Do we have to live with this paradox? NO!
Create a public greenhouse in the downtown area!
After reading "Cradle to Cradle" by William McDonnough, I have been thinking hard about the use of buildings and how they create the environment of the city.
While talking about pipe dreams of architectural fantasy with the co-creator of the Good Idea Book, I looked across the street at the Portland Public Market building and saw that a very real and concrete possibility was sitting right there in front of me.
The ceilings were tall enough to facilitate the growth of fruit bearing trees, and there was enough floor space that one could have plenty of raised bed gardens to provide a wide variety of crops year round. What the facility lacked in size (compared to your traditional farm), it made up for in being able to use all existing footage for crops, year-round.
By compartmentalizing the interior space and creating greenhouses within greenhouses, even plants from a foreign biome could be grown locally.
Just imagine: Organic, locally grown oranges? In Maine? It could be a reality!
Well great idea, but how will it generate income so we can make back the money we invest?
First, such a space should be deemed a tax-exempt economic zone, from either the city or state. It could be brought under the administration of the school system, or public works, or waste management, or any other municipal entity, as it would ultimately serve as a public resource for composting waste, for education in organic gardening and sustainable living, and for providing food.
How to generate income for the operation and maintenance of such a facility:
Number one is obvious: Pick-your-own organic produce, year round. Anybody who has a garden plot on their land knows that there is nothing like fresh produce picked right from the garden. This facility would offer that quality of produce year round. People could, using the CSA model, become subscribers to the farm, just as people purchase subscriptions to other public utilities, like tapwater, and electricity, from municipal non-profits.
Number two is less obvious: TOURISM!
By charging admission, much like an art museum or public botanical garden, giving teaching tours that teach about how the space was created, and how it is run and operated, as well as the benefits of sustainable living, a public greenhouse becomes a tourist destination. Plus, how cool would it be to see a greenhouse garden in the middle of the city?
Another added benefit, is it would give people living in the downtown area a place to send compostable food wastes. With on-site composting, we can make use of the organic material that would normally go up the smoke stacks of your regional waste management facility, or worse, sent to a landfill to be preserved forever, and mixed in with toxic waste, rendering it unusable for agricultural use in the future.
Private niche markets could develop in the city, with eco-conscious people paying to have their compostable waste taken to the greenhouse. If your city has a "pay per bag" garbage pickup system, offering a reduced rate, or even free pickup for compostable material would provide more than enough organic material to feed the soil of the greenhouse.
So to recap, a public greenhouse provides the following:
* Educational facility
* Supplements the school lunch program
* Locally grown organic food, year round
* Reduction in the waste stream by diverting compostable materials
* An eco-tourism hotspot, bringing in dollars from outside of town