“a chicken in every pot and a car in every garage.” 1928 Republican Party claim if Herbert Hoover won the election.
One of my favorite agricultural books is The Gift of Good Land by Wendell Berry. There are a number of elements at play in this particular piece of literature but one of the most interesting aspects presented is the idea that good farm land exists in a number of locations that tend to normally be overlooked as viable options. Most Americans tend to think of the sea of corn and soybean that the mono-culture giants produce in the Midwest. Berry counterpoints with his opening chapter, “An Agricultural Journey in Peru” in which he discusses his visit with the potato farmers of Peru who use ancient plots on steep mountain sides with great success. This is just a small window into the juxtaposition Mr. Berry presents throughout the book in regards to the polar opposites of traditional farming and the current monolith of American mono-culture.
With that in mind allow me to transition to my next point. If we take Wendell Berry’s assertion that there is plentiful and fertile land being overlooked throughout our country for crops and livestock why not consider a plot as small as an urban homestead or a simple backyard garden? How much food could we grow as a society if we left behind the fashionable notion of a green lawn and instead replaced it with edible vegetation? How come every neighborhood with available space does not provide the option for a community garden? Better yet why not transition our parks and recreation areas into edible landscapes free for the taking?
The answer is simple of course. It all comes down to money. The pesticide cooperations, the fossil fuel industry and the mammoth agricultural farms that use immigrant slave labor (paying tomato pickers a penny per pound for example) do not want to hand over the keys to the one industry that every human on earth has in common, food. Everyone must eat. This does not mean that as a society we cannot empower ourselves by growing our own food on small parcels of land. A good stepping stone would be to introduce school children to local gardeners and farmers in an effort to educate them on where their food comes from, or at least should, and how easy it really is to do! My family home-schools and growing food and raising livestock are central in our day to day lives.
I happen to have a passion for growing and raising food. I realize this is not the case for everyone. But consider for a moment if everyone grew a salad garden or pizza garden in a raised bed. What if they simply grew their favorite variety of tomato? The amount of surplus food would be shocking!
There are other options a bit less intensive such as growing berry bramble, dwarf fruit trees and herb gardens for those who do not want to spend the required time in a vegetable garden.
Since we are specifically talking about urban farming, homesteading and gardening let us consider not only its ability to have an impact on fruit and vegetable production but its ability to effect the meat industry. If you happen to be an omnivore it is possible to raise small livestock such as quail, chickens and rabbits in an urban environment. Not only do these animals provide a source of meat and eggs but in turn their manure can be used in your gardens creating a sustainable level of self-sufficiency on a small plot of land.
We live in an interesting crossroad of history. Industrialization has undoubtedly provided a level of comfort previously unknown. With that said, it is becoming glaringly apparent that it is not sustainable or healthy on a number of levels. We need to reevaluate our position on environment, energy and food and attempt to merge it with the best aspects of modern society. Mono-culture is not the savior it has deemed itself to be. If it were there would not be so many people dealing with issues of food insecurity in our country. It is difficult to morally comprehend how so many people (children & elderly included) can be going hungry or eating food substitutes when we have so much good land at our disposal.