November 27, 2011 Edit
ASLA Oregon LANDbytes NOVEMBER 2011 Feature:
Growing Fresh Insights at the University of Oregon
By Logan Bingle, Undergraduate of Landscape Architecture, University of Oregon
In recent years, urban agriculture has become a widely popular idea. Just this year, the APA published a guide on issues planners should consider when incorporating urban agriculture into their work. At the University of Oregon’s Landscape Architecture Department, urban agriculture is not just a fad, but a subject that has been used to inform design and promote the field of landscape architecture.
The University of Oregon’s Landscape Architecture Department began exploring urban agriculture in the 1970s when Professor Richard Britz founded the Urban Farm on a plot of land across Franklin Boulevard from the University of Oregon. Unfortunately, Richard Britz was not granted tenure at the University of Oregon and left the university’s faculty in 1981. Ann Bettman took over the Urban Farm and kept it going through the 1980s despite threats from development and low class attendance. Things began to change in the 1990s with renewed interest in urban agriculture.
Since 2000, the Urban Farm has been a wild success. Around 2000 students have passed through the Urban Farm’s spring, summer and fall classes. A wide range of students have taken the classes, including Freshman Interest Groups, Environmental Studies Majors, Architecture Majors and many others. In an odd twist, the Urban Farm’s director, Harper Keeler, reports that landscape architecture students are a minority in the Urban Farm classes. In a survey of landscape architecture students, Harper found that most students feel that urban agriculture is important to the field but feel they cannot fit the class into their schedules. Despite this lack of Landscape Architecture students, Harper emphasizes that the Urban Farm plays an important role in exposing the Landscape Architecture Department to the wider University community. Indeed, several freshmen who have taken the Urban Farm Freshman Interest Group have gone on to join the landscape architecture program.
The Urban Farm is not the only department effort in urban agriculture. In 2010, the Landscape Architecture Department began a second urban farming effort across from the Eugene District Courthouse. This effort was a partnership between the Oregon Federal District Court Chief Judge Ann Aiken, the University of Oregon Landscape Architecture Department Professors Ann Bettman and Lorri Nelson and the City of Eugene. The new Courthouse Garden aims to serve a social mission, originally aimed at inmates and paroles, with the support of University students and volunteers.
In the one and a half years since the Courthouse Garden began, the program has begun to shift away from its original inmate and parole program because of logistically difficulties. The Courthouse Garden’s director, Lorri Nelson, has begun to refocus the garden on at risk youths and other social missions. Recently, the Courthouse Garden has been hosting work parties from local schools for at risk youths, such as the MLK School, as part of the Landscape Architecture Department’s Courthouse Garden classes. This allows both groups of students to learn and support each other.
The Landscape Architecture Department’s efforts in urban agriculture do not end with practical work either. Beginning with Richard Britz, there has been a great deal of research done on urban agriculture at the University of Oregon. The first major work after the 1970s was completed in 1995 by Kelly Donahue, who looked at six campus farms on the west coast and their resurgence in the 1990s. Harper Keeler has also conducted researched on ways that urban farming can contribute to the education of landscape architects and ways urban farming can be incorporated into the landscape architecture curriculum.
Currently, there are several graduate students at the University of Oregon exploring issues surrounding urban agriculture. Expecting to graduate this fall or winter, Patty Stevenson has been looking at large scale planning issues concerning community gardens. Her work looks beyond food production to consider community gardens that also produce cut flowers and are aesthetic works produced in a cooperative spirit. This shows how issues of urban agriculture can transcend purely practical ends to wide ranging design considerations.
This is the most important lesson taught by the University of Oregon Landscape Architecture Department’s work in the field of urban agriculture. While urban agriculture can be purely practical, it can also help inform our work as designers. The Urban Farm, Courthouse Garden and urban agriculture research at the University of Oregon promise to bring new ideas, talent and public exposure to the field of landscape architecture.