Sustainable America Blog


Agri-tecture is a catchy new name for the intersection of architecture and agriculture which is being seen most prominently in the emerging urban farming movement. Henry Gordon-Smith, a graduate student in sustainability management at Columbia University, coined this unique word through his blog, Agri-tecture, where it’s defined as buildings that grow food or building-integrated agriculture (BIA).

In a recent post, Gordon-Smith highlighted the reality of food deserts in America. A food desert is loosely defined as a area where there is not ready access to fresh fruits, vegetables and other elements of a healthy diet (i.e. no grocery stores). Typically these areas are low-income, but that is not always the case.

The USDA recently published this interactive food desert locator map which shows where food deserts exist in the United States.

Map courtesy of [USDA](

Map courtesy of USDA

When thinking about where high-density urban farms might go, the folks at Agri-tecture see this map as a blueprint for change. “Improving the available fresh food in the urban food deserts across this country would be a good place to prioritize site selection for hydroponic and aeroponic farms. Distribution must be improved to build resilient food security,” he wrote.

Sustainable America aims to increase food availability in America by 50% by 2030. One of the important ways we plan to do this is through supporting efforts to increase and diversify the production of food in America. Urban farming is a great way to do that.

We’ve seen a number of innovative ideas cropping up, like farming in shipping containers, an old meatpacking plant in Chicago transformed into a vertical farm, and the award-winning Swedish design for a high-rise multipurpose greenhouse in the middle of Stockholm. All of these exciting concepts may be leading the way toward an urban farming explosion that will help to ease the strain on our food supply in ever-expanding urban centers across the country.

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By the Numbers

Currently 50 million households suffer from food insecurity, meaning that family members cannot always meet their basic food needs.

10 million people a year could be fed through the recovery of just one-fifth of food waste.

Only 2% of food waste is composted or otherwise recycled—62% of paper is recycled.

Consumers throw out about 40% of the fresh and frozen fish they buy.

The U.S. produced 208 pounds of meat per person in 2009—60% more than Europe.

Low income commuters spend a much higher proportion of their wages on gas—8.6% versus 2.1% at $4 per gallon.

Food prices rose 35-40 percentage points between 2002–2008.

Americans consume 25% of the world’s produced oil, but our nation holds less than 3% of the world’s proven oil reserves.

The International Energy Agency says greenhouse gas emissions rose 3.2% last year, with a 9.3% increase in China offsetting declines in the US and EU.

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