the agritect

@VELD architect, southwestern Ontario

Archive for food systems

Who moved my cheese?

That's what I felt like after biking 35km to the Fifth Town cheese factory in Prince Edward County. Designed by Lapointe Architect, it has been on my architecture bucket list for many years for a few reasons; it was designed by an architect; it gave me hope that an architecture career in agritourism was possible; it is LEED platinum, and I love cheese. Unfortunately, within the past few weeks it entered bankruptcy and was closed (and not because the architect went over budget), just as I had the time to visit Prince Edward County.

After a 30km bike ride to get there it was a welcome rest point, with dedicated VIP bike parking (a LEED point). Unfortunately I was not able to go in or get a guided tour there was lots to see from the outside, and I had done my research on the unique green features.

The factory is one of Ontario’s only cheese factories (or any rural building excluding wineries) that is LEED certified. It meets the criteria for Platinum, which is the highest level of certification. For those of you who don’t know what LEED is, (a post is coming) it stands for Leadership in Energy and Efficiency Design and it is a certification process the measures and confirms reductions in energy use for your building. The diagrams below shown the energy, water and material savings the design provided to this business owner, when compared to other industry standard designs of the same type of building. These savings would get passed onto the business owners! you the farmer! Not to mention its a great marketing tool!

Material, Energy, and Water savings

The building has some unique building materials to give it character and make it unique. Not only does it have corrugated steel cladding (inexpensive) it uses a composite lumber (the red stuff), as well as this unique product called Durisol blocks for the foundations. Durisol blocks are like insulated concrete forms (ICFs), but they are made of a concrete wood fibre blend, giving them additional strength, more insulation value, and more sustainable materials. The Durisol blocks make up the walls for one of my favorite features of the facility; the aging cave. You can see me standing on what looks like a big mound of dirt, which it is, but it is cover and keeping cool the cheese aging cave. You can see in the photograph the viewing window/cave entry on the bottom right. The cool temperatures of the earth significantly reduces the energy required to keep the cheese cool as it ages.

Aging Cave viewing entry, and earthen covering

The facility also looks after water management and waste in a sustainable manner. Whey and wash water are waste products from the cheese making process. The site was designed with bio-wetlands to filter and clean this waste water so that it could naturally infiltrate into the ground again. The Factory also uses cistern to collect roof water and use it for non-potable (non-drinkable) uses.
Whey bio-filtration system

Whey bio-filtration system

Although there was no opportunity for me to taste cheese, there plenty for the building to “say” cheese, with all its goodness!20120605-124500.jpg

Farmer’s share of the Food Dollar

farmer's percentage of the food dollar

If you been in farming for a long time or exposed to the farm life you are aware of the economic struggle that the farmer encounters daily. In fact, the economics of the food dollar don&#39t look good for farming. From 1910 to 1990 the percentage of the food dollar has been consistently declining.
Gliessman, Engles, Krieger, 1998

There are two factors affecting this percentage, the marketing and the production costs of farming. Farmers have two ways then, to get back more of the food dollar, reducing production costs or taking back marketing/selling dollars.

Production cost have increased with the need to buy more equipment, purchase more land and create a farm that can operate with a large scale that the economics allow for a reasonable salary. There is a lot of technology to keep up with and technology costs money. Using co-ops and neighborhood collaborations can reduce the investment costs.

High oil, nitrogen, and energy prices are here to stay. Farmers can start to look  at reducing energy inputs based in oil.  The sun is a free source of energy for you whole farm.  Assessing your energy uses and deciding where you can cut could be very beneficial.  If you have a high electricity bill, you can think about switching to more passive natural systems, for ventilation, heating, or lighting.  You can look at where energy potential is being wasted, for example cooling milk, where does that heat go? It could go towards heating your house, or perhaps contribute to heating a pig barn?

The other aspect is the marketing and selling food to the consumers.  Big grocery stores and processing companies have taken a major portion of the food dollar.  These companies govern the price of food for consumers and the price of food that the farmer should get. There are two major industry concerns here, is the consumer willing to pay more for food? and does the local food market allow farmers to recapture some of their food dollar share? Most people are not willing to pay more for food if they don’t have to, we are all cheap (not just the dutch)! So how can we skip the middlemen grocery stores? On-farm markets and in-town farmers markets, or even CSA, and other food share programs which deliver the food directly to the customer and the profits directly to your pocket!

Gaining back some of your food dollar will require some creative and perhaps even out-of-the-box thinking.  It might even get you criticized, but just image the white area in the chart representing the food dollar increasing and I think you will find its worth it!

Farmer's share of the Food Dollar

farmer's percentage of the food dollar

If you been in farming for a long time or exposed to the farm life you are aware of the economic struggle that the farmer encounters daily. In fact, the economics of the food dollar don&#39t look good for farming. From 1910 to 1990 the percentage of the food dollar has been consistently declining.
Gliessman, Engles, Krieger, 1998

There are two factors affecting this percentage, the marketing and the production costs of farming. Farmers have two ways then, to get back more of the food dollar, reducing production costs or taking back marketing/selling dollars.

Production cost have increased with the need to buy more equipment, purchase more land and create a farm that can operate with a large scale that the economics allow for a reasonable salary. There is a lot of technology to keep up with and technology costs money. Using co-ops and neighborhood collaborations can reduce the investment costs.

High oil, nitrogen, and energy prices are here to stay. Farmers can start to look  at reducing energy inputs based in oil.  The sun is a free source of energy for you whole farm.  Assessing your energy uses and deciding where you can cut could be very beneficial.  If you have a high electricity bill, you can think about switching to more passive natural systems, for ventilation, heating, or lighting.  You can look at where energy potential is being wasted, for example cooling milk, where does that heat go? It could go towards heating your house, or perhaps contribute to heating a pig barn?

The other aspect is the marketing and selling food to the consumers.  Big grocery stores and processing companies have taken a major portion of the food dollar.  These companies govern the price of food for consumers and the price of food that the farmer should get. There are two major industry concerns here, is the consumer willing to pay more for food? and does the local food market allow farmers to recapture some of their food dollar share? Most people are not willing to pay more for food if they don’t have to, we are all cheap (not just the dutch)! So how can we skip the middlemen grocery stores? On-farm markets and in-town farmers markets, or even CSA, and other food share programs which deliver the food directly to the customer and the profits directly to your pocket!

Gaining back some of your food dollar will require some creative and perhaps even out-of-the-box thinking.  It might even get you criticized, but just image the white area in the chart representing the food dollar increasing and I think you will find its worth it!

Farm Size Infographic

The following infographic describes the average size of farm in Canada, taken from stats Canada.

copyright, VELD architect 2008

The Desirable Food System : 2025

In November, I attended a discussion on Sustainable Food Systems the Arts and Cookery Bank(a great venue and enterprise) in West Lorne. Hosted by Roxana Roshon and Tom Schell and the London Training Centre working on an amazing research project on Food Systems. They are taking an cross-system (rather than silo) approach to their research looking at everything from producers’ to feed sales’ to processors and distributor’ economics’ sustainability’ technology’ to the consumer.

One of the main activities of the day was to describe food systems. The room was broken up into groups by age’ young’ middle age’ and senior/retired. The retired group shared stories of what the food system looked like “back-in-the-day”, describing butchering the calf under the apple tree, or getting the fresh milk delivered to the door each day. They described a system that was complex in relationships and simple in worries. But can imagine plowing with a horse?

The middle-aged group are the group who are currently managing and operating our food system. They made up the majority of the room and they described a number of value chains; cash crops, poultry, and beef. Their system was also simple, but in a different way. The middle man distributed such as a feed mill moved goods to consumers and money to producers; simple, right? But we seems to have lost the human touch described by the retired group.

And then there was the new generation; full of hopes and dreams looking to answer the question of ‘what is the desirable food system in 2025’? I happy to be considered young and not middle aged, but after starting our discussion I realized how hard this question was going to be to answer. Our group was made up of two economic developers, one engineer, someone representing immigration, a future producer, and myself. We all had our dreams for a sustainable vision; no dependance on oil, conserve energy, educate the public and producers, and communication lines between all parties involved. We all had our private agendas, use renewable energy, generate economic growth, create a better living for farmers, create access to healthy and inexpensive foods for everyone, etc. And every idea was faced with challenges and difficulties.

After the 5 minute warning we still didn’t have much on the paper in front of us, but we had great visions and ideas.

1. We started with defining ‘sustainable’ as something that can be maintained over long periods of time.

2. Then a sustainable food system was not to rely on oil, starting with reducing energy,  then generating renewable energy.

3. It was then was a matter of communication.  How to get all parties involved, consumers, farmers, processors, suppliers, educated about sustainable practices in the communities and get them talking to each other to create a better system and share information.

As simple as three steps! What is your ideal food system for 2025? How do you contribute to a sustainable food system?

I will walk 500 miles … to get a glass of milk?

copyright Krista Duynisveld 2009

The diagram above illustrates the scale of milk production in Southwestern Ontario. Only 67 processing plants process all the milk in Ontario for delivery to grocery stores and your table. Imagine your neighbour is a farmer, even if this neighbour is just outside of town. Your milk travels at least 120kms to a processing plant and back to a grocery store even if that neighbour is merely 10km away!  For some of you reading this you may not even know a dairy farmer because you have no connection to him/her when you pick up your milk.

There are 254 milk trucks in Ontario (DFO, 2009) driving around everyday collecting milk and delivering to processing plants at least 30km away.  Not to mention to trip back to the grocery store and then to your house.  1 litre of milk will travel approximately 70kms to get to your table. Thats alot of food miles over a year, and a lot of oil used.

Is there a way to create a more local system of processing and connection back to the dairy farmer who lovingly gets up every morning to milk his cows?

Want to see more?  This work is part of my Master’s thesis.  Taken from a portion that looked at the various ‘ecosystems’ that made up the rural and farming culture of Southwestern Ontario.  Please check it out on page 38 of my thesis (please give it a couple of minutes to load).

About the Agritect

They say you can take the girl away from the farm, but you can't take the farm away from the girl.  I left the family farm in 2002 to pursue a career in architecture and came full circle in 2008 when I started my master's thesis on architecture and agriculture: agritecture.

A few definitions (taken from Google definition):

ag·ri·cul·ture/ˈagriˌkəlCHər/

 
Noun:
The science or practice of farming, including cultivation of the soil for the growing of crops and the rearing of animals to provide food, wool, and other products.

I grew up on a dairy farm in Middlesex County.  As a child I was fully immersed in the family farm. I very quickly realized that farmers are more than just farmers, they are contemporary Renaissance Men, understanding business, accounting, management, science, biology, ecology, mechanics, electronics, buildings to name only a few.  But farming is not only a science, its a lifestyle choice.  Its hard work! But is also the fresh air, the morning dew, the view over the land you work, seeing the first sprouts break through the crust of the field. Farmers are the caretakers of the land and the architects of the rural landscape.

ar·chi·tec·ture/ˈärkiˌtekCHər/

 
Noun:
  1. The art or practice of designing and constructing buildings.
  2. The style of a building with regard to a specific period, place, or culture.

The transition into architecture was not difficult (except for the city life). The architect is not unlike the farmer, they too are a Renaissance men (or woman in this case), skilled in many disciplines and big picture thinking. Using creative problem solving skills, the architect can think about a design in many different ways (including ones you might not think of) in order to find the best solution. Architects are trained  to manage many disciplines and many streams of ideas, problems, complex systems, and information. My education trained me in structure, ventilation, lighting, electricity, costing, etc. Not only are they trained in technical systems, but they also integrate culture, beauty, site and user specific needs into their thinking about buildings and design. All this information is then combined into one simple solution that assists the users of the building in terms of budget, energy costs, ease of use, and pleasantness of experience.  That is a good architect.

ag·ri·tec·ture/ˈagriˌtekCHər/

Noun:
  1. The art or practice of designing and constructing farming buildings with regard to the specific place, culture, and science of farming.

When I began the undertaking of my thesis on agriculture and architecture, I had an advantage; I knew the story from both sides.  I understood that a barn, house, or farm design, needed to be absolutely practical, it had to make economic sense, but I also knew how to make it energy efficient, personal, and as moving as the traditional bank barns. After the completion of my thesis I knew that working in the rural and agriculture sector is what I wanted to do. I am the agritect.

I am currently practicing architecture as an intern architect in the Waterloo Region and will soon become a fully licensed architect.

This blog is a resource, portfolio, and exploration of the sustainable relationship of agriculture and architecture. Feel free to contact me if you are interested in working with me.