Urban Permaculture Part 1: Waste = Food

While I might not be doing a whole lot of posting these days, Andrew Faust is keeping himself busy on the blogosphere. The following is the first piece in a series, cross-posted on Green Brooklyn, on how permaculture principles can apply to urban settings, specifically in NYC.

– Adam 

An Ecological Design View of Brooklyn and New York CityPermaculture works with whole systems integrated ecological design goals. We create designs based on our understandings of how the earth works and what human beings truly need for a high quality of life. As a person practicing and teaching permaculture design in New York City, I describe the goal of permaculture as: to create ecologically intelligent designs for human settlements.

In part we accomplish this by creating more regionally self-sufficient, local economies. I call it retrofitting the infrastructure. Instead of centralized mass production, the commodification of basic necessities and the long distance transportation of goods and energy services, we want to shorten the distance of transmission of all goods and services, this improves quality, efficiency and creates truer food security. In permaculture design we seek to close the loop on linear energy and nutrient flows.

In this series we will look at what these design goals offer in the way of insights and opportunities to improve the quality of life for the citizens of Brooklyn and New York City overall. Some of the key urban permaculture issues we will explore through this series:

  • Bringing ecological design to New York cities infrastructure
  • Water issues, air quality, soil contamination
  • Boosting our vitality and health
  • Creating healthy architecture
  • Greening urban environments
  • Bringing food production, trees and biodiversity back into urban landscapes

In whole systems design analysis everything is interconnected and pollution is a result of an unused excess. We want high urban density areas like New York City and Brooklyn to begin to generate and properly digest some of its vast quantity of imported and exported nutrients. By adopting this goal we will address a range of interconnected realities which I shall outline herein.

Some facts and figures to get us rolling:

  • New York City population: 8,250,567 as of 2006
  • New York City imports 20,000 tons of food a day
  • New York City exports 13,000 tons of trash a day
  • 40% of New York’s trash is organic matter
  • 600 diesel fume spewing tractor trailers a day haul this trash in a nine mile long convoy to New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Michigan and Idaho
  • The average NYC household throws out 2 pounds of organic “waste” a day = 1 million tons a year
  • There are 12,000 vacant lots in New York City which are publicly owned

So let’s connect the dots. The way to improve this highly energy intensive and pollution producing linear flow is to begin composting this organic matter, turning this “waste” into a resource. We need to have accessible and well maintained ways to compost properly throughout New York City and Brooklyn. We need to begin composting on a citywide — as well as individual household — level. Start small and remember one person beginning to compost makes a big difference.

On the 12,000 publicly owned vacant lots we can compost this organic material and start community gardens, biodiversity reserves, tree farms, orchards and small inner city farms.

One of our ideas in Permaculture is that within the problem lies the solution. These are a couple of clear examples of how this works.

In Brooklyn there are many brownfields and other contaminated old industrial sites.

An Ecological Design View of Brooklyn and New York CityOne of the most successful ways to bring back a contaminated site is to begin to introduce living soil (i.e. compost), a diverse vegetative community and mushrooms and fungi. The microbes and enzymes in living soil breakdown a wide range of harmful synthetic chemicals and certain plant species are known to sequester heavy metals, enabling the gathering and reclamation of these metals.

In our upcoming postings on Urban Permaculture we will look at the dynamic processes by which nature provides us with healthy air, water and food. We will look into the many ways to bring these essential ecological elements back into our urban landscapes.

This Urban Permaculture series addresses a range of ecological issues in New York City and Brooklyn and presents permaculture design solutions to these city-wide problems. For more information about Andrew Faust and his Permaculture Design in NYC class, please go to The Center for Bioregional Living at www.homebiome.com.

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