'Farming the City:' SPEA class to be taught by Foster International director spring semester
In John Galuska's Bloomington backyard, his five heritage-bred chickens live like royalty in a cozy, handmade, straw-lined "hen palace" that he built over a period of several months using recycled materials -- among them pounded-out cans from a local restaurant, windows from the Habitat for Humanity ReStore outlet and salvaged cinderblock from the IU Bloomington Department of Biology's Jordan Hall greenhouse.
On a recent December morning, Galuska, director of Indiana University Bloomington's Foster International Living-Learning Center, (www.fin.indiana.edu), crunched through the snow to give a couple of visitors a tour of his one-acre urban farm.
Among the highlights: nine fluffy American Chinchilla rabbits, which maintain a Zen existence in individual hutches, nibbling fresh salad greens and carrot tops in exchange for their manure (an excellent fertilizer for gardens); a plastic-covered PVC frame "hoop house" constructed to protect vegetables from the elements and extend the growing season; snow covered garlic beds for a summer harvest; a fence he built around one-third of the property to keep deer at bay; and garden beds of food-scraps composting on site for the spring growing season.
By spring, the 18-plus fruit trees planted by Galuska since spring 2007 (with help from his wife, Alice Dobie-Galuska and their two children) will begin to show signs of life. In addition to the apples, cherries, quince, plums, citrus and pawpaw, the family looks forward to future harvests of blueberries, blackberries, strawberries, raspberries and cranberries, Galuska said.
Since 2006, when the family moved to the property i n the Bryan Park neighborhood, they have systematically created garden beds from untended brambles and worked on transforming the heavy clay soil on their lot into a productive urban farm called Grown In Town Farmstead.
This spring, Galuska will bring the concept of urban farming into the classroom at IU. "Farming the City: Global Perspectives on Urban Agriculture and Food Security," a new course offered through School of Public and Environmental Affairs, will explore how forms of urban agriculture can help provide cities with consistent access to a variety of nutritious food sources. In addition to the international case studies, students will explore urban farming initiatives from Detroit, Milwaukee, Indianapolis and Bloomington.
"I grew up in the Chicago suburbs, but my mom's father had chickens and had a hobby farm in Arkansas," Galuska said. "My mom and her mother were more flower gardeners." Somehow, it was enough to plant the agriculture seed in Galuska, a longtime vegetable grower who earned his doctoral degree at IU's Department of Folklore and Ethnomusicology with a focus on Caribbean verbal and music traditions.
Over the past 10 years, his interest in sustainability and local food security has increased.
Through "Roots, Fruits and Jamaican Ecologies," the interdisciplinary service-learning course he created with a biologist, Galuska has had the opportunity to work with rural farmers and park rangers in Jamaica. While the study of Caribbean expressive culture may seem far removed from the topic of sustainable agriculture, Galuska said he now sees distinct correlations between the creative processes practiced by poets and musicians and the innovative approaches to small-scale agricultural production practiced by farmers. Tracking the origins of food from soil to table -- or farm to fork -- is part of this research. "I'm interested in studying food systems and better understanding people's conceptions of food, foodways and farming," he said.
Galuska was instrumental in working with Bloomington City Council members to add urban agriculture and community gardening to the list of permitted uses on residential properties within the city. (Recently, he spent several months going through the city's official permit process that granted him permission to keep his chickens.) His work and the efforts of others in the community also led to Bloomington Mayor Mark Kruzan's proclamation of August 23-29 as "Urban Agriculture and Community Gardening Week."
Yes, the Galuskas still have to buy food at the grocery store, and yes, no matter how practiced the farmer, urban farming is a challenge.
"There's so much work involved in growing food," Galuska said. "You can put all of your time and energy into a crop and really know what you're doing, but still have it not work because of the climate or factors that are just beyond your control."
Last summer, the family sold some of their vegetables to friends and neighbors. "Forget 100 miles -- I want to sell to people within 10 miles, or one mile, if I can," he said, making subtle reference to a movement to the "100 Mile Diet," a local food pledge started by Alisa Smith and J.B. MacKinnon in 2005 in Vancouver. "My hope is to have this food localized on a level that is very micro."
"Farming the City" will provide students with information on the challenge of feeding the increasing urban populations around the world, with a segment of the course focusing on the Midwest and Bloomington. The course will include materials on both the major benefits and risks of urban farming, and students will write a final paper that makes cross-cultural or regional connections between urban agriculture techniques that have been presented throughout the course.
At hen palace, three of the chickens cluck as they walk forward with excitement while two hens maintain a watchful gaze without coming immediately forward. "Now they're going to think that I have something special for them," Galuska said, assuring the visitors that these are egg chickens that will not be slaughtered for their meat.
"They're supposed to keep laying eggs, even in winter," he said. "The chicken run itself took a long time; I had to do it piece-by-piece over a long period of time when there was no roofing, just a big blue tarp that was sitting there."
Galuska opens the back of the henhouse to retrieve some grain. There, the missing chickens are revealed. One is laying an egg in privacy; she flicks a scathing glance in the general direction of the disturbance.
While Galuska hopes students in the upcoming course will grow vegetables, either at home or in a community garden plot, he'll be happy to simply make the students more aware of where food comes from -- and how positive individual choices can have a ripple effect.
"I want them to come away with a better understanding of food policies," he said. "I want them to really see the connection between the people in the city who are buying and eating the food and the people who are growing the food."
For more information on urban agriculture, Galuska suggests this web site: www.cityfarmer.info.