Rebuttal for Urban Gardening and Some Other Thoughts
By jamesg, on January 25th, 2010
Alright, this got a little bit lengthier and more off topic than I had originally planned, but it’s already written so I may as well post it. The arguments against urban farming–its small scale, its questionable economic feasibility, and simply its difficulty–are all completely valid. However, these “problems” in my opinion are in fact the solution to what has become our food chain which is at best, misdirected by industry, and at worst, frankly disgusting and pushing some ethical boundaries to the limit.
As Barry Commoner once said, “There’s no such thing as a free lunch.” While urban farming may appear to cost more (in terms of labor, time commitment, space, or literal food costs), it takes into account all the externalities that the industrial food market machine does not. Our Dollar Menus and Happy Meals may seem cheaper, but only when ignoring many factors, namely environmental degradation, transportation, conglomerate business schemes and government subsidies insuring cheap corn.
I think that urban farming should kept at a small scale because while it may not seem as efficient as large-scale industrial agriculture, it is philosophically different. It represents a move towards the way things used to be done, taking with it the advantages of modern knowledge and technology. Mother nature really does know best, but there is a definite culture shock looming on the horizon. We are going to have to get over our need for instant gratification and massive, one-stop super stores. People (or more accurately, organisms in general) are much healthier and populations are much more stable when allowed to differentiate and specialize at local levels rather than the homogenous culture we have become accustomed to. Unfortunately for our industrialized society, this will require a rediscovery of such novel phenomena as seasonality and face-to-face interaction.
Thomas Jefferson was an important advocate for equalizing America, socially, economically and in this case, agriculturally. He proposed that the United States is nothing more than a giant grid-x, y, and z-where land is land for whatever purpose and everyone everywhere could and should exist in exactly the same way and live the same experience. However, the world doesn’t really work that way. Local conditions are key to survival. From a broad evolutionary perspective, communities are more stable when its members are allowed to specialize and differentiate. This also makes more sense in terms of energy use and natural resource consumption. Why, for example, do we continue to burn down the Amazon (thus contributing to positive feedback cycles of global climate change, desertification and ocean eutrophication) to grow oranges, which grow perfectly well in Florida, where instead, we drain and pave over the Everglades to maximize real estate. Somehow it doesn’t make sense that shipping food, materials, and products all over the world is somehow better than learning to use what we have at hand.
Globalization, in every aspect of our lives, has taken over. Everything we do and everything we are has been reduced to numbers streaming through cyberspace. I can search the internet for just about ANYTHING that I want, and not just find it, but have it delivered to this building by merely entering a credit card number and an address. Then the most involved thing I have to do, three to five business days later, is take the elevator (or heaven forbid, the stairs) down to the first floor to pick it up. I’m not saying that there is anything wrong with this, or that I would change it; it’s a marvel of the modern world. But is what we’ve done with it best for us? Such an exchange of knowledge and ideas is fantastic, but it may be costing us a life worth living. While everyone in the world knowing everything that everyone else knows would be incredible for the progression of knowledge (maybe if Google and Wikipedia ruled the world), it does not mean we should all BE the same. Technology and globalization should offer us all the same resources and the same opportunities, but it should not advocate any particular way of life beyond what is necessary to coexist. What a bore the world would be if we all spoke the same language, ate the same foods, dressed the same way.
This leads me back to urban farming. It’s small. It can’t feed everyone. That’s the point. It’s simply one piece of the puzzle. There is no one answer to any of the problems humans face today. There is no silver bullet to solve the energy crisis. There is no simple panacea to food security woes. Everyone, along with his or her unique methods or field of study, has a part to play–a different part. This is key, I think, not just to urban farming, not to neighborhoods, and not to Detroit, but to any human endeavor of any size. Collaboration and a sense of place are becoming more and more important to everything we do as a species. Whether it’s a melting pot of nondescript assembly line workers or the acres upon acres of maize that cover this nation from coast to coast, it won’t work anymore. There can be freedom, and equality, and maybe even government to tell us so, but it will never change the fact that each person is undeniably and irrevocably different, simply incapable of forming a human yogurt–tasty for sure, but uniform and dull.