#MDM Food City

I think that in America we have this problem of thinking linear. We’re a very driven and efficient (most of the time) people and we look to get things done well without sacrificing our independent spirit and our ability to recreate.

I heard a story once about war and tanks. Someone said: “If you want one amazing tank, ask the Germans, if you want 10,000 pretty good tanks, ask the Americans.” Where Germans see their craft as art, we see industrialization as good enough and quantity.

I think the same goes for our cities. In America, we build our cities with the perception of function, not beauty or efficient land use. You build a store and a parking lot all separated from each other so you can quickly drive from one to the other acquiring what you need and making it back home lickety-split. We know that this really isn’t efficient and often does more harm then good, but it allows us to get things done fairly quickly while maintaing our independence and self-serving nature.

Now, this brings me to a thought I’ve had for a while. Free food. As American cities are starting to evolve and become more walkable we have a new opportunity to use our land in the city to produce agriculture. Something a lot of cities around the world are already doing. 

People are embracing the idea of free food (who wouldn’t) and creating apps to help you find it. One such app is Falling Fruit. It uses Google Maps and simply crowdsources information on free urban food via your location. There are a few contributors in Mankato–it’s pretty cool.

So, what does this have to do with our working culture and our cities? Well, it just makes sense to be able to grow food on land that is otherwise unproductive, but we don’t see it that way. Our linear thinking limits our creativity on how to use our land (that and generally bogus FDA rulings.) Fruit trees are the perfect candidate for creative land use because they offer beauty, shade, rain collection, pollution control and FOOD. We could infill lots of our empty spaces with fruit trees making our cities more livable, beautiful and efficient–something we’ve been neglecting for the past 50 years in our race to the bottom, auto-orientated development.

Here’s an example:


In the above image (which has pretty terrible land use in my opinion) I’ve highlighted all the green space. You can see from this image that a fair amount of it has no trees on it at all, despite being located downtown. Now imagine if you took that green space and planted apple trees. We’re well known for our apples in Minnesota and it wouldn’t take a lot to acquire them and maintain them. All you need to do then is get some public information on the trees (how not to treat them) and voilà, free food for the people and a reason to care about that space.

This is an easy, cheap investment that a city or private citizen could make on public fronting property. It would enhance a public space and bring a dual benefit to the area. It just takes a little creativity and a switch in mentalities to do something like this.

I like to use the below image to exemplify our misguided priorities, resource management and land use.


Look at that median. Those are Daylillies on the left. Now, I’ll give them the benefit that they are perennials so they don’t need to be re-planted every year, however, they still require manual watering and weeding. The question we need to ask then is: to what end? Those flowers and that tiny tree are really only experienced by the people waiting for the light to change (as I was in this picture) and pretty much no one else. On the other side you have an ugly blank wall that brings zero pleasure to anyone walking by it.

If you were to look off image to the left, the image below is what you would see. The yellow is the above image and what’s that on the left? A giant open green-space owned by the city. Now, I’ll give them credit, there are statues part of the City Art Walking Sculpture Tour there, which I think is awesome. However, there’s still a ton of space over there that’s not really being used for anything except growing grass. Why waste the money on a median that only motorists can see when you could use that money to plant fruit trees that benefit the people that are walking on that sidewalk? You could legitimately fit a small orchard in that green space.


This isn’t an expensive idea, it’s actually pretty cheap when you consider what you get out of it. It promotes walking, eating healthy, local food and civic pride. That’s like a quadruple win for everybody.



Featured image comes from Robby Schulze on Flickr.

About Matthias Leyrer

Matthias Leyrer is a resident of Mankato looking to restore a fraction of its old glory. He writes about the economic, aesthetic, practical and financial issues facing the city of Mankato going forward.