FOOD AND THE CITY: The Sustainable City

How one family hopes to start greening South Florida

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BY TRACY ALLERTON

Editor’s note: One of Edible Palm Beach’s major goals is to raise awareness about South Florida’s sustainability challenges. These include, but are not limited to, the problems caused by pollution and overpopulation, as well as the decrease in farmlands and a rise in urban food deserts throughout the region. To this end, we will feature stories about people and organizations that are offering creative solutions to these challenges. By supporting their efforts, we hope to contribute to their success and thus advance the sustainability movement.

In the Wynwood section of Miami, an arts renaissance has transformed the once-decaying urban streets into a bustling oasis for hipsters and young urban professionals. Shiny new shopping and office complexes bump up against historic buildings, artist lofts, film and music studios, technology hubs, funky cafes, fashion warehouses and fancy boutiques and galleries. For those who live, work and invest here, it is indeed a land of economic opportunity.

But Nando Jaramillo and Blair Butterfield look around and see a different kind of opportunity – namely, environmental.

“We believe Miami should strive to be the ‘greenest’ city in America,” says Butterfield. “There is no reason that every resident should not be gardening, harvesting rainwater, utilizing solar energy and creating rich soils with compost for growing local food.”

However, the husband and wife team are realistic enough to know that such a widespread movement is not going to happen “organically” – but instead must be planted and nurtured by advocates of sustainability like themselves. In other words, they must lead by example.

Enter Colony1. This one-of-a-kind facility, designed to raise environmental consciousness through the merging of art and science, is under development in the Wynwood Arts District. Part ecological think tank, part community gathering space, part organic food garden, Colony1 will provide a centralized hub for collaboration between art and environmental research. It also will host a unique residency program that will become a catalyst for workshops, lecture series, on-site demonstrations and community outreach programs.

“Colony1 is founded on the belief that responding to the current environmental crises is the greatest challenge of the current era. This facility would allow the public access to the tools necessary to respond to this challenge,” the visionaries say. To be sure, they face a daunting task. Miami and other South Florida cities typically rank very low in environmental metrics, with civic leaders tending to favor commerce over community and development over biodiversity.

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Bus and garden photos by Jayme Gershen. Calabaza and banana photos by Emily Peters.

BLAZING A TRAIL

But leading by example has not been an issue for this ecology-minded couple. Jaramillo, 49, an art director for film and television, and Butterfield, 31, an artist and social activist, have been dedicated to living a green lifestyle together since their 2008 marriage.

Four years ago, the duo repurposed a transit bus into a mobile sustainability lab and classroom, where they live with their two children, Luciano, 4, and Imogen, 2½. For three years, the family travelled 8,000 miles cross-country to gather ideas and collect information on national sustainable city efforts.

These adventures led to the formation of the couple’s nonprofit, Art of Cultural Evolution (ACE), dedicated to fostering a sustainable future through the arts. In 2012, ACE leased a vacant lot on 34th Street in Miami, where they launched a pilot program dubbed the Midtown 34th Street Sustainable Land Lab, to show local residents what is possible in their own backyards.

The results were remarkable: In one growing season, the project fed about 15 families with organic produce grown onsite, and demonstrated three types of composting, as well as solar-energy use, rainwater harvesting and, more importantly, soil restoration. Populations of birds, bees and butterflies increased on the property. Neighbors began planting their own gardens after seeing first-hand the nutritional value of growing locally.

Through collaborations with other local groups, the lab offered free public workshops, classes, movie screenings, demonstrations and educational opportunities on topics such as organic gardening, community supported agriculture (CSA) programs, solar energy, composting, yoga, raw food and much more.

With these successes, Jaramillo and Butterfield began to focus on coalescing all of their ideas into the Colony1 project.

ADVANCING THEIR VISION

“Colony1 will bring dynamic programming in the areas of food, sustainability, conservation, technology, design, art and education to South Florida,” the co-founders promise.

ACE is in negotiations for a permanent home for Colony1 on a 14,000-square-foot lot at 550 NW 22 St. The site will include a 2,500- square-foot building constructed from 11 shipping containers, as well as public spaces that include a cooperative organic garden.

Here are some of the significant features of the project:

DESIGN: “Colony1 aims to be a living example of real-life solutions for South Florida residents,” Butterfield says.

Colony1’s forward-thinking architecture utilizes recycled shipping containers, as well as vertical and rooftop gardens for insulation and food and energy production on all surfaces. The site will be bio-remediated with debris removal and layers of mulching. The center is designed to be entirely self-sustaining, operating with solar and wind energy and integrated into a sophisticated rainwater catchment and filtration system. These technologies will allow residents and business owners to get hands-on, educational exposure to sustainable living ideas.

LAND USE: “The outdoor space will be integrated into the programming, providing a venue for artists and scientists to engage, experiment, and develop ideas,” Jaramillo says.

Landscaping will include a large garden that will provide organic produce, compost, fertilizers and pollinators. Utilizing permaculture principles, the garden will be a self-sustaining system employing native plants, rainwater harvesting, grey water filtration through a constructed wetland system, composting, vermiculture, recycling, and wind and solar energy.

The garden will be home to a nonprofit community supported agriculture (“CSA”) program. This CSA will be operated by volunteers, who in exchange for time, earn a share of the organic produce grown at the site. There also will be produce shares available to the public by donation, making it easy and affordable for anyone to buy nutritious, non-GMO, pesticide-free local foods.

PROGRAMMING: Colony1’s co-founders believe that “collaboration between art and environmental research has the potential to create new knowledge, ideas and processes beneficial to both fields.”

The innovative Art and Environmental Research Residency Program will grant space to an artist and an environmental researcher for exploration, dissemination and public engagement. The facility’s architecture and landscaping are designed to provide a platform for experiments, tests, developments and public exposure. A schedule of weekly and monthly talks, workshops, performances, concerts, readings, exhibitions, film screenings, installations and educational events will spring from this residency program.

The first year’s programming will concentrate on local environmental groups already operating in South Florida. For example, a pairing may occur between a beekeeper and an architect, an Everglades restoration expert and an installation artist, or a microbiologist and a visual artist. These pairings will be directed toward achieving beneficial results for the art and environmental communities in South Florida.

DOING IT TOGETHER

True to their mission, Butterfield and Jaramillo are approaching Colony1 from a community mindset. They are actively seeking support for the $200,000 facility in the form of material donations, funding grants and volunteer participation. Members of the community who have already stepped up to donate goods, services or labor include professionals, students and international groups. In addition, residents have formed committees to help oversee the project’s development and operation.

“As a nonprofit venture, Colony1 aims to serve the community and make, distill and combine efforts to develop public interests,” Jaramillo says.

Colony1 is also featured on IOBY.org, a crowd-source funding website that champions such grassroots efforts. Say the IOBY administrators: “We have a mission to deepen civic engagement in cities by connecting individuals directly to community-led, neighbor-funded environmental projects in their neighborhoods.”

Jaramillo and Butterfield anticipate that the project will take about 22 months and be completed in three phases, from obtaining financing and permits, to construction, installation and landscaping, to establishing the residency program and yielding the first organic crop for public sale.

SAVING THE COMMUNITY

There is another, larger issue that the creators of Colony1 hope to address: the negative effects of growth and gentrification, which have already begun to impact the Wynwood Arts District. It’s a typical pattern, says Butterfield: “As artists improve an area, the rents and property values rise, new businesses locate and thrive, and the founding artists are ultimately pushed out of the very communities they helped create.”

The couple have even experienced it themselves, with their eviction from the Midtown 34th Street site by the new landlord, an investor from Dubai who plans to bulldoze the property – gardens and native fruit trees alike – for yet another concrete-and-steel behemoth.

Butterfield even wrote an October 24, 2013 letter to the Miami Herald, expressing her dismay over this trend: “It’s because of developers like AB Abundance LLC, which intends to cut down an ecological paradise, developed in part by my organization and the residents of Wynwood and Edgewater, for short-term monetary gain, that Miami will be left uninhabitable and stripped of all its natural resources.” Colony1, its co-founders say, is intended to “challenge the community to break this cycle and make Miami’s artistic community resilient.”

And by helping one community cope with the ills of urban growth in strategic, sustainable ways, the couple hopes their solutions will take root in other South Florida communities and cities. Once Colony1 is up and running, there will be opportunities to spread the word via workshops and demonstrations in Palm Beach, Martin, St. Lucie and Indian River counties.

Ask Butterfield to describe her vision for a sustainable Miami, and she paints a poetic picture: “There could be fruit trees in public spaces, back yard gardens or even rooftops, providing residents with seasonal fruits all year and restoring a natural canopy cover to Miami, making summers more energy-efficient and pleasant.”

But it’s really not such a far-fetched dream. In fact, the seeds of Colony1’s success have already been sown, notes Butterfield: “Miami has a large scientific, ecological and conservation community. It is also home to the second-largest contemporary art fair in the world (Art Basel). The merger of the two is a must for the sustainability and resilience of Miami’s culture, industry and ecology.”

Colony1 | 550 NW 22nd Street | Miami, FL 33127

For more information: artofculturalevolution.org; Blair@artofculturalevolution; ioby.org

THE CONTAINER STORY

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Colony1’s design incorporates the use of shipping containers for the living and working spaces. “Shipping containers are a sustainable and innovative solution for responding to the current environmental and economic crisis,” the project’s co-founders say. Cities that have famous container buildings include Amsterdam, Berlin, Detroit, London, New York, Paris, Vancouver, and Gainesville, FL. Shipping containers were designed to securely store and transport goods in watertight conditions. They come in internationally standardized sizes that are appropriate for human scale. The containers can be juxtaposed or joined together to form complex structures, are easily modified and withstand strong exterior forces with their steel framing. Other advantages to using containers as a building material include their low cost, their quick and simple construction capacities, and an ability to easily dismantle and relocate them.

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