August 23, 2012

ENVS Blog: Alum Tackles Urban Farming in the Desert

Rosanne Wielemaker (‘11) discusses her evolving views of urban agriculture post-graduation.

With graduate school approaching quickly, I find myself reflecting upon the last couple of years that have led me to where I am now. I realize (again) how important the interdisciplinary structure of the Environmental Studies Program at Lewis & Clark was to finding my niche and providing the tools with which I could pursue my interests.  

During my undergraduate research through the Environmental Studies Program, I delved into issues surrounding urban metabolism, more specifically, issues in food production and waste generation. However, my final and most important inquiries at L&C included theoretical and analytical studies of urban agriculture, a rising socio-spatial initiative for alternative productive urban landscapes. Questions regarding the disconnect between urban dwellers and the origins of their food, and moreover the social and environmental implications of the agricultural system upon which urban dwellers depend, directed my research initially. I read books and articles, traveled to Havana, Cuba to conduct independent research and spoke with local farmers to understand various perspectives of the urban farming initiative. Curious to the utopian imaginations that fueled the future visions for urban agriculture I encountered in my research, I decided to focus my undergraduate thesis on precisely the nexus of urban agriculture and the utopian imagination. 

After all, I too had developed a utopian ideal about the role of agriculture within the urban landscape. In fact, one of the great things about L&C is that it allows you to ponder large ideas and dream. However, after graduating from L&C, I wanted to spend a year testing my convictions about urban agriculture. I wanted to practice what I had studied theoretically, and not just by volunteering occasionally, but by committing completely to urban farming at the ground level. Considering Portland’s dedication to the local food movement, I probably should have stuck around after college, but Jim Proctor’s question from class discussions on solving environmental problems lingered: “But what about Phoenix”?

So I moved to the desert.

Ok, maybe I had alternate reasons for moving to Phoenix, but I did see it as a healthy challenge to exercise urban agriculture in a place where it’s not as common as in Portland. In August of 2011, I moved to Phoenix (in 115°F weather) to join the small, but slowly upcoming local food movement working for a family run business, Farmyard LLC. Farmyard produces local, organically grown produce for subscription CSA (community supported agriculture) baskets and installs and maintains edible gardens in residential and public settings. I spent hours planting and harvesting organic produce under the Arizona sun and had opportunities to educate and plant with children at schools and with families at their homes.

It was a grand experience [and I’m not just saying that because my bosses might read this]. I think it was the perfect stepping-stone to my upcoming graduate study. Starting next month I’ll be joining the Landscape Architecture and Planning Master’s at Wageningen University in Holland, specializing in Spatial Planning. This time I will be approaching urban agriculture from a new perspective.