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    Situating Food - Symposium and Exhibition

    By RMartz
    Dec 8, '13 8:01 PM EST

    Welcome back everyone. About a month ago we here at Knowlton were fortunate to hold a symposium titled Situating Foods. The focus of this symposium was on understanding relationships of food and design. Particularly, the conference seemed to focus much on urban land-use practices in association with food production and their social, health, and cultural ramifications, to name a few. We covered a range of topics with 2 keynote speakers and 3 panel discussions over the evening and following day. For the purpose of a teaser I will touch briefly on the different parts of the symposium and their topics, but for the detail, well worth your time, the whole event was recorded and will be available online in the future.

    The day began before the Friday evening speaker with a tour of Hoop Houses built with international students during this past summer, a visit to the exhibition and rooftop garden at the Wexner Center, and a lecture on OSU’s waste recovery program. As an aside take a look at the Zero Waste program at Ohio Stadium (, which is the largest to attempt to achieve such a feat.

    Friday evening ushered in the main program with a formal introduction from the main organizer, Knowlton professor Kay Bea Jones. Presenting a 30 year old image of a long table of food taken in Gubbio, Italy, she made the point that the questions that we are contending with are not new, but that changes in our food systems are being made at lightning pace. Dorthee’ Imbert, our section head for Landscape Architecture, provided the introduction for our speaker Mosé Ricci, university professor, firm partner, and author, whose focus is historically situating the discourse of urban agriculture.  He noted that he could have also titled his lecture “Learning from Detroit”, a topic that came up throughout the symposium. An interest that began with the highly successful Re-cycle exhibition at the Maxii in Rome has lead him to studying Detroit and understanding it as the first “Post-Metropolis”. Due to the loss of jobs, loss of population, and the racial shift that has occurred, Detroit has become a changed city, which he believes has the potential to be great. They are desperate and thus are willing to try something new, to innovate.  An example are workers of a former software company, who when laid off created an urban farm, their new career, on empty land. Within the city there has been an increase in urban agriculture, made possible by the large empty tracts of land all around (Panel 1 went in-depth into the projects occurring in Detroit). Other cities worldwide have had similar problems, such as Sesena in Spain, now a Ghost town. What we see happening in Detroit are new legal and illegal land use policies, which he believes indicate that the “the [concept of the] modern city is dead”, to be replaced by a new type of metropolis, one which Detroit is spearheading.

    On Saturday we had 3 discussion panels with each member giving a short presentation, followed by Q&A time. Our first panel was focused the topic of “How Cities Change: Food and urban Redevelopment”, composed of Matt Habash, Dan Carmody, Mike Hamm, Alison Blay-Palmer, and Karen Landman. A main topic was the efforts to increase the consumption of local foods. In Detroit the Eastern market  has become a hub for local fruits and vegetables, working to eliminate the ‘food desert’ and also change the nature of the prototypical market. Increasingly markets accept food stamps and likewise the Mid-Ohio Food Bank and other aid systems, are increasingly incorporating fresh foods into their system (52% last year) through associations with local producers and a 3 day pantry model, currently under trial, where users come every 3 days and shop, rather than receiving a default basket weekly. In the Toronto area there have been a number of innovative projects in terms of urban farming, such as SPIN farming via repurposed residential yards, numerous CSA’s (Community Supported Agriculture), and relationships between the community and the University of Guelph on multiple projects. An important point discussed are the potential cons of urban farming; the fact that not all people desire this change to their cities, that total carbon emissions are the same as if the product was shipped from California if citizens drive over 7 miles, and that soil quality can be widely poor as a result of contamination and compaction, particularly in residential neighborhoods found in Detroit where homes have been bulldozed and covered over. Education has been a large part of all their efforts, both in terms of where food comes from and in teaching citizens how to farm. The Farm Start program is prime example, providing support to recent immigrants in learning how to farm in the Canadian Climate. There are huge strides being made in fresh food consumption, “But we can’t assume it is more sustainable just because it is close to home” and that the community always wants it.

    Our second panel of the day “Theories and Criticism of Contemporary Food Systems” was comprised of OSU professor Jason Reece, Julie Guthman from the Univeristy of California, and Jennifer Jordan from the University of Wisconsin. Jasons talk was focused on the social aspects of urban agriculture. Rather than imposing this movement on typically marginalized communities, people need to work with them ensure support, else communities feel disempowered and the movement won’t last. On a broader scale he posed the question of whether decreasing the density and scale of cities in exchange for urban framing is a good thing, after all cities became dense for a reason. Addressing the question of how to respond to communities who pushback, his response was time, patience, and a willingness to sacrifice power. Julie worked along a similar vein in her presentation focused on food justice and both its limits and possibilities. Making the point that designers are inherently optimistic, there sometimes isn’t consideration for the community that these movement occurs in, an example being that the bike riding, organic eating, coffee drinking community that these movement typically appeal to has often not caught on with the working class. Jennifer Jordan, rather than looking at the social implications, research’s the cultural, looking at “Eating Memory”. Her focus is on the narratives we that we associate to foods such as heirloom tomatoes, which have skyrocketed in use. Food becomes a way to connect to our identity and our history. Consider Noma. Ranked one of the best restaurants in the world, their focus is on reinterpretations of Nordic Cuisine.

    Our last panel “Alternative Development and Land Use Practices: Innovation and Health”, composed of New York Architect Brian Holland, OSU Proffesor Katherine Bennet, and Columbus Public Health Commisoner Teresa Long, began by looking at new pratices in urban agriculture and ended with relationships to public health. Brian, with his lecture “Piggybacking”, looked at rooftop farms in New York. These range from open-air to full greenhouses and hydroponic systems. In one case the group Gotham Greens not only sells in Whole Foods, but will have a green-house complex on top of their new building as an expansion of their partnership.  Zoning laws and leases have adjusted to allow for these relationships. Katherine Bennet then brought things local to OSU, outlining their work in Columbus, first at the Godman Guild and then with the Wienland park neighborhood. Experimenting with Hoop Houses they have created an urban garden and have brought in both the community and international students who assisted in the construction as part of a workshop this summer. Teresa was great to finish off the panels, as her work connects all the previous discussions of food to its role in public health. For the first time in history the life expectancy of children is actually decreasing, with 50% of 5th graders already overweight. However, food accessibility can help to address this. Strides have already been made with the ability to now use food stamps at farmers markets and the knowledge that there is a 20%-30% increase in vegetable and fruit consumption by having a supermarket nearby. Momentum is building. A farmers market that was paired with other health information was so popular it backed up the highway and had to be reduced in size.

    An amazing example of positive change came from our final keynote speaker Erika Allen, National Projects Director for Chicago based Growing Power. Ranging from social scale to construction scale, her talk made apparent the range of influence that growing power is having. Erika had a unique outlook in asking the question of what would happen if there was a crisis and no food could come in. Thus, almost none of their systems are heated. Food security is one of their priorities and through extensive gardens and hoop houses, as well as some green houses and hydroponic systems, they produce and sell enough to balance their cash-flow(they are a non-profit). Above, or perhaps beside, production is the social aspect of their work, a “life or death” for many of the kids due to bad neighborhoods. In the past year they employed 560 kids just in Chicago and some of their projects are entirely run by kids. These experiences whether in work or in camps have provided them with food education, art projects, and time for reflection. It all begins she said “with the soil”. It’s the essential factor and through their compost operation they create high quality soil which is used in their various projects to great success. Their work covers a range of cities and effects, put is always a positive influence for the community.

    The weekend was really engaging, making me, someone not as educated in the food system as I should be, aware of a huge array of new fronts that are occurring to address both food security and public health. The symposium was recorded and will be available online at or on the schools youtube channel. It was a two-day event so there is a lot of video to watch, but I guarantee you that it is well worth your time.

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This blog will be a feeder for recent news, events and student work occurring at the Knowlton School at The Ohio State University. Posts will typically center around updates from the school's lecture series, exciting projects from recent student reviews and updates from other school events.

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