snail, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from Reggie Alvey’s photostream

Slow Food is the opposite of fast food, not so much in terms of time, but in spirit. While the hallmark of fast food — as well as much processed food — is rigid standardization, mass production, a reliance on factory/corporate farms, and ingredients that are anything but local; the Slow Food movement is dedicated to high quality local production, reliance on community, and striving for sustainability. For example, did you know that a typical fast food burger can contain meat from up to 1,000 cows spanning from five countries? Now think about how much energy is spent getting that single burger patty — or that frozen dinner — into your hands and how that impacts on our environment.

The New York Times recently took a look at how Pittsburgh is fairing in farm-to-table dining and they liked what they saw. They review a number of markets and restaurants that emphasize Slow Food (or local food) and feature Susan Barclay, a leader of Slow Food Pittsburgh. Slow Food Pittsburgh is part of the international Slow Food organization which now has 1,300 groups worldwide. Locally, Pop City had a feature on the Slow Food movement. In it, they quote Virginia Phillips of Slow Food Pittsburgh, who stated “We’re looking to support a food supply that is healthful for the planet, the people and the animals that live on it. We want people that grow food to get a fair wage for their work. And we want to support taste education.” She also noted the importance of biodiversity, “Losing varieties makes you vulnerable. But we can save varieties by eating them. It’s happening all over the world.”

The most important component of Slow Food in a city is urban farming. Groups that help support urban farming in Pittsburgh include the Sprout Fund’s Engage Pittsburgh (which emphasizes community and land revitalization) and Grow Pittsburgh whose projects include The Edible Schoolyard (which integrates garden activities into regular classroom curriculum) and Braddock Farms (Grow Pittsburgh’s largest production site and Braddock’s single source of fresh produce). The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s article on Grow Pittsburgh noted that, ‘An online search of terms such as “urban farm,” “sustainable food” and “buy local” shows how robust the movement is in other cities. Interest here has skyrocketed.’

Also helping this movement is the city of Pittsburgh. City Council passed new regulations for urban farming last month that relax some of the old rules. From the Post-Gazette:

To operate a full-scale farm — with some combination of bees, crops, poultry and livestock — the owner’s site must be at least 3 acres. The previous minimum was 5 acres. The planning department said the change “will open up new areas of the city for farming as a primary use.”

Chicken coops and other farm-related structures must be at least 50 feet from a property line, down from a 200-foot distance requirement before.

And, from SmartPlanet on the changes:

And most importantly, for the beekeeping community, the practice, which code previously ignored, is now permitted. For community gardens, the city was also silent on the legality of selling produce, but now it’s now legal to sell produce on-site once gardens go through a variance process.

Finally, if you want to see what may be the ultimate in sustainable urban farm practices, take a look at the Science Barge in New York City. It uses greenhouses, re-circulating hydroponic systems, renewable energy sources, and rainwater collection.