Saturday, December 20, 2008

On Food

I've been thing about Dan's post on secretary of food.

Urban farming is a growing sector of this issue.

Shanghai is a city where somewhere around 76% of the vegetables consumed in the city are produced within the inner city limits. Fish ponds are used to process human waste. This is quite a marvel in urban agriculture, but also a demonstration in how committed the city government (or national government even) needs to be to make this process work.

There are thousands of urban gardens in the United States. Will Allen just received a MacArthur grant this year for his work in urban agriculture. It’s a growing trend, but it’s still on the fringes, in part, because it takes dedicated and talented community organizers like Will to make these projects work.

Some of the major issues this movement faces:
1) People are not aware of the commodity chain of the food they put into their bodies.
2) People have come accustomed to fast food, exotic ingredients, and lots of meat. These are difficult habits to change and will have to be reduced for urban agriculture to work.
3) “Lawns” today are vast swaths of unused grass land. We spend quite a lot of resources maintaining these spaces because they are “pretty”. What’s considered ‘pretty’ are not necessarily vegetables. There are a lot of plants in cities, but most fall into the ‘pretty’ category, or are ‘weeds’ growing because of neglect.
4) When a developer and his investors look at a vacant lot to develop, a low monetary yielding garden seems a foolish way to develop given the value and costs of property in cities. (Never mind the soil contamination clean-up…)
5) City governments, in an effort to attract investors, appeal to a certain type of developer. Farmers do not necessarily fit that ideal.

In essence, this is a change that will require both top-down policy change and vision as well as a bottom up commitment to changing our relationship to food. Some simple steps are just changing the plants in our houses from flowers to herbs, using the outdoor space we have access to for growing vegetables, being mindful of what we eat.

This is about control over the food we need to survive. When we depend on going to the market every time we are hungry, we are left vulnerable.

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