Carrot City: Creating Places for Urban Agriculture

Reviewed by: Megan Herod
Carrot City book review A\J AlternativesJournal.ca Carrot City \ Mike Gorgolewski, June Komisar and Joe Nasr

Why is our food grown so far away from where we live? Why do we classify farms as rural and cities as urban? Carrot City dismantles the social constructs between these two halves of the same whole, and others: yards and gardens, industrial and agricultural practices, organic and conventional, producers and consumers. The authors argue that the practices and attitudes separating cities from their food sources are responsible for the most significant challenges affecting society today, including climate change, poverty, obesity and resource insecurity.

Carrot City’s overarching solution is to redefine what it means to live in a city by integrating food production into the built environment. Through fascinating case studies and vibrant images that showcase the appeal and diversity of urban gardens, the book aims to prove that, “There is no dichotomy between the beautiful yard and the edible landscape; they can be one and the same.”

The book divides urban agriculture projects into five main themes: “Imagining the Productive City”; “Building Community and Knowledge”; “Redesigning the Home”; “Producing on the Roof”; and “Components for Growing.” Each section profiles innovative communities, ongoing ventures or elaborate plans for a sustainable future. Many of the case studies are clustered around Toronto, Vancouver and New York, which allows Carrot City to challenge the demonization of urban development by demonstrating that even the environmentalist’s worst nightmare – the dreaded suburb – can foster biodiversity rather than destroy it. Likewise, industrial parks, often vilified as urban scars, are reimagined as “Agroparks,” or mechanisms of food production and distribution that completely overturn the idea of industrial ecology.

Using vivid graphical and literary imagery, the authors introduce incredible and attainable projects that not only promote edible landscapes, but also energy neutrality and sustainable lifestyles. Food miles become food metres when consumers pick produce grown right inside the supermarket. Rooftops can be repurposed as classroom gardens. Single-family homes can be reengineered to become closed-loop systems that mimic natural processes. Encouragingly, many of these projects are already a part of the fabric of our cities, and we all may have unknowingly walked past them without appreciating their splendor.

Carrot City also illustrates how urban agriculture transcends social class divides. The urban elite can redesign their homes to reduce their environmental footprint and add a rooftop garden, but people living in subsidized housing in Toronto’s low-income Regent Park area can do so too. The potential of urban agriculture in surprising landscapes is also covered. In the small community of Inuvik, for example, the local hockey arena was turned into a huge and vibrant community greenhouse, the closest one to the Arctic Circle in North America. In the slums of Nairobi in Kenya, people cope with land shortages by growing their food using a technique known as “a farm in a sack.”

We can all be part of this movement. There is room in urban agriculture for sophistication and also for simplicity, and all that is required is creativity and a willingness to get your hands dirty. Old tires, used containers and plastic bags are gardens waiting to grow. A child’s swimming pool can be filled with dirt, planted with herbs or flowers.

Carrot City will resonate with city planners and architects, but also with anyone willing to imagine the full growth potential of cities. It matters not who you are – artist, visionary, backyard farmer, guerilla gardener, engineer or parent. As the authors argue, one day soon, “It may be as unusual to find a city without productive urban landscapes as it would be today to find a house without plumbing.”

Carrot City: Creating Places for Urban Agriculture, Mike Gorgolewski, June Komisar and Joe Nasr, New York: The Monacelli Press, 2011, 240 pages

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Reviewer Information

Megan Herod is an urban garden enthusiast and an undergraduate student at the University of Waterloo.

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