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What does engineering have to do with food you ask? Last week we attended a ULI San Diego @ Lunch panel titled: “Land Use and the Food Revolution”.  It covered how we, designers and developers, can help facilitate the public’s need for greener, organic food sources.  Below are our notes and findings from the Seminar.

The benefits are documented everywhere, less pesticides and chemicals because the food does not need to sustain a long trip, fuel and transportation savings, the average fruit travels 1400 miles from source to point of sale.  Community development, this type of teamwork, and self sustainability teaches us and future generations about food and sources of food.  Communities are striving to be more self sustaining.

The presentation was broken up into three speakers.  Jim Hogan from Valleycrest Landscape Communities, Jim Mumford from Greenscaped Buildings, and Kelly Broughton from City of San Diego’s Development Services Department.

Jim Hogan discussed food and development in the context of Communities and how master planned communities are incorporating Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) into their plans.  It involves co-ops, or a structure/organization of people either paid or unpaid to be able to maintain use of the land for the community.  Some of the major challenges for the master planned community are the “deep pockets” should the CSA enter a lawsuit for getting someone sick.  Because this is a food source, liabilities are attached.  Developers also need to check with the county health department on their intended use as there maybe be more regulations as far as farming as a primary or secondary use.  Jim pointed out several master planned communities in Georgia that are implementing the CSA successfully into their plan.  He pointed out that several communities in San Diego are trying to make the CSA work for them.  There is a community garden in 4S Ranch in San Diego that is currently being setup.  He also mentioned several developers that are looking to incorporate this concept into their master plans. There are several resources for communities looking to get a community garden started, including farmers that teach the techniques and proven methods for these types of gardens.

The next speaker, Jim Mumford spoke more about green spaces in the Urban Setting.  Specifically rooftop greenspaces and gardens.  The major challenge for a green space on a rooftop are, structural.  Most existing buildings were not developed with the intention of soil and plants being placed on top.  The retrofit is usually, the most expensive part of that garden.  Other factors include access, because it’s tough to pull equipment through a small portal in one’s ceiling to be able to maintain the greenery up top.  Most of the development that’s been done is for green roofs in San Diego.  Jim pointed out some other ideas as far as devices that use walls, or large planters that create point loads on a ceiling so that a retrofit may not have to be done.  Discharges from the gardens are a concern, as fertilizers in the storm runoff is a bad thing from a water quality perspective.

Kelly with the City of San Diego discussed how the city has opened up regulations to help allow these types of developments into the city.  There are still certian safety regulations and concerns, but the city has taken a very open approach to letting it’s citizens take the food revolution and make what they will of it.  This includes allowances of gardens and animals on property and rooftops for personal farming uses.

It appears to us as though there are plenty of challenges, from food safety, to cost, knowhow before this becomes a staple in most communities.  We support and love and are excited about the idea of a self sustaining community, and will lend our expertise in engineering and land development to support these types of developments.  Our considerations would include:

  • Soil type: A blend of soil that works not only from an engineering perspective, but one that works from a gardening one.
  • Runoff: Effectively using rainwater for irrigation, cisterns, grading of the land to maximize the water usage.
  • Water Quality: Keeping runoff sources that flow both on and off the site.
    • On site: For food safety, as runoff comes in contact with the food.
    • Off site: For water quality concerns downstream. Fertilizers and farming runoff should not enter the storm systems.
  • Retrofitting costs: Handrails for safety on rooftops, structural coordination.
  • BMP’s: Best Management practices that combine both farming and engineering. There are many synergies that these activities share.

All this talk of food has gotten us hungry. Have you worked on a project like this? Feel free to leave some notes in the comments. We’d love to hear from you.