The day finally arrived, I am officially selling my shirts made from pillowcases at a store in SoMa called The Common. Monday night I invited a few friends to the store & celebrated the shirts debut. Did I take pictures? You betchya. I took my growing inventory of pillowcase photos as a sign to get my online act together and create a separate page for Found & Lolafied so tonight, I did just that. If you go to the ‘events’ tab you can see photos from the night.

I’m very excited about today’s interview, as it offers insight into the wonderful and complex world of sustainable design in the corporate sector. I was fortunate enough to connect with Adam Menter, Sustainability Design Consultant for Autodesk and get his insight into this essential aspect of business. Get ready to learn some things worth talking and tweeting about.

LC: Sustainability projects work to incorporate economic, social, and ecological factors into design. From your experience working in the corporate sector, do one of these elements always dominate and influence the objective of the project, are they considered evenly, or does it depend on the scope of that particular project?


AM: Economic factors usually trump others. If it doesn’t make financial sense to make a sustainability-related investment, you either need a darn good reason to do it or a lot of spending money. Then, depending on the situation – and its potential risk and/or upside to the company – social and environmental factors may be equally likely to dominate.
LC: I was at the Autodesk gallery about a month ago. There is just so much innovation in one place, like a physical snapshot of Moore’s Law. What is it like working in an atmosphere with such cutting edge technology and what type of projects are you able to execute as a result of the accessibility to these technological resources?

AM: It’s great to work at a place that has the opportunity to really improve how we build and make things. If you look at almost everything around you – from the building you’re sitting in, to the chair you’re sitting in – it could have been designed with Autodesk software. Our software products enable new and important innovations. Most of the things you saw at the Autodesk gallery weren’t made by Autodesk. They were made by the engineers, architects, and designers who are our customers. But as our software gets better-and-better, it helps those customers work in new and better ways. 

Building Information Modeling (BIM) is when a digital model of a building is enriched with information to help make better decisions about how it’s

designed and built. For example, information about the thermal properties of a building can be combined with weather data to help predict and improve its energy efficiency. Integrated Project Delivery (IPD) is a contractual way of aligning incentives between building owners, architects, engineers, and contractors that reduces waste and improves the quality of the building. IPD would be possible without BIM – but BIM tools make the IPD process more effective by helping different design disciplines work together more closely to improve the efficiency of a building.

So, in short, I’m most excited when our customers use our tools to continue to raise the bar on what constitutes good design practice. Sustainable design is good design in that it leads to the most effective use of energy, materials, and other resources.

 


LC: When it comes to solar panel designs, would you suggest it is more beneficial to analyze and improve existing designs, or to start from scratch to create a cheaper, lighter, more mobile unit? Does this rule of thumb translate to other sustainable designs as well?

I am not an expert in solar panel design, but it’s always beneficial to think of new approaches and novel ways of solving problems. You don’t always need to start from scratch – but it’s important to think about the whole system and be deliberate about looking for inspiration from other fields. Both of these things can lead to unexpected breakthroughs. Biomimicry has been a hot topic in sustainability in recent years. Biomimicry is essentially a disciplined search for design inspiration from the fields of biology and ecology. 

I’m currently working on an education initiative to teach engineers the principles and practice of sustainable design. Because Whole Systems thinking is so fundamental to sustainable design, we included it as one of the first topic areas on our new educational platform: The Autodesk Sustainability Workshop.

 

LC: You are co-organizer of the GreenerMind Summit, which connects sustainability professionals. It allows them to share ideas, and more importantly act upon them. The motto as I am told is ‘Just Fucking Do It’ (I love it). What made this summit so successful and what is in the works for another event?  

Three key things that made the Greenermind Summit successful were: 
1) The location
. We got away from civilization and spent two uninterrupted days in the woods – connecting with each other, having meaningful conversations, cooking together, and having fun. No cell phones and no internet.

2) The attendees. The folks who came were working on interesting projects and had meaningful things to contribute. They had both a love for ideas and an appreciation that ideas can only get you so far without action. Also, the Greenermind Summit was an outgrowth of Net Impact San Francisco – so the majority of people there had a very concrete grounding in business.

3) The vibe. We got people out of their comfort zones early – and set a tone that allowed attendees bring their whole selves to the conference. From the opening “ice-breaker” activity to the final morning’s time for introspection, we pushed the attendees to be at their best and bring-out the best in others. In the end, serious discussions of work projects and creative ideas to solve our environmental & societal problems went hand-in-hand with volleyball games, smores around the campfire, and late-night dance parties.

In January we’re planning for a 6-month reunion. One of the things we’ll do is talk about the projects and actions that were catalyzed at the Summit. In June, we’ll host the second annual Greenermind Summit back up in the Mendocino Woodlands.

Thanks Adam! Now we know what industry leaders like Autodesk are doing on the sustainability frontier, and are able to gain some insight into how technology-based innovation ties into sustainable design.

This is what it’s like at the RAN office everyday. Also, this how we celebrate ‘Thanks’ giving. Yea, we all have pretty good dance moves.

There are many ways to celebrate the holidays. Whether you are a earth-killing gremlin, an average socially responsible Joe, or a earth-loving guardian it is important to strike a balance and remember what’s important. Listed below are ideas for all types of people of the world (although I really hope no one is an earth killer!) It is possible to enjoy environmentally while having fun with family, friends, food, wine, and catchphrase.

Earth-Killers: Keep the roast beef, and lamb, and turkey. Throw the veggies in the garbage. Ew, greens.

Earthlings: Keep the turkey, ditch the roast beef.

Earth-Lovers: Keep the veggies, did you say tofurkey?

Earth-Killers: Throw away all leftovers. Tupperware? What’s that?

Earthlings: Put everything in BPA approved containers. Keep enough in the fridge for your gravy-grabbin’ & pie-pickin’ friends. Put the rest in the freezer for the next few weeks. Nom Nom Nom.

Earth-Lovers: Calculate exactly how much food you’ll need and how much leftovers you want. Then ensure you have enough BPA containers for each guest to give them a doggie bag. Keep all the scraps and compost the hell out of it.

Earth-Killers: Use plastic forks & knives, and throwaway plates. Boo-yah plants and animals! Your homes will be landfills.

Earthlings: Only bring out the fine china if you have to. Wash as many things through the dishwasher as possible, and use cloth napkins. Use two kitchen towels instead of 1 towel and 25 paper towels to clean up your mess. If you’re like me, you’re going to have a mess at some point.

Earth-Lovers: Use only dishwasher safe plate-ware. Cloth everything. Don’t switch out plates between courses, just a quick rinse. And I mean quick.

Earth-Killers: Put your Christmas and holiday lights up on Friday, and keep them on and bright until New Years. You can never be too festive.

Earthlings: Get some energy efficient lights & turn them off when it is bed time. Available at:  Amazon.com, GreenHome.com or EnergyFederation.com

Earth-Lovers: Round up some youngins’ and draw pictures of candles on recycled paper. Put them in the windows, and save them for next year.

What a great way to finish up the week! Today’s interview is with Tyler Gage, a founder of Runa organic tea. Runa is made in Ecuador from guayusa (why-YOU-sah) leaves which has been cultivated and used by the Kichwa tribe for thousands of years. Today’s interview is all about how Runa operates from the support of the Kichwa people while respecting and honoring their culture. Meet Tyler, learn about Runa, and get ready to drink some really good tea ’cause this triple bottom line practicing, community enhancing, and industry re-defining company is showing you how it’s done.

LC: How does Runa tie into supporting the cultural heritage of the Kichwa?

TG: At its core, Runa is not “helping” but rather “buying, training, and connecting”. Wain Collen, Education Director of Fundación Pachamama, emphasizes that “NGOs who aim to ‘help’ indigenous communities most often end up causing more problems than they solve.” Similarly, Comuna San Jacinto President Antonio Vargas, said, “We don’t need more workshops, we need markets and people to buy our goods.”

We support the cultural heritage of the Kichwa people by providing a market.  This sounds off and contradictory I know.  However, in practice, economic forces drive development.

I find it very important to highlight that Kichwa culture is, by nature, evolutionary.  I see that many westerners picture these “pristine” communities that haven’t changed for thousands of years, living in “pristine” environments.  While there are many ancient and beautiful parts of Kichwa culture and spectacular tracks of primary forest, the very practice of drinking guayusa in early morning ceremonies is quickly dying while over 3% of the Ecuadorian Amazon is cut down every year.  The culture itself is woven into the environment, an ever-changing, ever-evolving place.  As a shamanic people, the Kichwa people maintain close relationships with their environment, one that used to include jaguars and now includes more tractors and tourists.  So, they continue evolving.

Rather than preserving or conserving a historical concept of culture, Runa offers the Kichwa people viable, sustainable, and fulfilling opportunities to live valued lives in the globalized world to which they are inextricably bound.

LC: As Runa expands, do you think it will still remain sustainable? Are there enough farmers  and guayusa plants to meet demand as operations increase?

TG: Guayusa requires the shade of other trees in order to grow.  It is a crop that cannot be produced in monocrop plantations, and thrives in a biodiverse forest ecosystem.  Even as demand grows our organic agroforestry model will stay the same.

Runa recently received a generous grant from USAID to reforest 1200 acres of degraded lands with guayusa agroforests.  We are planting guayusa with food crops, medicinal plots and hardwood trees, so that farmers can have additional income, forest ecosystems are rebuilt, and of course, Runa has guayusa to bring to market. 

LC: I read that the Kichwa use agriculture for consumption more than for income. Most of their work is through manual labor and growing guayusa can give them the opportunity to double or triple their income. Has this occurred? How does this affect the future generations of the Kichwa people?

TG: The Amazonian Kichwa communities we work with  have already met the market.  Or rather, the market has met them in a way that is largely disempowering and culturally invasive.  Runa’s goal is to facilitate access to capital markets in a way that gives the Kichwa people money to feed the family and send their children to school, and resources to invest in their own development.

LC: Runa supports 600 farming families in the Amazon. Has this number grown? As more adults are employed and earning higher wages, how has this affected their offspring? Have you noticed any shifts in education?

TG: To date, we have been able to raise 300 farmers income by 25% each.  Most farmers have been using this money to buy staple foods and for school expenses (uniforms, transport, books).  The average monthly income for a farming family is $30 to $70 / month, and every day we pay three different farmers $35 each for fresh guayusa leaves.

LC: Does it ever become difficult to run a company with the People Planet Profit leading the way, and why do you think most companies are still so tied to running the B with with one bottom line instead of three?

TG: Undoubtedly its more difficult. More stakeholders, more priorities, more balance required, more communication required, more levels to think about constantly.  On the flip side, it’s more fulfilling, more sustainable, more exciting, and more participatory.

Our advisors and industry experts continue to remind us that above all, we need to run a successful business, regardless of how social it is.  Without a strong, successful business we can’t generate any benefits for anyone.

LC: What gets you up in the morning?

TG: Guayusa.  Literally. Or one of my dogs, Noé or Penelopé. I also like getting to the office early to have a calm space to plan and work on our business.

LC: Upon the start of Runa, the core mission was to connect producers with consumers. As the company develops and grows, has the mission been redefined at all?

TG: Good question.  Not really.  Our specific goals have become more consolidated around economic opportunities and market facilitation, rather than broader “let’s help the Kichwa people any way we can.”  We recognize this component as the major white space that Runa fills, and the decided strength of our team and business model.

LC: I read that there is a 20% bonus given to farmers for the purpose of implementing health and education projects. Have you gained matching funds from NGO’s or the Ecuadorian government?

TG: The matching fund strategy is the future strategic plan. We’re still in the early stages of implementing this fair trade social premium (actually 15%), and will continue to leverage this resource as a powerful tool for the farmer associations.

LC: Runa is sold in Whole Foods stores in the Mid-Atlantic region and through your website. Do you ship to anywhere in the US, say, for the holidays?

TG: Yes!  We have a new Amazonian Holiday Gift Basket that we’re proud to offer. We ship all products throughout the US.

Thank you Tyler! What a wonderful way to kick-start the holiday season on a high note. This company is living proof that it is possible to have a great product that enhances the environment in-which it came from. The tea also tastes pretty damn good.

Follow Runa on Twitter!

There’s been a lot going on these days. Below are some updates on the current projects I’m working on. It is all very exciting and couldn’t happen without the support of all y’all. Thank you.

Official Consumer Guide is Released : The Rainforest Action Network’s forests team takes their campaign public by pointing out the leaders and laggards in the publishing industry. Which publishers are actively contributing to rainforest destruction? Click here to download the pocket guide OR the full report. Great for holiday shopping if you only plan on killing one tree this year.

PlantMyPhone Blog Launch : Less than a week about PlantMyPhone launched the blog ‘More Than Just Talk’. It highlights the movers and shakers in the environmental industry, bring people together through community involment, and enlighten the world about eco-living. Today’s post is an interview I did with Robin Averbeck (campaign manager for RAN’s forest team), to give insight into the exciting and ever-changing life of a campaigner.

TechCentralSF Launch : I had nothing to do with the site prior to it going live,  but I’ll be at the launch party tonight and will be a contributor from there on out. TechCentralSF is an amazing new site categorizes, supports, and unites start-ups that fall under the high tech, biotech, and green tech sectors. Can you guess which sector I’m covering? Thaaat’s right. Green tech.

So while I am bzzy-beeing, I am also working to release some riveting interviews for the upcoming weeks. So many amazing people and companies out there! I love learning about them, and can’t wait to share their stories with you.

It IS America Recycles Day. The one, the only. If you are interested in finding out more info on what today is all about, feel free to check out America Recycles Day, Are You American? a post I wrote for the official blog of PlantMyPhone.

Otherwise, get some of my favorite quick recycling facts below. 
(If you are using these for research, contact me and I will supply you with all the sourcing information.) Enjoy!

  • Americans throw out enough iron and steel to supply all the nation’s automakers on a continuous basis.
  • The 36 billion aluminum cans landfilled last year had a scrap value of more than $600 million. (Some day we’ll be mining our landfills for the resources we’ve buried.)
  • Every year we make enough plastic film to shrink-wrap Texas.
  • Americans throw away enough aluminum every month to rebuild our entire commercial air fleet.
  • Recycling paper instead of making it from new material generates 74 percent less air pollution and uses 50 percent less water.
  • Recycling steel and tin cans saves 74% of the energy used to produce them.
  • Each of us uses approximately one 100-foot-tall Douglas fir tree in paper and wood products per year.
  • Recycling 1 ton of paper saves 17 mature trees, 7,000 gallons of water, 3 cubic yards of landfill space, 2 barrels of oil, and 4,100 kilowatt-hours of electricity — enough energy to power the average American home for five months.
  • Just over 48% of office paper is recovered for recycling. This becomes raw material for paperboard, tissue, and printing and writing papers.
  • Recycling aluminum saves 95% of the energy needed to produce new aluminum from raw materials. Energy saved from recycling one ton of aluminum is equal to the amount of electricity the average home uses over 10 years.
  • When you toss out one aluminum can you waste as much energy as if you’d filled the same can half-full of gasoline and poured it into the ground.

 

It’s that time again! Our Featured Friday guest is environmental cartoonist Joe Mohr. As you’ll learn, Joe is skilled with words, wit, and illustration. In addition, he’s keeping bee colonies on lockdown and making some tasty honey, which will eventually be sold through Backdoor Harvest. Okay L&O readers, get ready to giggle away in the greenest way.

LC: Your cartoons address a wide audience. Whether you are hoping to resonate with kids, politicians, or the everyday person what main messages do you want to convey?

JM: I want to resonate with all of the above. I want people to make it a habit to consider how each choice they make impacts the environment. I’d like to see more respect in general. Respect for the earth and one another. Oh, and I want to make people laugh…or smile, or smirk.


LC: One of my favorite line of cartoons that you create is Hank D and the Bee. Hank D ties environmental issues to everyday topics in the wittiest of ways. What initially inspired you to create these characters?

JM: I’ve always wanted to be a children’s author and illustrator. As I continually work towards that goal I began a weekly environmental/political cartoon about 3 years ago (Thanks to Jeff McIntire-Strasburg of Sustainablog and Tim Hurst of Ecopolitology). Doing that is fun, but my desire is to entertain and educate kids, so about a year ago I came up with Hank D and the Bee and pitched it to Jennifer Lance of EcoChildsPlay and Derek Markham of NaturalPapa. They both were excited about Hank and post the cartoon on Thursdays . They are both such kind and hard working people.

In creating Hank D and the Bee I was hoping for a ‘green’ kids cartoon that could both educate and entertain. Hank has changed a bit since his inception one year ago. He’s gotten a little more lean and a little less mean. I’m trying to make the green message a bit less overt. I’m having so much fun with it! I look forward to pitching the cartoon series to syndicates soon. I know it’s niche, but I don’t think environmental topics are niche–they’re life.

LC: My favorite is ‘Not Much of a Ladies Man‘. I’m going to use that the next time I go out and get ‘hollered’ at. Have you ever heard of anyone using this reasoning in real life?

JM: Kinda. I read a lot about every environmental topic and overpopulation is written on regularly. I agree with the obvious fact that people have a negative impact on the earth and the more of them the worse the impact, yet I have 2 kids. I adore my wife and could not imagine a world without our 2 children in it. I don’t think that creating loving, respectful, happy people will negatively impact any place.

Also, I hope Hank finds love some day and has little Hanklets…

LC: ‘Dances With the Moon‘ does a great job of addressing macro issues our earth is facing. If the moon were to offer any tidbits of advice what do you think it would be?

JM: If Moon had one thing to say she would stand erect, breathe in deep, and yell at the top of her lungs “I have no oil, water, coal or gold!” Then she should be OK to go about her business in  peace… unless she added “…but I have beer!”

LC: On a semi-related note- you are a bee keeper! That is awesome news for everyone, considering our current situation. Is there any potential for a ‘Mind-Your-Own Green Joe’s Beeswax & Honey’ product in the future? If so, can I call dibs on some jars o’ honey?

JM: You got it. I keep bees with my sister-in-law Marsha. She and my sister Melissa founded Backdoor Harvest 2 years ago. Backdoor Harvest installs and maintains organic vegetable gardens for very cool customers. They are expanding from backyards to rooftops, vertical gardens, chickens, bees, etc… We will eventually sell our excess through Backdoor Harvest. I’m excited to get to the point where we have more honey than we need and can start making some honey money.

LC: Thanks so much for letting us all get to know you a little bit more! Is there anywhere my readers and I can go to buy some of your cartoons via card & envelope style? My brother’s birthday is coming up, and I’m in the market.

JM: Thanks Lola! Yep, I’ve done a few greeting cards for enGreet.

Thanks Joe! I can’t wait for your kids book to come out so I can call up all my teacher friends and tell them about it-while eating yummy honey.

I went to GreenFest on Sunday to work Rainforest Action Networks Tiki The Tiger booth in the Kids Zone. Everything about the day was awesome, especially watching little munchkins ‘rrROAR!’ like Tiki during story time. Our booth had tiger masks, stickers, and bookmarks. Needless to say my comrade Hillary and I made a lot of little friends.

It was a great day, I hung out with some of my favorite interviewees! I caught up with Karine Brighten, and scoped out her beautiful eco-friendly event planning booth, and I also bumped into Brandon Neustadter, founder of Tiagu.

Highlights for me:

The IndoSole booth- shoes made with recycled motorcycled tires. Bad. Ass. They look great too.

Drinking some Jamsa’s Food drink called Max’s Nectar. SO good. I felt like I was in Central or South America drinking a freshly made drink. Ahh, I’m craving one right now.

Hearing Numi Co-Founders speak about their labor of love to bring their delicious organic tea to the world.

Not only did I see, hear, and drink the good stuff, I made a lot of new friends. Woop woop. Check out Tiki’s blog, there will be pictures from the day posted soon.

Going back to my old stomping grounds, today’s Featured Friday is all about NYC, and a man that is transforming the landscape. Derek Denckla is all about bringing the green to urban living. Whether it be through architecture or agriculture, he’s moving things forward in a big way. Check. It. Out.

LC: Derek, you are involved in so many projects. Did you have an ah-ha! moment when you realized that it was your mission to change the way in which we live, to make ‘sustainable’ and ‘conservation’ household terms?

DD: I did not really have an “aha moment.”  I became energized by the possibilities for small businesses — particularly non-profits involved in the arts; to walk-the-walk of environmental talk.  This idea led me to undertake projects that push the envelope on “triple bottom line” projects at a scale that can be easily understood and modestly achieved.

We can debate all day about the comparative carbon footprints of ethanol versus bio-diesel but, ultimately, both of these industrial processes are remote from our everyday understanding.  I think that some of the disturbing climate change denial backlash arises from a frustration over the diversity of the causes of environmental problems and the variety of the potential solutions thereto.

The complexity of interrelated forces acting on our planet can be overwhelming for people to grasp.  So, rather than try to absorb the complexity, many people feel compelled to simply reject it.  It’s like when several people are talking to you at the same time, you might get frustrated and say “Shut up!”  I respect the source of that frustration, as I sometimes share it, so I always approach green projects with a sense of awe, humility and discovery, trying to learn about every detail so that I can evaluate it and summarize its value to others.  I find that the traditional bottom line helps concentrate this effort — if I can tell you why a certain green project is worth money and time, then I have successfully communicated the core value of my work.

LC: As a former Williamsburg resident, I am especially intrigued by your company Propeller Group. What exactly is Greenbelt and how does it affect NYC residents? Why is this important for the world?

DD: Propeller Group is my consulting practice that focused on helping emerging and small non-profit arts groups undertake major business decisions, largely related to real estate leases, purchases and renovations.  From my experience consulting with arts groups, I began to see a pattern where artists where priced out of neighborhoods, like Williamsburg, after many years contributing to making the place desirable to outsiders.  The presence of an art community tends to drive up the property values for both artists and long-term residents, leading to displacement of both groups and a homogenization of the neighborhood by the incoming “gentry”.  In short, that process is a particularly NY variation on “gentrification” which has happened before in places like SoHo and Tribeca and DUMBO.  The most striking — and sad — aspect of the oft-repeated scenario is that the “gentry” have usually sought out the hot new area precisely because of the presence of the arts community even though, ironically, their condos and higher rents cause displacement.

Seeing a potential silver lining to this advancing cloud in 2004, I approached some like-minded partners, like architect Greg Merryweather and some other social investors, to see if we could craft a project that made living space for neighborly newcomers while retaining sizeable, affordable space for the arts.  Our means were modest, so we could not also carve out affordable housing from the same whole, although we wished we could.  The project was only 14,000 SF (the size of some McMansions!) with 4,000 SF for the arts and 10,000 for eight new residents.  From the outset, Greenbelt sought to demonstrate that these two groups — condo buyers and artists — could co-exist in a project that honored their mutual desire to be in the same place — while making a decent profit as well.

As we were working out the details of how to merge an arts space with a residential condo, we were also thinking about Williamsburg’s history as an industrial waste dumping ground.  In the 1990s, I had taken part in protests led by Neighbors Against Garbage where the Kent Street waterfront and the area surrounding it were referred to as the “Toxic Mile.”  Given that recent history, I thought it was incumbent on any new development to address environmental impacts in an area so scarred by man-made ecological damage.

Green urban residential buildings are still a relatively new phenomenon.  Greenbelt was the first LEED Gold building certified in Brooklyn. It is one of only five residential projects certified to date in a borough with literally tens of thousands of new construction permits filed each year.  Prior to Greenbelt,  most green buildings were expensive and massive corporate towers or single family private residences.  At the same time, so many artists with whom I worked yearned for a way for their work to address sustainability but so many of them worked in a way that was environmentally problematic.  By bringing green building to a relatively affordable and neighborhood scale for an artspace and neighborhood homeowners, we conveyed the message that environmental change was possible at every level.

Our building and other pioneer projects, like LEED Platinum Silhouette, have helped catalyze a transparency of information for consumers where developers — LEED seekers or not — now feel somewhat compelled to identify “green” features of their projects.  This expectation of environmental relevance for residential construction comes about through market leaders — like Greenbelt — which take exponentially bigger risks for the sake of belief in an ideal.

LC: So not only are you creating sustainable buildings, but you are transforming existing spaces into agricultural havens. Where can examples of the Capital B project be found? Can city dwellers follow this example? Any advice for the folks faced with lack-of-space?

DD: Capital B was a project born in the boom and hatched in the bust.  Initially, we conceived of Capital B as launching a planning process that would gather community forces together to help prevent Bushwick from becoming the next Williamsburg — developed hastily and curtailing its character as a haven for the arts and affordable housing.

Our community discussions revolved around issues of vacant lots, half-finished developments, empty new buildings and problems of that nature.  From that mix of messy real estate issues, I looked to the 1970s for inspiration when neighborhood groups faced similar problems of “urban blight.”  Surveys taken by Capital B yielded universal concern about litter and need for safe, accessible open space.  In my experience, community gardens have provided the quickest and most effective way to make an eyesore into a thing of beauty.

However, Community Gardens require group consensus and a lot of volunteer time.  I began to wonder if there was some way to devise of another Triple Bottom Line project for green urban spaces by growing and selling food.  TheGreenest.Net was launched in October 2009 in an effort to investigate the status of urban agriculture and the possibility for alternative investment in its future growth.

Capital B laid out a process that any community can follow.
Basically, Capital B was a neutral-convener of Town Hall meetings.  Even when politicians hold such Town Hall meetings, they are seeking support for existing ideas or future candidacy.  Capital B removed the Town Hall from this political context.  So, if you want to replicate Capital B, simply create an unincorporated neighborhood association and then gather interested parties in a room with a cross section of incomes and backgrounds to talk about the future of the neighborhood.

The result will be an amazing sharing of ideas and information while networking in a safe and comfortable environment outside of established business, personal and professional circles.  Sometimes the Chamber of Commerce can play this role in small towns.  However, it tips too far in favor of business interests.  NYC’s major problem is that it is a City of neighborhoods run as if it is a cohesive megalopolis.  The boundaries and constituencies of NYC’s neighborhood are fluid and shifting, so a project like Capital B may be necessary every few years as a local way to define the physical and social limitations in which we all agree to be neighbors.

LC: In reference to Farm City being a utopian solution. You said ‘Brooklyn is home to a fertile cross section of both traditional and experimental urban farming methods.’ How does Farm City help to create this urban utopia?

DD: Initially, Farm City began as an idea for a micro-loan investment fund to support the growth of urban agriculture. Most of the projects I investigated were highly experimental and exciting but not yet investment-ready.  Motivated by a desire to see urban agriculture mature, I wanted to “invest” in urban agriculture in a different way — by promoting its growth and its profile with the public rather than looking for a place to park high risk capital.  For me, the social and educational aspect of urban agriculture equal the importance of any food or income that might be grown within the City limits.

Farm City was launched with the support of the most unlikely of partners, French Institute Alliance Française (FIAF).  For the past few years, FIAF has held a Fall festival of the arts called, Crossing the Line, curated by Lili Chopra and Simon Dove.  Crossing the Line seeks to engage in projects, performances and events that surmount traditional cultural and disciplinary boundaries in the hope that fertile new ideas and imaginings will come of a unique mixture.

From that inspiration, I began planning Farm City events that explored the intersection between art and urban agriculture, spanning celebrations to conversations in four different events: Farm City Fair, Farm City Film, Farm City Tours, and finally Farm City Forum.  Other collaborators approached me and I expanded Farm City to include an art exhibition, Brooklyn Utopias: Farm City, and various other Farm City events.

FIAF is based in Manhattan.  They asked me where Farm City events should be held.  Without hesitation, I answered “Brooklyn.”  Brooklyn has the highest number of urban farming experiments — from long term successes, like Added Value, to new and untested projects, like Eagle Street Rooftop Farm.  Agriculture is more than just production or farming, it involves the entire food shed: processing, distribution, marketing, sales, retail, consumption and recycling of waste.  The activity at the farms was supported by restaurants in Brooklyn presenting their produce to the public.  As Wendell Berry says “Eating is an Agricultural Act.”

I conceived of Farm City as a central gathering place to connect all of this amazing urban agrarian energy.  All events were intended to create new networks and understandings amongst the farmers, makers and artists while encouraging participants to expand their role in the food system.

Specifically, Farm City events sought to collapse the false distinction between active producer and passive consumer.  We wanted to engage participants in a continuum of agricultural practices — from intensive to easy — that would dazzle their senses and capture their imaginations so that they would feel empowered to grow, to cook, to preserve and to compost themselves.  All of the feedback that I got from attendees was positive, particularly remarking that they had never seen this combination of diverse projects under one program before.  Farm City was able to surprise and excite people and — in that moment of openness — help participants see the world as it could be — a bit more green, loving and thoughtful.

LC: You have a lot going on! It is all so wonderful, it almost makes me want to move back and get my green thumb in on the action! So, Derek what is next? What can we expect for 2012?

DD: Next. Next. Next.  I am still recovering and recording and fundraising.  Anyone interested in supporting what we have done and what we will do, should make a Farm City donation!


At Farm City Forum, Amanda McDonald Crowley, Director of Eyebeam Center for Art and Technology, ended our day of reflection on the future of urban agriculture with the charge pioneers should devote 20% of their time documenting the process of discovery so that others can learn from our successes and failures.

As someone with a fresh and current overview of urban agriculture in NYC, I am really honored that I have recently been invited to speak several times this month, including a talk for architects seeking continuing professional education!  As I talk about the status of urban agriculture, I am also looking to the future of Farm City and how it can best help urban agriculture grow. In that vein, I have been sitting down with artisan food producers to discuss creating an incubator kitchen and market that would allow them to take their businesses to scale.

Farm City has also helped initiate a lot of important and crucial discussions about the future directions for the growth of urban agriculture, which makes me pretty darn happy with our efforts so far. I have been discussing a year-round covered farmer’s market for Brooklyn (like those already underway in Manhattan). An artist with whom I work, has engaged me as a producer for a possible farm installation at a large museum.
When any one of these many possible projects is ready to hatch, I will definitely let you (and the rest of the world) know.  Right now, I am still investigating and exploring possibilities.

Thanks Derek! If you want to keep in the loop on Derek’s upcoming projects you can follow Farm City on Twitter or check out the Farm City Blog.

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