Thursday, June 6, 2013

Urban Agriculture and Sustainable Cities

One of the big mantras of big corporate industrial agriculture is that the world is going to have to feed 9 billion people in 25 years. How in the, pun intended, world are we going to do this? Their answer is through industrial farming, pesticides, GMO's and to have less and less people growing more and more food. I was never good at math, but there is something about this that just does not add up. In the United States, 2% of our population is growing food for the other 98%, and the median age of those people who are growing the food is in their mid 60's. The numbers are not all that different when it comes to global statistics.

Urban planners, the United Nations and other global organizations are looking for many solutions to feed increasing populations with rapid migration to cities and dwindling farmland. I  interviewed Linda Avery, the Market Manager for the Santa Monica Farmers Market, an absolutely booming consortium of Markets in different areas of Coastal Los Angeles. I remarked that many of the farmer vendors at the markets were from the Inland Empire, why were markets so popular? She replied, "There are no farms here and people who want fresh produce and a wide selection find just what they want at the farmers market." What was interesting was that some of the farms coming to Santa Monica came from as far away as Fresno, almost 250 miles north. This is a prime example of how far food is away from most urban centers, and what is at risk if there is a disaster making travel impossible. I always have mused that speed limits are a distant dream in Los Angeles area freeways, people would LOVE to drive at the speed limit, there are just so many cars in front of them at all time, jamming up the place.

One solution to the impending food crisis that is actually a viable and sustainable  is Urban Agriculture. In simple language, Urban Agriculture is farming in the City. More complex definitions describe it as the 

practice of cultivating, processing and distributing food in, or around, a village, town or city. What is so interesting is the fact that raised beds with high intensity (smashed together plants) farming began in the suburbs of 19th century Paris, France. With so many people migrating to the city, and those donkey carts just could only go so far from farm to market, farmers started planting nearer their customer base, and wala urban farming was born. This fancy term for back yard gardening just may hold the key to solving most of what ails cities. From providing reliable local sources of food, to creating small independent businesses, improving health and access to fresh food, and lets throw in a little helping create fresh air, and what could make more sense?

Depressed cities throughout the nation are adopting Urban Agricultural plans. Former auto and steel industry centers such as Cincinnati Ohio and Detroit Michigan are burgeoning urban farm centers. Detroit in particular is a model of the post industrial economy, where abandoned houses are being demolished and job creating gardens and food initiatives are taking over the landscape.

For some reason, municipalities often have laws that are hostile to people growing their own food and selling it to the community. Cities, counties and states dockets are being filled with legislation allowing the radical act of growing tomatoes in your front yard and having a chicken in the back. I will be covering many of these initiatives in the weeks and months to come, but suffice to say for now, it is looking very promising.

Through all the dithering in Congress and the international banking and economic system, there are no viable solutions that are being presented for the global economic crises. We are in a time of a great transition, what is so incredible is that the industrialization that created the base of our local, national and global economy is for all intents and purposes disintegrating before our very eyes. A truly sustainable economy nourishes all aspects of a community. It's people, land, animals and resources. The best way to jump start a local economy is with Urban Agriculture. The French food garden  solution started as a response to the Industrial Age, will serve us well as we live in cities during the decline of Industry. The good news is that Urban Agriculture is fun, delicious, sustainable and our very lives may depend on it sooner than we think.

Here are some resources for Urban Agriculture

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