Jolie Kaytes the Landscape Architecture Program Coordinator invited me to give a talk for the lecture series at the School of Design and Construction at Washington State University. I was honored by the invitation but I also wondered how she found me, and what did she wanted me to talk about. She said the theme for the series was diversity and she found me as she was searching for people doing alternative work in the Landscape Architecture profession and focusing on productive landscapes. She liked my community outreach and participatory approach and the work that BASE is doing around Urban Agriculture and wanted me to talk about that.
I thought about my presentation and the theme. Diversity is a wide-open subject and many things can be included under this category. I decided to focus on the diversity of users, a diversity that goes beyond age, race, gender or abilities, a diversity that is inclusive of all “bee-ings” in the landscape. So my talk was about two of my favorite subject, urban agriculture and bees. In more academic terms it was about the importance of creating healthy habitats for pollinators in the design of urban agriculture landscapes and expanding the notion beyond food production.
Design and Urban Agriculture Lecture @ WSU
The lecture was well attended and the students were engaged and asked lots of questions at the end. Especially on the policy and zoning issues that prevent urban agriculture in many urban areas. One faculty member from the Architecture department asked about esthetics, how can this urban agriculture projects be made to conform to the more traditional sense of what a beautiful traditional landscape looks like. How do I make them beautiful he asked me. My priority is making sure the project happens; in most cases the amount of red tape, bureaucracy and permitting is enough to want to give up, then there is the community outreach, building consensus and finding the site and funding. The most important thing is to create a functional and accessible site, making sure that it gets built, if it is beautiful then that is the cherry on the top. But “Form follows function” is not a new concept.
I think beauty can also be found in the process, building community and creating a healthy living habitat. There can still be beautiful design elements in the form, the layout and the hardscape elements. But it is true; most urban agriculture gardens can look scruffy at the end of the season. If we get past that and we allow the plants to go to seed, then we are sharing our veggie plants with pollinators and we can collect seeds to be reused next year. To me, that is beautiful, a landscape that supports life! The typical manicured landscapes of lawn and squared shrubs do not allow for that. This stated a really interesting discussion. Is it time to redefine our perception of a beautiful landscape?
Urban vineyard with pollinator hedgerow
This conversation continued during dinner with the faculty. They were all in agreement; we need to look at landscapes with the lens of function in all aspects, food production, soil building, water systems, energy, etc. Landscapes cannot be seen only as esthetic sites. I was both amazed and happy to be having this conversation. Amazed because being in the bay area bubble I sometimes forget we are not all in the same page and that permaculture and urban agriculture are not as widely spread; and happy to be having this conversation and to know that this is a focus of the education in the landscape architecture department at WSU. WSU is a big agricultural school surrounded by hundred’s of acres of wheat mono-crops, so permaculture and organic agriculture are really important topics to be included. There are many permaculture and different groups doing this kind of work around the world but it is time for landscape architects and planners to jump on this issue and make it easier and possible for cities to have urban agriculture.
Another highlight of my trip was visiting the bee lab at the entomology department. I had a meeting with Dr. Walter Sheppard and Brandon Hopkin who have been doing a lot of research on the impact of pesticides on bee colonies and fertilizing queens using cryopreserved semen.
Liquid nitrogen drone bank or “germplasm repository”
I had read about them and had seen videos of queens artificial insemination to preserve the integrity of certain species. I still find the artificial insemination of queens bizarre but it was very exciting for to see their lab, equipment and to learn about why and how they do it.
Drone sperm preserved in liquid nitrogen
Essentially it is a conservation and diversity effort. What I gathered is, that there is only one species of Italian bee being breed in the US. However, there are many other species of Italian honey bees and they are trying to increase the overall genetic diversity of honey bees because they believe it may lead to healthier and hardier bees that can better fight off parasites, pathogens and pests.
Queen artificial insemination station
They also took me on a tour of their honey extraction area. They have large equipment to separate the honey from the frames and a walk in refrigerator to keep the frames cold during the winter and prevent wax moths.
WSU honey extraction equipment
They shared some of their creamed honey and it was delightful. Basically creamed honey is crystallized honey, the honey gets seeded with very tiny crystals that spread and turn the viscous honey into a creamed consistence.
You need one crystal to get more crystals. I have been thinking about this concept. Can we be like crystals? Seed our ideas, shine our light, and fractal-y spread it to others and transform our environment.
I hope so – Lets be the change we wish to see in the world! Gandhi
Fractal crystalized honey