Saturday, February 16, 2013

Urban Farming

Wow!  How to even start with this one.

I follow a page on Facebook called "Northwest Edible Life" - an Urban Farmer from Seattle who writes about her experiences in her blog:

Well, she shared a comment she got on her blog today - I'm not sure what he was actually commenting on, but he is ranting about gardening and GMOs: 

"Stop slumming. People who actually rely on subsidence farming for their livelihood pray to the heavens for access to modern technology that would allow them a better life. There’s a reason peasants migrate to cities and take up wage labor at a rate of about 10000 x 1 of the nutters who go in the opposite direction.
Yes the urban petty-bourgeoisie the world over is united in their interest in small scale everything, localized this and that. So obsessed with managing every detail of life they've even fallen back into the muck and mire of petty agriculture long after it ceased be necessary in order to "DIY". It's like taking a kayak from New York to Philadelphia instead of modern transport--backward, unnecessary and pointless to everyone but you (and those millions around the world who still have no access to modern infrastructure at all disrespected in the process).

No thanks. I'll take mass produced fruit and vegetables. So will everyone else who is sane and doesn't have hours of free time on their hands to waste knee deep in overpriced repackaged organic horse manure sold as a "lifestyle product".

As more and more people swell the ranks of the cities around the world, food production continues to increase. How can that be? Efficiency, automation and the application of science to agriculture (the same things that allowed your ancestors in the US to move off of farms and into the suburbs where you've "rediscovered your roots").

The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) notes: ‘The global number of hungry people declined by 132million between 1990-92 and 2010-12, or from 18.6 per cent to 12.5 per cent of the world’s population, and from 23.2 per cent to 14.9 per cent in developing countries’. Putting it another way, the FAO reports: ‘For the world as a whole, per capita food availability has risen from about 2,220 kcal/person/day in the early 1960s to 2,790 kcal/person/day in 2006-08, while developing countries even recorded a leap from 1,850 kcal/person/day to over 2,640 kcal/person/day.’

Industrialized agriculture will feed the world! Bring on the GMO!"

How to respond to this.  Firstly, I have to acknowledge that this man (and, yes, it was a man - the blogger gave his name) is seething with anger.  I don't know why, but I have a theory - that deep down he is just fearful - I'll explain how further down the page.

Here's the main point:  If you think the world is going to continue on just the way it has for the last 60 years, with increasing economy and better technology that is generally in the public interest, then he may have a point. 

But I don't think that's what's going to happen.

I'm a student of history - a writer of history at times - and I have a Master's Degree in Archaeology.  If there is anything I've learned through my education (both professional and personal) it is that societies come and go.  No civilization has lasted more than a few thousand years - and those didn't last without significant change.  I don't think ours is going to be that long-lived - for one reason alone - we do NOTHING sustainably. 

We have been using up resources and polluting our planet at an unprecedented speed.  No one can dispute that.  It is a fact.  That is what we are doing.  And that is not sustainable.  We have a very comfortable way of living (in general) in North America - and those of us who have it more comfortable, generally have that on the backs of the less comfortable.  But this comfortable way of life cannot last the way it's going, and change has to come.

People who are attempting to do more in the way of Urban farming are facing the fact that the food supply chain is vulnerable and that our way of life is changing.  One major gasoline shortage and most of us won't receive food (in Canada, it is said that our grocery stores have about 3 days worth of food in them for the population - and most of our food - especially our fresh food - comes from far away).  If, for any reason (and there are many possible reasons) trucks or trains or boats are slowed down for any length of time, we're going to be in trouble.  And as time goes on, more people populate the planet and more extreme weather occurs, well ... we just don't know what's going to happen - to transportation, food production or anything else. 

If you disagree with me and think we don't need to plan for short-term emergencies, just talk to people in the Northeastern States - twice this year people I know up there have been without power for days.  TWICE.  In one year.  In 4 months, really.  That is now.  That is this year.  As things escalate, we are going to need to be prepared for longer-term emergencies.  And that will take more planning.

People who are growing food and preserving it are making sure that they have SOMETHING to feed their families if something goes wrong.  There is no "holier than thou" attitude about it.  I garden because I enjoy it, I'm good at it, the food tastes good, and I truly believe that at some point not too long from now, I'm going to HAVE to do it to feed my family.  And I want to know how before I have to.

This commenter on the other blog - well, he is fearful.  He is afraid to face the reality that the world he grew up in could be falling apart.  He sees the news, understands what is going on and is in such denial he lashes out that anger at someone who is trying to do something about it. 

It's a stage we all need to get through - we need to get through the denial, plan for the worst, and hope for the best.  In the meantime, though, I think it is ridiculous to fight about it.


  1. You've said it well!

    I also garden because I enjoy it, and the satisfaction of fresh food on our plates that came from my hard work is worth it. The "impending doom" (in whatever form it takes) has been on my mind for many years. The more skills we have to take care of ourselves, the better off we'll be. The majority of plants I plant in my yard will produce something edible - it's just the smart thing to do!


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