Local Environmental Scientist Pioneers Urban Farm Research
By Adam Winters
Thursday, June 9, 2011
Queensbury High alumnus Erik Facteau grew up surrounded by the dense flora of Lake George and the Adirondacks. Summers camping and hiking around Sleeping Beauty, Shelving Rock and Buck Mountain as well as spending time at his family’s Adirondack farm and cabin on the Saranac River fostered the passion for science that facilitated his academic study of biology.
Today, Facteau and his research partner Tyler Caruso, both recent Master’s of Science graduates of Brooklyn’s Pratt Institute, could be considered environmental scientists of the avante-garde.
Facteau and Caruso are pioneering urban agriculture research that has the potential to facilitate monumental shifts in government policy that would not only mark a new era of sustainability in New York, but could be replicated throughout the country and world.
Their modus operandi is simple. “To create a model for future research that can be replicated anywhere, to help validate and support urban farms.”
They call their project Seeing Green: The Value of Urban Agriculture, “a year-long research project that will measure the storm water management potential of two urban farms” in New York City.
According to the project’s website, “Farms give us a lot more than just produce – They increase food security, decrease food miles traveled, offer healthy and nutritious produce, create green jobs, improve air and water quality, combat Urban Heat Island effect, create habitat for critters, beautify neighborhoods…”
“We know farms are good, but nobody has quantified how good,” according to Facteau, also a graduate of SUNY School of Environmental Science and Forestry in Syracuse. “Government policy is based on metrics, and there are none that look at urban farms’ performativity as green infrastructure.”
Caruso elaborates, “We’re at a critical moment because the city’s DEP [Department of Environmental Protection] has released its green infrastructure plan and while it includes great ‘green’ or non-mechanical ways of dealing with storm water such as planting trees, blue roofs and bioswales, it doesn’t include urban agriculture because there has been no monitoring or data generated.”
Facteau and Caruso will provide numbers where none exist to lend empirical support for urban agriculture as a viable and crucial component of a city’s green infrastructure so that policymakers may draft legislation to offer supportive incentives to building owners while loosening urban farming restrictions.
And the two scientists are happy to discuss why green infrastructure is so important to pursue now.
“[New York City’s] waste water system has a serious systemic problem. It was not designed to handle both septic and storm water runoff, so every time it storms the system gets overwhelmed and over 420 combined sewage pipe outfalls throughout the city release raw, untreated septic waste into its water bodies, creating events called ‘CSO’s [combined sewage overflow],” Caruso says. “Rooftop farms absorb many thousands of gallons of water that would run off and stress the system. Urban farms offer a cost effective and carbon zero storm water solution.”
Cities and towns spend millions of dollars on wastewater and storm water treatment, both in energy and dollars. And in New York City, wastewater treatment accounts for 17% of the city’s greenhouse gas emissions, a staggering figure.
Facteau and Caruso stress how research affects policy.
“Currently in NYC there is a one-time greenroof tax credit that covers some of the installation costs for a greenroof…The language specifies that roofs which require irrigation are ineligible to receive the credit. This means that the credit doesn’t allow for the use of food-producing crops…” according to the project’s website.
According to Facteau, this language is based on a non research-backed speculation that he hopes to disprove through his research with Caruso.
And the two scientists smile when they consider the implications of government policy changing to include food-producing crops on rooftop farms and then replicating across the country and world.
Facteau and Caruso recently wrapped an online fundraising Kickstarter campaign raising over $13,000 to purchase equipment they need to conduct their research. They are also applying for government grants that will allow them to extend that research beyond the initial one-year scope of their Seeing Green project.
Facteau’s ecological research on topics such as plant restoration, mycology and brook trout in and around the Adirondacks while studying at SUNY ESF led him to where he now stands, beaming upon learning that his project has reached the all or nothing threshold of $12,000 to disburse funding to his project with Caruso.
“There is a vibrant community of urban farmers throughout the world without much government help,” Caruso and Facteau agree, “And if we work together to empower our policymakers with data, they will follow our lead and empower us to make all of our communities healthier and better places to live.”
To learn more go to their Kickstarter page
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