Food for Thinkers: Five Borough Farm

Nevin Cohen is tilling new soil: He's designing New York City's first-ever comprehensive plan for urban agriculture.

Urban Omnibus is a smart website. It's one of the few places on the internet dedicated to examining the city (in this case, New York City) in terms of its guts: shedding light on invisible urban processes, such as the bottom-up phenomena of Naturally Occurring Retirement Communities, and exploring municipal infrastructure networks, like the masterplanned Staten Island Bluebelt, a network of ecologically significant wetlands. Thus, as the Omnibus' Varick Shute explains:
For us, writing about food means writing about systems; it means writing about the citywide implications of certain supply, distribution, and consumption choices; it means analyzing the complex interplay between infrastructure, land use, policy, ecology, healthy, community engagement, education, water systems, waste systems, and design. Fortunately, there is a project in the works that touches on all the many facets of what we like to talk about when we talk about food and the built environment of New York: Five Borough Farm.

So, for Food for Thinkers week, the Urban Omnibus has published a brand-new interview with Nevin Cohen, the Five Borough Farm Policy Fellow in charge of developing New York City's first comprehensive, city-wide plan for urban agriculture. As you can imagine, this is an almost impossibly complex task: somehow, sites as diverse as community gardens, compost heaps, rooftop farms, edible schoolyards, green markets, and more have to be measured and analyzed in terms of their ecological value, harvest volume, community significance, and economic impact.

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Two years ago, Peter Rothbart was riding through Seattle on his bike. He came to a traffic circle. In the center was a 15-by-20-foot patch of soil where the city allows residents to garden. A man was standing there, looking down at a sorry-looking bunch of plants that had been run over and obliterated by a late-night driver. Later that evening, Rothbart went to a barbecue and overheard a woman talking about how she had an expansive lawn that she didn’t have time to take care of. “What if that guy could garden her land?” he said. “It just seemed like a good idea.”

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