water (deliciously filtered through the sand dunes though it is) seem auspicious and brimming with terroir as my perfect glass of red wine. If I were him, I’d totally lord my moral superiority over everyone at every possible moment. He’s obviously a better man than I could ever be and the opportunity to expand my repetoire of non-alcoholic adult drinks seems to present itself.

‘Oh, and I’m embracing the eradication of liquid chauvinism!’

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Industrial yet green

January 17, 2007

van der Plas Sprouts, sunflower seed sprouts
Sunflower roots make a stab at world take-over

There’s something about the Montessori School poster-child in me that loves a good self-diagnosed field trip. I can never be too busy or have too many double-booked days to find time for some on-topic hookie, leaving the warm and productive nest that is culiblog HQ to head out into the freezing rain and darkness of winter. Yesterday I paid a visit to my sprout sponsor at their massive indoor farming complex in Broek op Langedijk.

van der Plas Sprouts, watering installation for the barely sprouted mung beans
As it is outside so is it inside, only a bit warmer and a smidge darker, a watering installation at van der Plas

At the start of my tour of the sprout works, Rob van der Plas and I were greeted by an employee on a bike. The indoor farm is definitely large enough to need one and for a company that started off sprouting from a single bucket, the scale of their operations is impressive. Although I’m imagining that this is standard for all sprouting installations, I can’t recall having ever been in a cleaner environment. And I have a Jewish mother and have worked with the European Space Agency, so I know what clean is. This place was crazy clean. Confronting, yet clarifying, I was by far the dirtiest thing on-site.

van der Plas Sprouts, soaking the mung beans
The sprouting process begins with a good soak

Van der Plas Sprouts is the Netherlands biggest sprout producer and is in the process of becoming mostly organic. Sprouting seeds, grains and beans on this scale is water-intensive and I asked the brothers van der Plas about their water use. Had they investigated the possibility of implementing grey-water systems? They informed me that they had done some research into the matter only to discover that their grey-water wasn’t really grey enough! Story to be continued, but the northwest of the NL is indeed a water-rich area, so to say that water is dirt cheap would be completely bass-ackwards. In this part of the Polar Circle, water is considerably cheaper than dirt.

van der Plas Sprouts, growing installation for the 'green peez'
Peas, shoots and leaves

van der Plas Sprouts, growing installation for racks of sunflower seeds and 'green peez'
Sunflower seed sprouting on the left, peas on the right

van der Plas Sprouts, some waste, but not very much
Walking up towards the indoor farm, I actually thought that these were decorative planters and only realised much later that this was the ‘waste product’ at the end of the day.

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