Urban Composter Design Competition for Panama City's Historic Casco Viejo

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A urban agriculture program underway in Panama City's old quarter is sponsoring a design competition for the perfect balcony-sized composter. Designs must be compact, simple to build out of local materials, cost less than $25 to construct and fit within the character of the neighborhood.

While everyone has been affected by recent increases in food costs, few have been affected more than the poor in developing countries. Since a large part of food cost comes from transportation, fertilizer and pesticides, it is no wonder that urban organic gardens have been proposed as a healthy way to offset food costs while reducing blight.

Panama City's old quarter, Casco Viejo (also called Casco Antiguo), is a UNESCO World Heritage site that is in the early stages of revitalization. With a large percentage of its population living below the poverty line, a group of local organizations and companies have begun an urban agriculture program in an attempt to provide residents with a higher degree of self-sustenance and a wider variety of nutritional options.

The program's approach is simple: stimulate supply, create demand and facilitate distribution. To address the supply side of the equation, the sponsors have begun to plant empty lots and gardens with a wide variety of edible tropical plants. In addition to staples like yucca, otoe and yams, the program teaches residents to cultivate non-traditional tropical crops and spices that have exceptional nutritional properties or exotic culinary potential.

On the demand side, the sponsors invite local chefs to the gardens for a journey of culinary discovery with Spencer Woodard of Island Planning Corporation, the project horticulturalist. With nearly 100 hundred species of exotic edibles, Spencer helps to open chefs' eyes to the immense diversity of flavors available in their back yards (a complete plant list can be found on Spencer's blog at http://anthrome.wordpress.com/).

The final component of the program is ensuring that as much bio matter as possible is returned to the gardens by encouraging residents to compost. Given that nearly all Casconians live in apartments, a compact balcony composter is needed. Because commercially available composters were either too expensive, too large or aesthetically out of line with the district's historic character, the program's sponsors have initiated an international competition to design the perfect balcony composter.

The winning design will be the one that best meets the following criteria:

1.compact size that can fit on the typical Casco Viejo balcony (1.2 meters deep) and is easy to manage (approximately 5-10 gallons);
2.simple to build out of readily available local materials, such as ceramics, wood, sheet metal or recycled common items;
3.cost as little as possible to produce, but in any event less than $25 each; and

The winning design will receive $100 and the satisfaction of knowing that their design is helping to make a better world. Submissions can be in whatever format the designer prefers, so long as they have all the information necessary to build the composter. Full contest details can be found here: http://www.arcoproperties.com/images/Urbanposterfinal.jpg

The program is sponsored by Conservatorio SA, Arco Properties (http://www.arcoproperties.com), Island Planning Corporation, The Canal House (http://www.canalhousepanama.com) and Fundacion Calicanto.

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Patrizia Pinzon
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