Friday, October 12, 2012


Urban Agriculture and the New Food Revolution!

Where is my hoe? I need it now! I want to rush out into the streets and start planting beans, tomatoes, apple trees. Literally, right on the street!
That is the conversation I had going on in my head after finishing this book.
Cockrall-King lays out her new food revolution theory. It's not an instruction manual, or a slogan filled rant, but a well researched look at examples of urban agriculture throughout the world and why it may be essential in the future. It was an eye opening look at all of the different ways we can grow food, not just on a farm outside of the city limits. For a backyard gardener like myself this was inspiring.
Jennifer's argument throughout the book was easy to follow and pretty common sense - that right now, our food system is fueled by oil (fertilizers, tractors, distribution, etc), but, if we are at 'peak' oil what will we have to do in the future? When oil becomes more expensive the cost of food will rise, until at some point it will not be affordable to continue with the current system. She points out that we will need a different way of growing food, a more sustainable way that does not rely on oil. Then she gives us a few examples from around the world and close to home here in the frosty north.
All of her examples stressed local food. Bringing food closer to the consumer seems to be a necessity, since shipping food thousands of kilometers is not sustainable. Different ways of growing food in cold weather was another repetitive topic. Also, integrating the growing of food, not just the eating of it, into our cities and everyday life crept up in most of the examples too.

It was interesting hearing about how other countries have unique ways of dealing with urban farming. I really liked the trip to Paris.
Paris. Ah, those foodie French! Not only are they the experts on cooking, but, apparently the experts on urban farming. Right in the heart of the densely packed city there are stone walled gardens that have been spitting out salad greens, tomatoes, fruits of all kinds (even in the winter), for hundreds of years. These stone walled enclaves are mini microclimates that hold in enough heat to keep producing all year round. Fruit trees are grown and pruned to hug the wall, grabbing all that stored heat, and producing fruit for a much longer time than if in an open orchard out in the countryside. In the winter these plots are the only ones supplying fresh produce, which means they can charge a premium price. This is what has made the system sustainable for so long and will keep it going for years to come.
Another example, that I was vaguely familiar with, was the situation in Cuba.
Cuba. This is the example held up to the world to show that urban agriculture (organic to boot) can work. Cuba was farming the same way as everyone else - using oil for pesticides, fertilizers, to run tractors, and distribute from the countryside to the city. Then the Soviet union collapsed. The US imposed an ultra tough trade embargo. And, well, Cuba is rather poor. So, they lost their oil and had to find another way to feed their people. They had to overhaul their entire way food was produced and distributed. Intensive urban farming was the solution. Tracts of land, right in cities, are set aside and intensively farmed. Produce is sold right from a stall at the end of the 'field' direct to the consumers. There are almost no grocery stores now, and much of the food the people eat is grown right down the street.
Along with the positives, there were a few negative stories. LA was one of them.
LA, USA. Gang ridden, run down South Central LA is full of abandoned industrial sites that leave a nasty blight on the city. The area is a food desert - no grocery stores with fresh produce for miles and miles. A new 'union' of farmers, mostly immigrants from Central American countries, living in the area take over these sites and build community gardens to grow fresh vegetables for themselves. They take back these asphalt covered garbage dumps and make them productive and lively. However, after these places are built up and attractive again, the old owners come and take them back...with the help of the law. It's one of those infuriating stories you hate to hear about.
In the frozen land of the north here, Jennifer shows us how far behind we are. She shows us many great ideas, but, sadly they all seemed to be isolated one-off situations.
Canada. Jennifer did some travelling across Canada and wrote about a few novel ideas she came across. Public orchards was one I found interesting, and left wondering why all cities don't plant a few apple trees here and there? Same as an idea for the food bank to go around and pick fruit from trees on private property (with permission of course). The most interesting idea was one 'farmer' who swapped the use of people's lawns for vegetables. The ideas is this guy would use your lawn as a garden and give you a half or a third of what he produced. He then went on and sold the rest at a farmer's market or to local restaurants. The example in the book told of one guy making an actual living wage doing was a lot of work and bike riding to his three or four different lawns/gardens, but, it was possible.

Food and the City sure gives you something to think about. It's inevitable things will be different in the future, but, what can we do now to prepare for that? After reading this I am even more motivated to expand my vegetable garden out back, and change my flowers out front to blueberry bushes. I have even started urban foraging (picking up walnuts from a tree near where I work), and plan on planting some of these walnuts to give my kids (although more likely the squirrels) even more local food to munch on in the future. I plan on suggesting planting apple trees whenever I can (be it in a letter to the city, next time our school plans a new garden, at our annual condo board meeting) or even joining local activist groups that would take over abandoned parking lots and turn them into herb gardens.
But, that is just me. The book may have a different effect on you.


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