City Life: Growing Food with the Sun

by Maggie Flickinger

The importance of fresh, vital food options to urban dwellers is undeniable.  From a sustainability perspective, reducing the transportation radius of our food supply has the potential for significant carbon reduction – the average food item travels over 1500 miles to the American table.  Health benefits abound and could help right the balance: in some urban areas only 20% of the population has access to a supermarket; instead, “groceries” are bought at convenience stores with little or no fresh produce. Socially, engaging in communal food growing helps to create a community & increase pride of place. It has economic impact as well: of the $5.5 billion spent annually on food in Colorado, only $4.9 million (less than one one thousandth of one percent) is produced in Colorado.

But how to accomplish this?  Architecture for Humanity and Feed Denver recently partnered to sponsor an Urban Greenhouse Charrette.  Interest was shown, teams were formed, and the designs have been progressing.  Nicole, an Associate at Barrett Studio, teamed with Kathy Ford of SEM architects, Brigitte Kerr of studiotrope, Robb Ollett, James Oeinck, and Molly Blakley to develop a concept for a Solar Greenhouse.  The team felt strongly that the greenhouse shouldn’t simply act as a source of food, but also as a social hub and learning opportunity for the community.

City Life Growing Food with the Sun

This is accomplished through visible building systems that bring aspects such as air & ventilation, water & irrigation, and waste mitigation & composting into a tangible realm for the user.  The greenhouse itself approaches a complete system, integrating aquaculture, vermiculture, and tiered planting systems.  Vertically hanging planters hover above medium to low planters, while outside a cold frame extends the outdoor growing season. In form, the greenhouse is a hybrid, combining a hoop house and a solar greenhouse with near vertical glazing system, allowing it to function optimally year round.  During colder months, the insulated hoop structure is unfurled at night, while the lower sun path strikes and warms the central mass wall.  In warmer months, the hoop structure supports non-insulated shades and the function returns to a traditional solar greenhouse.

City Life Growing Food with the Sun

If you had a facility like this in your neighborhood, tied to an acre or two of flat ground for outdoor crops, would you use it?  Well, then…

Vote for Nicole’s team’s design Wednesday night at the CAP City Tavern!

Fundraising will be dedicated to the winning design for prototyping, meaning a new way of growing and eating might soon pop up in Denver communities.

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