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Living on the Earth, September 5, 1997: Urban Agriculture
Urban Agriculture isn't an oxymoron. It's a growing trend!
In our former farming town, the fields are rapidly being covered with very
large, expensive houses. We receive many flyers in the mail each week
which offer free food at nearby supermarkets, ("Buy one, get two free!").
In the cities, however, there is little, if any, remaining farmland and
few, if any, supermarkets to give food away. People in urban areas are at
the end of a very long food chain. Shopping at suburban superstores is
nearly impossible without a car. Convenience stores and fast-food outlets
sell the highest profit items - sodas, fries and highly-processed, junk
food. Greasy and sugary snacks are the most readily available foods in
many city neighborhoods. Kids eat chips and drink artificially-colored,
sugar water because they are so much more available than healthy snacks
like fresh fruits and vegetables.
In this country, nearly 80 cents of every dollar spent on food pays for
distribution - that is, for what happens to food after it leaves the farm-
for transporting, processing, packaging, advertising, and marketing what
the farmer grows. Farmers get less money, while the folks in the middle
take more, and exert greater control over food distribution. Those who are
well-off can buy almost anything they want from anywhere in the world, with
lots of freebies thrown in. Meanwhile, the urban masses get to eat what's
most profitable for large food distribution companies like Philip Morris,
Nestle, PepsiCo and McDonalds.
As a result, cities struggle to deal with increasing volumes of food
packaging waste and with the adverse health effects of junk-food diets.
The air is polluted by trucks bringing in food and taking out garbage, as
well as by the power plants which are needed for this energy-intensive food
system. And, most of the money spent on food leaves town.
Unemployment is high in the cities, yet many there have skills and
experience in small-scale food production down south, up north or in the
islands. And, increasingly, large quantities of compost are being produced
from urban, biodegradable wastes.
Given this situation, it's no wonder that urban agriculture is growing so
rapidly, and showing so much promise. Although we've been carefully
brainwashed in this country (with textbook pictures and all the rest) to
imagine big fields traversed by enormous machines when we think of
agriculture, the reality for much of the world is now (and for most of
history was) very different. Food has been, and still is in many places
around the world, grown in gardens and on small farms near where people
Mexico City 500 years ago, German cities over 300 years ago, Paris 100
years ago and cities in Africa and Asia for much of their history, had
advanced and elegant systems for producing food. Today, Hong Kong, the
most densely populated city on Earth, produces two-thirds of its own
poultry and nearly half of its vegetables. City gardens now provide 15
percent of the world's food supply.
In short, urban agriculture provides fresher food, improved nutrition,
satisfying work and recreation, too. It reduces non-degradable waste and
recycles biodegradable wastes, while saving energy, reducing pollution and
creating beautiful neighborhoods. Not bad.
The community garden is one of the most important components of urban
agriculture. It provides opportunities for landless residents to produce
some food and oftentimes income.
Take New Haven, for example. It now has about 50 community gardens, up from
just 3 in 1991, when the New Haven Land Trust joined forces with long-time
community garden organizer Sylvia Dorsey. For nearly 20 years, with more
success in the tough times than in the "go-go" 1980s, Sylvia has been
working on community gardens in New Haven. Support from local foundations,
the Land Trust and City Hall, and the work of many dedicated people, have
played a part in community gardens' recent growth and success.
Tomorrow morning the New Haven Land Trust hosts a tour of six community
gardens in four neighborhoods, run by a variety of organizations. Many of
these gardens are on formerly garbage-strewn vacant lots. The tour starts
at 9 am at the corner of Winchester Avenue and Webster Street, between Yale
University and Science Park.
For more information, call the New Haven Land Trust at (203) 466-7701.
This is Bill Duesing, Living on the Earth
(C)1997, Bill Duesing, Solar Farm Education, Box 135, Stevenson, CT 06491
See the book *Urban Agriculture: Food, Jobs and Sustainable Cities*
published by the United Nations Development Program. It is available
through The Urban Agriculture Network, 1711 Lamont Street, NW, Washington,
DC 20010 USA, or contact Jac Smit, (202) 483-8130, e-mail
Bill and Suzanne Duesing operate the Old Solar Farm (raising NOFA/CT
certified organic vegetables) and Solar Farm Education (working on urban
agriculture projects in New Haven, Bridgeport, Hartford and Norwalk, CT).
Their collection of essays Living on the Earth: Eclectic Essays for a
Sustainable and Joyful Future is available from Bill Duesing, Box 135,
Stevenson, CT 06491 for $14 postpaid. These essays first appeared on WSHU,
public radio from Fairfield, CT. New essays are posted weekly at
http://www.wshu.org/duesing and those since November 1995 are available