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an urban farm, market, and café
Napa Midwest is a leading-edge plan for an off-the-grid organic farm and market set in a dense urban environment. It proposes an elegant solution to a fundamental human dilemma: how to get affordable, healthy food to city/suburb dwellers without damaging the ecology or economy of the producing land and people.
The project concept and name derive from the spectacular vineyard/wineries of northern California. But rather than sipping fine wine while strolling among some of the world’s premier grape vines, the visitors of Napa Midwest will be dining on fresh produce grown all around them on the same site.
The proposed plans can be developed on any suitable site in any location with an adequate growing season. Drawings herein are based on a select piece of land at the corner of Main Street and Chicago Avenue in Evanston, Illinois (my home since 1994). The vibrant, ~80 year-old buildings on this plot were unfortunately demolished in 2007 to make way for a mixed-use, mid-rise development of condominiums and retail. Shortly thereafter came the dual collapse of the credit and condo markets, causing project financing to dry up, and leaving behind a vacant, fenced-in lot (current site photos here).
As the market for new condominiums and retail is oversaturated and on hold for the foreseeable future, an urban farm might just be the highest and best use of the land at this time. Construction costs would be low because all that is needed initially are raised beds, irrigation, and perhaps a few hoop houses to start plants in. Depending on future market conditions, this concept could later be expanded to include produce stands, a market and café, garden dining areas, and perhaps even a performance stage. The renderings linked at left illustrate this long-term vision.
Hands-on workshops to teach organic growing, sustainable energy and building, and other conservation methods could be presented at the ‘farm’. Internships and much needed jobs would also be provided for people seeking purposeful employment in these turbulent economic times.
An urban farm would be a new addition to Evanston. Given the growing interest in organic, local agriculture, it would likely be a cherished asset for the city’s many eco-minded citizens.
The location at Main and Chicago is about 2/3 of an acre — a tiny farm — but thanks to the high traffic intersection and adjacent Metra and EL stops, this would be a great site to raise awareness of urban organics. It would also make a convenient, high-visibility location for a farmer’s market to sell the products of other regional growers. From this model, we could also develop additional vacant lots in the area to be used strictly for growing, building a network of local produce gardens. It is hard to imagine a better use of the vacant plots in the area given current market and finance conditions. Plus, this urban oasis would provide a cultural experience unlike any other.
When we discuss the necessity of sustainable human activities, nothing is more critical than food production. The gigantic multinational firms that have come to control our food chain do not actually engage in agriculture; that ancient practice has been disposed of by the ‘food industry’, and dubbed ‘agri-business’. This is more than just semantics: the culture has literally been removed from the soil through the use of pesticides, herbicides and heavy machinery. The ‘growing medium’ is then refortified with synthetic fertilizers to provide the nutrients needed for plants to grow. These synthetic amendments are all petrochemical derivatives. Oil is the primary ingredient of pesticides and herbicides, while fertilizers get their nitrogen from methane (natural gas). The equipment used to plant, reap, and process the crops is of course also powered by oil and gas, and our food is shipped/trucked an average of 1500 miles to our plates. With instability in the energy markets rising, it is imperative that we begin considering alternative methods to feed ourselves in the event that one or more of the links in this complex chain were to break.
But food security is far from the only benefit provided by local organic agriculture. Soil quality actually improves every year, rather than being eroded, depleted and poisoned; toxic runoff into ground and surface water is eliminated; and air pollution is cut to virtually zero. And of course, we benefit from high-value, healthy foods that improve our physical and mental health, and boost our immune systems. Factor in skyrocketing food prices due to rising energy costs and a monolithic food industry, and a shift back to relocalized agriculture seems not so much the latest green fashion statement, but an absolute necessity.
The long-term plan for Napa Midwest envisions a totally ‘off-the-grid’ urban farm. Renewable energy sources such as wind and solar will power the operation, and rain water will be harvested for crop irrigation. Being situated in a dense, walkable community that is served by two commuter rail lines also means that customers can get to the site using minimal fuel.
Given low construction costs and strong market demand, this is a very realistic project that would be good for the local residents and businesses. It could also provide an economic boost to the entire city as this unique farm and market could draw people from surrounding communities.
The only real obstacle is funding. The land is now bank owned and has a book-value in the millions. Due to market conditions, it will likely remain vacant and unproductive for at least five years unless a creative use / solution is found.
If you have any ideas or comments pertaining to this project's logistics, finance or the general concept, I look forward to hearing from you. Your feedback and input will help make Napa Midwest a reality.
Thanks for your interest,
napa midwest is another concept
steal this idea!
open sourcing accelerates progress
Considering the economic, energy, environmental, and health issues of the day, I think the 'Napa Midwest' concept will prove to be a strong one. So why post a valid business model online where it can be 'stolen'?
I fully support the open sourcing of ALL ideas and am diametrically opposed to the ubiquitous copyright, patent, and 'intellectual property' laws that sequester information, deep-six collaboration, and ultimately stifle human progress.
Software is one industry of many that demonstrates that idea sharing results in superior products, delivered much quicker, to the benefit of far more people.
OScar, Open Source Car Project
While global bankers, industry titans, and their wholly-owned media outlets continue pitching the ideology that only enormous financial rewards can motivate people to innovate and create, this project is one of millions disproving that archaic notion. Unrestricted information flow is 'small d' democratic... where might we be today if instead of competition, cooperation was the default mode of modern human activity and interaction?
inc, ad infinitum...
With a constituency limited to anyone who eats, "Food, Inc." is a civilized horror movie for the socially conscious, the nutritionally curious and the hungry. Yes, it has a deceptively cheery palette, but helmer Robert Kenner's doc ... marches straight into the dark side of cutthroat agri-business, corporatized meat and the greedy manipulation of both genetics and the law. —Variety
‘So as our corporations crumble, taking our jobs with them, we bail them out to preserve our prospects for employment – knowing full well that their business models are unsustainable. As banks’ credit schemes fail, we authorise our treasuries to print more money on their behalf, at our own expense and that of our children. We then get to borrow this money back from them, at interest. We know of no other way. Having for too long outsourced our own savings and investing to Wall Street, we are clueless about how to invest in the real world of people and things. We identify with the plight of abstract corporations more than that of flesh and blood human beings. We engage with corporations as role models and saviours, while we engage with our fellow humans as competitors to be beaten or resources to be exploited.’
— from Life Inc., by Douglas Rushkoff