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City Agriculture


City Agriculture

Illustration from the proposal for City Agriculture.

Peter Poole coordinated the City Agriculture section of Projects Outside Art. He worked in collaboration with Carl Hodges at the Environmental Research Laboratory of the University of Arizona, which had developed closed environment systems to grow fresh vegetable in arid coastline areas. Poole and Hodges and his team developed a proposal to apply existing technology and expertise to create closed-environment systems for growing a wide variety of vegetables and develop agriculture in urban areas on a wide scale.

By September 1970 we had developed plans a prototype for an experimental vegetable and fruit garden. The plan was for a closed-environment nutrient-feeding vegetable greenhouse, to be installed on the roof of Automation House. Two greenhouses, which were designed to comply with New York City building codes and weight limitations would have walls of double-skin inflated plastic with climate control to regulate the temperature and flow of air and nutrient feeding systems in which nutrients in a solution would be periodically fed into the soil medium, a mixture of vermiculite and peat moss. It was planned to grow vegetables like tomatoes, lettuce and radishes in one greenhouse and in a slightly warmer one aubergine, cucumber and melon, enough we calculated to feed a family of four.

Seedlings were to be grown at the Department of Agriculture Engineering at Rutgers University and the New York Horticultural Society was to act as consultant to the project. The pro­ject included a schematic of a prototype rooftop vegetable garden and a manual to instruct other groups in methods of constructing and maintaining similar gardens. Later in 1971 E.A.T. carried out a detailed feasibility study for a Rooftop Vegetable Garden Greenhouse for the roof of the artists' housing complex, Westbeth.  At this time, it was noted that a greenhouse could be designed to provide enough revenue from the sale of vegetables to cover operating costs. The study would include structural, horticultural, climatic control, and economic considerations. It would lead to a proposal which could be used for fundraising. The J. M. Kaplan Fund granted E.A.T. $1,500 to prepare the study. The plans were announced in the Westbeth Bulletin, December 1970 as, "the first such effort in an urban environment."

As detailed in E.A.T.'s study, the growing area was 1,266 square feet. A staggered planting program allowing a total of two crops throughout the year was based on tomatoes, cucumbers, lettuce, and herbs. The greenhouse units would be tended by residents and produce would be sold to residents on the day picked. E.A.T. continued its interest in City Agriculture working with architect John Pearce, who had been the architect on the Pepsi Pavilion, to develop a plan for an experimental greenhouse for a hydroponic garden to be installed in the inner courtyard of the United Nations International School in Manhattan.

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