Water is the Limiting Factor

by Katie 19. January 2010 23:11

Nate Berg, a frequent blogger on Planetizen, has become the pulse of agriculture reporting for me. If you are at all interested in the future of agriculture and how it interplays with urban environments, I would stalk his blog. One of his recent posts is about water shortages in California. Irrigation of crops accounts for 80% of the water used internationally. Of course, the number makes me panic, but all six billion of us on this planet need to eat, and we have long outpaced the passive irrigation systems of slow food agriculture. I think part of the tragedy is that people first settled areas based on where the richest farmland was located. This tended to be in river basins that flooded annually, bringing up nutrient-rich silt. Now these areas along the coasts and rivers have been filled over with concrete and managed with engineered systems to prevent flooding. We have lost the most naturally fertile lands to residential and business developments. This necessitates tapping into the deep underground waterways, and using irrigation. As Nate Berg notes, water is really going to be the limiting resource for the future growth of food.

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The Politics of Food

by Katie 19. January 2010 22:24

I am taking several interesting classes this semester. One is on food systems, but so far- the planning world is focused mainly on urban agricultural systems. Community gardens are a great way to put more “eyes on the street” for safer communities which interact more often, and have a basic connection with the way food is grown. Not only that, but abandoned lots can be beautified and turned into cherished gardens, which increase real estate values and provide urban places of respite. All of this said, urban agriculture is not ever going to be a substitute for real farming. Estimates from the WWII urban agricultural push during England's victory garden period showed that community gardens could at best provide 10% of the needed food to a city. It's nothing to scoff at, but it's not much to bank on either.


The whole reason that England needed victory gardens was because as a colonial power, it had become entirely dependent on the global food production network. There are many countries in the world which are vulnerable to global food pricing, and even dependent on foreign markets. In fact, the economist has recently reported on the “neo-colonial land grab” of the middle eastern countries. Middle eastern countries import a significant portion of food, and this enables world food producers, like the US to use food blockades as bargaining chips for international policy. For this reason, many countries with money but no food are starting to buy tracks of land in Africa. Ethiopia has recently opened nearly one million hectares of virgin land to outside investors for farming. It is this international trade prospectus that interests me with planning our food systems. Not only do we have the local level clamoring for social justice food access, nutritional food, and environmentally sustainable farming techniques, but we need to overlay the broad implications for policy-based decisions on their impact for the global food markets. I think this larger picture often gets lost in the hubbub of what is right to eat and what is not. And there are certainly plenty of people weighing in on the debate- and these people do not necessarily consider both sides of the equation. A fine example is this article blasting Micheal Pollan (http://www.consumerfreedom.com/news_detail.cfm/h/4080-chef-pollans-daily-special-lousy-advice). I happen to like tofurkey and think that Americans could eat less meat. At the same time, the article points out some of the trade offs between perceived animal welfare problems and most environmentally sound use of resources.

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Urban Planning and Animal Facilities

by Katie 16. September 2009 17:20

New take on an old theme... zooark is getting a facelift from Jonas Persson (the owner/manager/CEO of Personable Solutions)... and I am going to use it to blog on vet school- and my new venture into the Urban Planning PhD program. I wish I had gotten this started the first few years of vet school- but then you probably would have heard a lot of whining about vet school. Luckily- I have entirely changed my mind about vet school- now that I know what kind of beast it is... more on that later. For now, let me update on this new adventure that I am embarking upon.

As a veterinary student with a background in master-planning for zoological parks and a Masters Degree in Virology, I am beginning a PhD in urban planning in order to apply my knowledge of animal behavior, disease transmission, and conservation medicine to the placement, organization, design, and management of animal facilities. In addition to zoos, there are many other examples of areas where urban planning has unique overlap with veterinary expertise, and where there is a deep need for knowledge in both fields. Some examples of these subjects include animal welfare, disease prevention, and sustainable use of resources.

Welfare: As seen with recently passed welfare legislation, best practice analysis is greatly needed for food animal systems, allowing them to adopt animal welfare programs without decreasing profit margin, animal health, or food production. A background in animal health and behavior makes veterinarians perfectly suited to judge animal welfare issues, but layout and integrated planning are skills unique to a degree in design.

Health: Preventing animal disease outbreaks is a key issue in planning animal facilities. Zoonotic disease, resulting from pathogens spread from animals to humans, (ex: avian influenza, rabies, etc.) comprises 75% of the emerging diseases (Taylor and Woolhouse, 2001). Methods of pathogen spread include food-borne illnesses from animal products, transport of animals, and workers in close contact with animals. Food animal systems need careful planning and smart regulations such that intensive agriculture is close enough to cities in order to decrease transport costs and fuel while far enough from dense human populations to minimize the risk of zoonotic disease outbreaks.

Sustainability: For the health of the planet, it is necessary to plan animal production facilities near farmlands to both supply crop byproduct to the farms, and make use of valuable organic fertilizer while minimizing transport. Farms are sources of fertilizer, pesticide, manure, and waste run-off; all of which contaminate valuable water resources. Smart technologies to harvest waste and convert it into valuable fuel, fertilizer or soil exist, but must be adapted to each industry depending on its location, soil chemistry, resources, and production capabilities. Moreover, layout and geographical location of crops, animal farms, and markets can greatly reduce transportation and fuel usage between areas as well protect watershed areas from run-off.

I am receiving support for my degree from the Vernon and Shirley Hill Inspiration Award, the largest monetary award in the veterinary field. (insert link).

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A fist entry

by Katie 11. July 2009 22:54

Here's a picture of our sweet dog, Belle.  Later on, this page will contain blog entries.

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About Zooark

Zooark was created in 2004 as a Watson Fellowship studying zoo architechture in different cultures and countries (click "My Watson..." for more on this).

Currently, Zooark is used to report ideas within urban planning related to food production, the environment and animal wellfare.