Monday, June 30, 2008

Found Objects

I mentioned previously that there is alot of debris in the empty lot, left over from the factory that used to be there. As such there are always interesting things to find on the ground, including rusty rebar and thin strips of metal. These metal objects have a much nicer effect on the fence behind the garden than lying on the ground.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Urban Farm Boots & Supplies

During my recent trip to Japan, I bought a pair of Tabi boots in the hardware section at Tokyu Hands (the world's most amazing store that has everything one could need in one place). The boots are traditionally worn by farmers, construction workers and rickshaw drivers. They come in a steel toe variety as well. I have found these boots to be the perfect footware for this project. Lightweight, cool, durable, protective, I have been wearing them everyday to work in the garden, walk through the empty lot and ride my bike.

Trying to minimize the number of trips up and down the stairs from the lot site to my loft, I have tried to compile what I need while working in the garden. One of the functions of the Urban Farm Cart will be to provide storage for tools and supplies, etc. so I have been noting what the Cart should offer in terms of size and space for storing items. Hand tools, gloves, water bottle, sunglasses, hat, iPod, cell phone, bag for carrying out trash, notebook, pen, seem to be some standard supplies.

Week 2: Watering, Weeding & Designing

Each raised bed needs one large watering can and one small watering can of water a piece. This mean four trips up and down the stairs, down the hallway, down the alley, through the fence, and across the lot without spilling. There is no faucet to attach a hose to, so I have been thinking about other more creative ways to give the plants their daily drink.

Here is one really interesting design that collects water from the dew that falls overnight. Unlike the large community sized dew nets being used in remote mountainous areas to provide potable drinking water, this dew collector, designed by a graduate student, is small enough to meet the water needs of an individual. Or of a small garden, perhaps.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

More Soil, Home Depot and FINALLY Planting

Even after calculating the amount of soil I need to fill two approx. 3' x 4' raised beds, I underestimated. I had to get more topsoil, peat moss and sand. I went to the local hardware store rolling my dolley several blocks to get there only to find that they had just sold their last two bags of peat moss twenty minutes earlier. Determined to get everything planted today (the herbs couldn't wait another day to be put in the ground), I made the difficult decision to break my rule and drive a few blocks to the local Home Depot. Where, surprisingly, I got some really helpful gardening information and friendly customer service. I filled the car with several bags of topsoil, a bag of compost and some peat moss. (I don't have a cart big enough to hold this much dirt!)

I unloaded the variety of soil near the opening of the empty lot and carried/dolleyed the ten bags through the hole in the fence and across the lot to my garden site.

I moved the bed boxes from the loft and through the lot putting them in place on top of the two palettes that are serving as bases of the raised beds. I attached them with L-brackets to create a better fit.
After placing and mixing the dirt, I was finally ready to plant!

One of the boxes contains tomatoes, cilantro, and radishes. The other box houses lavender, basil (Siam Queen), dill, sage, and green onions.

After planting, I unrolled and cut chicken coop wire to attach to the top on the beds in order to keep unwanted visitors (and possible diners like raccoon, skunk, etc) out. Hopefully it works!

I watered the plants well and left them for the night.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Bikes & Carts & Oil

Pulling the bike cart through the neighbourhood, I attracted many looks and questions from people who were interested in the cart and wondering where they can get one. I'm studying the straightforward design of the cart's frame. I definitely want the Urban Farm Cart to have an optional bike attachment. As the price of gas continues to soar, this is an even more critical feature.

A new report released today by CIBC World Markets (CIBC is one of Canada's largest banks) predicts that by 2012 "there will be 10 million fewer vehicles in the United States than there are today. Average miles driven will fall by as much as 15%." CIBC economist Jeff Rubin "raised his target price for oil by US$20 per barrel to US$150 next year. He says oil will top US$200 per barrel by 2010, roughly two years earlier than he previously predicted. That will mean US$7-a-gallon gasoline for motorists within two years, he says."

To the Garden Centre with a Bike Cart

I borrowed a cart from the bike shop around the corner. I'm used it to pick up the plants from the local garden centre. The cart is smartly designed - cut tubes that are bolted together making it lightweight and easy to steer. It uses standard sized bicycle tires and has a straightforwardness hitch attachment that bolts onto any standard bike's back fork.

I put my plants and seeds in the cart and drove it home through traffic. It was fun to drive around!

Bike with borrowed cart and plants in tow
in front of the empty lot and my urban farm site.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Transporting Dirt

I bought dirt today (topsoil and peat moss to be more specific) and made a few trips to get it from the local hardware store to the lot next door. Instead of using the car, I'm trying to use as many wheeled 'carts' as I can find to better understand their function and effectiveness. I used a folding, lightweight shopping cart to carry the topsoil but it wasn't strong enough to hold the weight of the bag of peat moss. I went back home to get a sturdier moving dolly and bungee cords in order to transport the peat moss.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Into the Empty Lot

The entrance into the lot next door that will house my urban farm is a hole in the fence (I didn't put it there). It was already there and is used by the neighbourhood dogs giving them a place to run.To get to my little corner of the lot, I have to walk over a hill of rubble that is now grown over with weeds, vines and wild flowers. The rest of the walk is flatter but bumpy as it is filled with the remnants of the Colgate Factory that once stood there. Rusted rebar pokes up from the hard packed soil which is littered with pieces of concrete, brick, macadam and stone. This lot has sat empty for almost ten years. While other lots along the street are being developed and slowly gentrified, this lot remains empty. Uncertain of what lies in the soil here, I knew I needed to grow above the ground if I was going to use this space as the site of my urban farm project.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Building Boxes

Today I built two boxes from the MDF that I found in the dumpster. They will become the walls of the raised beds and will attach to the palette bases.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Finding Materials

I found two wooden palettes near the dumpster that are the perfect size to use as the bases for two raised beds.

I also found two large pieces of MDF in the dumpster to use as the walls of the raised beds. The dumpsters next to this building are always filled with interesting things. The large brick building, which previously housed a toy factory, is now a meandering complex of live/work lofts. Authentic lofts with no concierge or fitness centre and sometimes no electricity. The building could use a major wiring/infrastructure overhaul. But since the owners will probably never make the necessary upgrades, the residents and business owners who rent here put up with sporadic power outrages, non working freight elevators, the occasional mouse, etc.

The flip side is that the ruggedness of the building allows for an interesting mix of neighbours. The dumpsters' contents are the evidence. Besides pieces of wood, furniture, and actual garbage you can find cast off greenery and set props placed there by those affiliated with the nearby film industry, as well as leftovers from art installations and projects. The building is filled with artists working in different mediums. I once found the dumpster full of hundreds of styrofoam 0's and 1's a la some kind of Matrix project.

One of the interesting people here is Richard, a carpenter and entrepreneur. He agreed to cut the found pieces MDF to size for me.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Week 1: Building & Planting

View of the empty Toronto lot (and future home of
my 24sq ft urban farm) from my loft window

I have eight weeks to plant, grow, harvest, and sell the produce from my 24 sq ft 'urban farm' while, at the same time, I will design, test, prototype and present the Urban Farm Cart Project. This project stems from an assignment in one of my graduate design studio courses. The project continues because I did not reach a meaningful solution to this design problem by the end of the semester. I realized that I need to get my hands dirty, literally, and totally immerse myself in the process of urban farming in order to create a product/system that is as functional, desirable and beautiful as I think it can and should be.

The objective of the Urban Farm Cart Project is to create a product with an embedded system which allows the user, or urban farmer, to plant, grow, harvest, and sell produce in an urban environment. As oil prices continue to increase and with it the price of food, coupled with concerns about the safety of our food, there are serious questions about the future viability of our current food system. As a result, people are looking to the age old tradition of growing their own food, regardless of the amount of arable land they have. Postage stamp sized yards, empty city lots, rooftops, fire escapes, window sills, are becoming viable green space. The idea of using these spaces to plant is not new. Urbanites have resourcefully used these small spaces to bring a bit of nature into their city lives for a long time, but seeing these spaces as opportunities for supporting an urban agricultural economy is still catching on. Out of necessity, these spaces will increasingly support our nutritional needs and create economic opportunity.

My goal is to design an urban farm cart that will assist farmers through the entire growing process, season to season, providing a means to store and transport tools, supplies, and produce at one end of the process while also allowing for a fluid financial and social exchange at the other end. While there are thousands of products on the market for gardeners, farmers, vendors in the form of carts, wagons, green houses, grow boxes, electric tools, hand tools, 'time-saving' gadgets, etc., I have not found one product designed specifically for urban farming -- one that covers the many facets and needs in a succinct, meaningful way. If there was such a product, I would have bought it already and would be using it to grow my garden.

I've set a few rules for myself as I begin delving into this design problem. As I start my diminutive urban farm, I am trying to reuse materials. I am limiting my budget and will use the money I do spend to purchase from locally owned businesses as much as I can. As I am trying to design a product that will transport materials and produce and do so with minimal reliance on fossil fuels, I am trying not to use the car where at all possible.

At the end of the eight weeks, my goal is to have a functional prototype and some produce. I plan to use my prototype cart to harvest, transport and sell my produce at one of the local farmers' markets. Here I want to talk with people about the project and get feedback about it. I will be also sharing the results of the project with other urban farmers and with my professors, fellow designers, classmates, family and friends.