Category Archives: Terre Farm

Food + Design + Cities

I went to a one day meditation lifestyle workshop, amongst other things it talked about Ayurevedic cooking and food.  It highlighted qualities of food that impact mind, heart, senses and spirit.  He defined 3 classes

1. Sattvic foods are uplifting, help our curiosity, mental clarity, emotional serenity, sensual balance

2 Rajasic foods help us ‘to do’ and stimulate, and can aggravate some aspects of mind

3 Tamasic food make us stop/rest,  breeds lethargy and deterrent to spiritual growth.

Tamasic food is what we should avoid as it makes us negative. and low energy. This included having left overs, mircowaved food, processed food, alcohol etc.  I was a little surprised about the leftover food idea.   This had also come up in discussion with some recent overseas house guests who were picky about this, and also recalling my great Aunt was much the same about having meals made fresh daily.    Some people in the workshop questioned how practical this was, raising the fact we live such busy lifestyles, and reheating meals is totally norm in my house.  Like most things it’s probably achievable lifestyle change with the desire, discipline and action to be organised and mindful.

I had imagine growing up in Vietnam, our  older “picky” relatives probably had access to food in such a different way.    I believe lifestyle, culture, and city form are all are vicious circles of each other.  It is a chicken before the egg kind of question of which one really comes first.

The teacher also linked the modern culture of poor Tamasic foods were contributing to our angry, negative and violent society.  Surely food is not the only factor, but I kind of see how that theory makes sense.  The social links to food has been of some personal interest in relation to community building.  During IwB research, it was showing how access to food was linking to disadvantaged groups, and poor social outcomes in Toronto’s inner suburbs. On the flip side, many cities are showing how food initiatives (community gardens a classic case) could be such strong community building projects.  Community dinner and food was core element to the BYO BQE event I helped organise earlier in the year.

Food &  Design definitely seems to be a trend as summarised beautifully in Dezeen.   I had done Terra Farm – a summer workshop in New York about urban agriculture, and I hardly think there would have been such interest in the topic 5 years ago.   From a physical design point of view, part of me thought, well ‘how hard can it be?” (some dirt and more plants in the city).   It is technicially much more complicated as I later learnt, especially in the rooftop farming ideas, but I still don’t think that the built form is the biggest challenge to food in cities.

I think the harder part is the whole cultural shift around food.  For me that doesn’t even yet happen at my individual level.  I’ll admit to bad eating habits. I still shop in big box supermarkets.  I wish to get more into cooking because I do enjoy it.  I would like to grow my own plants, expect I just haven’t to much extent using space as an excuse.  Permaculture class had been on my to-do list for awhile.    It all just hasn’t been a priority.  I’m probably also just lazy.  So prehaps a challenge to myself is to practice what I professionally preach.

I don’t know what it takes to change the world, or shift cultures –  a “revolution” according to the chef Jamie Oliver.  That and some big systems design thinking at all levels, to drive “top-down” policy and the support the rising “bottom-up” community action.

I’ll go think about it after I badly mircowave my lunch of Tamasic food


Terre Farm – Gallery

Design Build: Evolution of ECONET

It’s hard to describe the last week of Terre Farm.  Much like any design project it had it’s ups and downs.
It all becomes a blur eventually.  The rollercoaster that is frustration, bursts of energy, exhausting emotion, testing, reflection and satisfaction at the end.

This is a summary of how the team progressed in ideas and process.

Friday afternoon
Design brief > 1st round of individual ideas> synthesis > Teams by themes (access, water, sun, hanging systems).
I was TEAM ACCESS (Daryl, Joanne, Anne, Yen)

Weekend –
Teams to work on consolidated concept
TEAM ECONET was born.


  • Stairs and platform for access
  • A netting system around to support vertical growth and created sense of safety.
  • Water integrated into netting.
  • Planting in netting distributed for natural light to 7th floor and plant growth.

Presentations of drawings – nets, chandeliers, hanging, crates

1st round of models and found objects


1st try at net making and further weaving prototype.  (Thanks to You-Tube video me and Vicki made the first one)
The structure is all through knotting.  Material is electrical wire to give a strong structure rather than the “floppiness” of rope (this was available in studio but later turns out to be super expensive to use in the end!)


Frustration! At this stage many sought to integrate designs but ended up with 4 teams (Team Bladders, Team Structure, Team Econet, and Team Reflectors).

Full scale model/ prototyping continues for the net.  We start making a 1 net from 10m lengths of wire – it turns out to make only about 2-3m of net.   Other teams start to integrate plantings (bowls/bottles)


Production.  Design gets rethought late Wednesday because of issues with materials.
Net 2 begins, and the 2 panels start to merge.  Rod system for hanging takes place.
This was my hardest, exhausting, emotional day when life was feeling overwhelming

Finishing net and pockets.
Answering the question “how the hell do we hang it?”

The pulley systems, meant a late minute change to concept and hanging structure.  In the end the design-build was not complete in the sense the skylight was not finished.  Installations all went in around a structural frame.

End with Beers on roof and food at Juniors on National Cheesecake Day!

Key Lessons-

  • Roll with the punches = Learning is more through process than outcome
  • Integrity to concept not form = The net and structure was not the shape we originally planned, but losing attachment to what it looked like, we still reached ideas of creating “verticalness”, access and plant integration.
  • Let materials dictate = We had used what was at hand and it forced us to get resourceful in both the net system and hanging structure.  It was really nice to keep it simple and not use any “add on” adhesives/structure etc (which I think ought to underlying more design)
  • Let context shape =  Hanging in skylight and the context of space, really quickly refined the final outcome. The group had sought 1 solution, at one stage, but as Mitch pointed out urbanism is about context, often clashes of ideas next to each other.
  • Invest in infrastructure = Infrastructure and support is important for the running of workshops and facilitation.  Likewise,  I enjoyed seeing the net as a dynamic base (infrastructure)  for lots of things to happen and be facilitated
  • GO Teams = everything requires collaboration and community with others. It is simply the only way work can be done and done fast.  Only way for fun to be had and ownership to be shared
  • Improvise = enjoy making it up as you go along, even when it feels frustrating.  There is light at the end of tunnels (and skylights!)

I always enjoyed crafts, and become net weaving  master.  So, if you need a custom handmade fishing net or hammock one day – I’m your GAL.

Terre Farm: New York Botanic Gardens

The New York Botanic Gardens visit was primarily to see Annie and the edible garden/kids programming, but it is also just a pretty garden to visit.   It has a remnant section of old native forest in it which is a stunning stroll.

They had especially cute and interesting plantings to engage the kids and community – plots by country looked after by community members, plots by food types (example “Breakfast Bowl” showing grains that would be part of cereal, “Pizza Garden” showing basil, tomatoes, peppers).

The program ranges in ages, Annie mentioned how many kids start out in younger programs (4-6years old), stay in the activities and by 12 are helping out and can move on to internships.  Think that is testimony to the engaging nature of the program and also points to how shifting culture and learning can powerfully start in kids.

No Edible Plants

There were some early emails of an idea to take urban agriculture to the street.  Maria mentioned while many stakeholders liked the idea – it seems that City has some rule about no edible plants which stopped this.  In parks, they are only allowed in certain places and in streets are considered a “hazard” as it attracts wildlife that would be dangerous to drivers.

Funny how one simple little rule impacts things and holds things up.

The same is happening with building applications for greenhouses being seen as extra floor space.

The same happened to Peta with Sydney PARK(ing) and street permits

The same thing tends to happen when trying anything new or different.

Decisions get made with unknown or unanticipated flow-on impacts.

Sometimes I have found policy work intangible but it’s definitely a place to impact change by impacting the rules.  But then you never know what cans of worms you open even when changing a policy for the ‘better’- a constant feedback and review is needed.  As my friend Paul, often tells me “Plan, do, check, change”. The frustrating part is a feeling that often the rules don’t get checked, or people stop questioning them, or rules become so culturally accepted that change is hard.  I think sadly cities often just stick to things because “that’s how it was always done”.  Kind of takes some powerful political will and community to do the “check, change” steps.

Terre Farm: Fresh Kills Park

Fresh Kills is a giant landfill reclamation project, with landscape design by the uber-hip Field Operations.  It is to be developed over some 30 years,  The site is HUGE.

I’m a lover of parks but I left the tour totally disheartened by the bigger issues at play. I love the vision but I see many challenges to this park to make it accessible and a destination.  One to watch, nonetheless.


  • The waste system is crazy when you really think about it.   The volumes of accumulated trash are astounding when you see it spatially.  I remember CUP doing a project on where does your trash go? I will fully admit that I don’t know too much about it.  Like many people, I can relate to this “out of sight, out of mind” mentality in a local and global context. Mitch had mentioned that at the beginning of classes he would offer to give an automatic A to students who would carry everything they binned in a bag for 2 weeks.  That is everywhere you go, you had to carry it.  He said it would be an average of 7 bags during that time.  That’s would be an eye-opening experience!  No student has ever done it.
  • The landfill closure means New York is now exporting trash to other cities.  Staten Island’s goes to train to South Carolina, most of Manhattan’s gets trucked out.   How can that be financially or environmentally sustainable?  Why not keep part of the site or look into different strategies of reduction or different methods? There was some talk how in Korea and Europe there are especially strong innovations restricted by space.  How fair is it to continue to displace the problems?
  • Noone likes to live near crappy things like landfill, and the park will be a huge improvement for locals.   But it does reveal to me this tension that is in many urban systems.  The not-in-my-backyard mentality stems from concentrating impact, and that only seems a symptom of large centralized systems (water, sewage, trash, housing projects).   Large systems are created for some efficiency but at the same time can be more vulnerable.  Seems like design should be going towards a local network of diversified small-medium centres so impact and benefits can be spread.
  • The capping regulations require a layer of “residential grade” soil to be on top of certain areas for it to be deemed safe for public park.  This is TONNES of soil they will be importing in but currently have no idea where from.  He mentioned Field Operation had put in an idea of creating top soil- in a planting regime where you plant, let things die, replant etc – but it would have been only inches over years.   The guide mentioned it was not cost effective or timely but over a 30 year plan- seems like space and TIME!  They have scaled down municipal composting at Fresh Kills though you would think that could be ongoing park asset to even scale up.   On some capped mounds there are now plants and trees on industrial soil that were established by planting as well as natural seed dispersion- and it seemed odd that this landscape will essentially be buried with residential grade soil.  Seems like there must be some opportunity to think ahead, use these areas or start composting these sites.