In the pre-industrialised world societies had to feed their people with regionally–produced food. Globalised trade now allows us to eat strawberries in the winter. But how does monoculture affect both the physical landscape and the future of our economies? Can Denmark be redesigned to create a dynamic ecosystem that differs from today’s standards practice?
ReDane is a short film that addresses the current ecological impact of Denmark’s pig farm industry. Its vision for an alternative agricultural landscape in which the same number of pigs are produced, just alongside a wider variety of produce, resulting in a higher quality – and more valuable – animal.
The film is one of five winners of the Danish Arts Foundation’s competition Can we draw a new county? We spoke to one of the film’s participants, architect Dominic Balmforth of susturb, about his research for ReDane.
Is urban farming a realistic scenario, and will it require a greater level of community participation?
In Havana, Cuba, urban farming happens on a sufficient scale to actual meet city-wide food demands. This came about due to a need and not a choice. Small window boxes in Copenhagen don’t meet a large-scale demand, even when output yield is pooled across neighbourhoods. All good and fun, and as you say a kind of hobby. People will always need nice hobbies though, I hope!
But not everyone wants, or should expect, to be a farmer, on any scale! In order for our Redane proposal to work, it would need to be adopted as a national government-lead strategy. We never thoughtRedane would be lead by a grass-roots movement alone, although this could well be an important kickstarter and inspiration for a radically different land-use and agriculture practice than the one we have today – one which we don’t like or believe is effective, hence the reason for making Redane!
Other than provincial or rural areas of the country, are there other specific neighbourhoods where you think integrated food production could work?
Firstly, land alongside transport infrastructure such as roads, rail and light-rail. This land is often left redundant as a safety or noise buffer but could be made useful for agricultural production.
Secondly suburban areas in medium and large cities that are struggling to fill their functions and buildings. To increase the intensity and activity of a suburban community, a ‘demolish-and-densify’ strategy could work hand-in-hand with a strategy to use all open land which becomes available for suitable types of agricultural production. In this case, one could make the newly productive agricultural land double as land for leisure and recreation.
Big office parks, industrial parks or suburban shopping centres that have failed and become derelict also hold potential. We could replace these places with agricultural land and or production. The same goes for all big car parks and even roads themselves if, at some point these become redundant.
You have demonstrated an optimistic strategy in terms of a qualitative versus quantitative approach. What will happen to the future of food production if changes aren’t made?
Unfortunately I cannot predict the future. If I could, I would have exploited global capitalism long enough to get super rich and bought as much land in Denmark as possible and just do ReDane myself!
Seriously, and more boringly, I would say that if measures don’t change, Denmark and other net-food exporters will just continue to use most of their land making produce for other countries. Such high scale and high intensity food production has a destructive impact on the national landscape and environment, which could well take decades to cure – replenishing top soil, reintroducing biodiversity and so on. Since demand for food is increasing, then pressures to increase output may well mean a greater use of chemical fertilisers, more hormone treatment for livestock, and increased imports of ecologically-damaging soya. We get more food, but we also get more sick people and a sicker countryside.
In the future will we see the practice of landscape architecture morph into urban forestry?
Perhaps in the future, there might not be a distinction between the two. That could be great!
I have never understood or appreciated landscape architecture, which strives to reduce nature and landscape to mere cosmetic decoration, serving our desire for nice views while missing the opportunity to simultaneously cleanse water, absorb carbon, provide nutrients for food, medicine and so on.
On the other hand, I don’t want urban forestry to make the landscape off limits for human leisure, recreation or even permanent habitat. So in terms of how we relate to nature in the future, we need more “both-ands” and fewer “either-ors”.