Cities are responsible for a growing share of overconsumption. In recognising this, people are realising that what we eat, and how it's grown and distributed, is something we can influence.
I, for one, am having fun growing herbs. I get to water and talk to them each morning, which helps me in other ways. (I promise I don't talk to them for too long.) They flourish on our sunny balcony and we use them as we need them. Bliss!
Indeed, there is a global shift underway towards people caring about what they put in their mouths. The slow food movement, which arose in Italy in 1986 in response to the threatened opening of a McDonald's near the Spanish Steps in Rome (shock! horror!), brought to a larger audience the idea that industrialised, processed, uniform food is not the only option. The fact that plenty of people around the world both prefer and choose the alternative is liberating and energising.
People are rediscovering they can grow their own food. I remember my parents carefully nurturing their white peaches, passionfruit, and apples, and the delight of biting into perfectly ripe, homegrown fruit. Indira Naidoo, in The Edible Balcony, wrote of her pleasure in biting into a real tomato, as opposed to commercial tomatoes bred for ease of transport and length of storage. She cites this as the reason she became interested in turning her apartment balcony into a productive garden.
Producing food, using parts of our city that would otherwise not be productive, makes sense. Rooftops provide a great opportunity, and this idea is starting to go mainstream: Whole Foods, for example, has partnered with one of its suppliers, Gotham Greens, to establish a supermarket-top hydroponic garden in Brooklyn. In the City of Vancouver, the company Alterrus Systems has established Local Garden -- an aquaponics rooftop greenhouse, for vertical farming, which produces enough green leafy vegetables to service the needs of two local supermarkets, thereby providing a fresher local alternative to a packaged product that is trucked from southern California and Mexico.
All of these systems can be as simple or as complex as we want and are willing to pay for. I predict that in the next year or two, modular and integrated systems will emerge that can be used not only in commercial but in domestic and hobby situations.
The behavioural, organisational, regulation, and policy responses that come from this will be fascinating.
I recently attended the EcoCity Food Forum in Melbourne, to participate in a range of discussions focused on engaging people in the process of growing food for the city and in creating the means for consumers to link up more personally with food producers. This raises all kinds of organisational and logistics issues that, on the one hand, might be seen as less efficient than the industrialised food that is dominant now, but on the other hand might just deliver a range of benefits. That is, not just better, fresher food, but community-building, local involvement, more efficient processes, and support for urban and peri-urban employment. I would quite like to know the people who grow my food and would like to not only know what's coming next month, but also to be able to put in a request. Rhubarb, anyone?
The question is not whether the energy to achieve this is there -- we can see it happening right now -- but how the agencies that regulate and manage cities will keep pace. It will be interesting to see whether they are able to become facilitators and enablers of a movement that might be a key part of what makes our 21st century cities viable.
Meanwhile, I am going to keep talking to my oregano.
A Victory Garden During World War II many people had victory gardens to supplement rations. I like to grow food in my yard. When I am busy I always have tomatoe and collards plants. It is soo enjoyable to come home from work and pick some greens and tomatoes for dinner. I like spearmint in pots in the house and outside...When you make tea with fresh leaves you get a full bodied drink...you can really taste the oils. The roof top garden was like a dream it is so beautiful and savvy! Thanks for the post!
Urban food helps in two ways Thanks for the great discussion everyone.
I think the benefits of urban food are twofold: urban farms can go some way to making a city self-sufficient in some types of food - the Vancouver example I wrote about is a small greenhouse that is meeting the needs of a part of the population of Vancouver. It would be interesting to calculate how much rooftop/spare land would be required to supply all of a city's needs for, say, green leafy vegetables. Assuming the number is not out of this world, I could imagine a time when planning policiies had a requirement for such space built in.
Equally importantly, though, is the way that growing one's own produce - even if it is simply growing basil as Mary does - reconnects people with food, the idea of freshness, and its origins. I love running my hand through my herbs and breathing in the lovely scents. This is good for me, even when I am not eating them.
Re: Love this Davedgreat: Sounds like a great idea. We will get on that! And too true about the FDA and lobbyists. Of course, to be fair, the FDA is not alone in doing all the wrong things for consumers in favor of taking money from lobbyists.
I think we need an article on GMO foods and some of the dangers of the chemicals that are currently in our foods. I buy Organic when I can, the brand I buy says they are free from 101 Chemicals...thats scary to think that we have over 101 chemicals in our foods. Look up Simple Truths by Kroger. They have a list of the 101 chemicals they took out of their foods.
Also everyday processed foods and sodas, whats in them? Lets get more information on them out to the people so we can all make better more informed purchases of foods for our selves and our families.
Growing your own is great if you have room for it.
Nicole, i have crossed out food from my normally eaten foods list because of whats in them. If the FDA was doing there job instead of taking money from lobbyists and chemical companies we may be in a better place with our food supply and a lot healthier too boot
Love this Hi Andrew. I love this topic. When I look around cities now, I see so much space that could be put to much better use for purposes like urban farms. Rooftops are just a start. In my previous apartment, I had a garden, which I used to grow basil and flowers. I tried tomatoes once and failed. (Only one made it to red status and was immediately snatched by a squirrel!) I don't have outdoor space anymore, but I would love to join a community farm of some sort. This is a very therapeutic way to spend one's time, a great way to bond with nature, and an excellent way to get a better understanding of what we're putting into our bodies.
Of course, for me, learning more about where my food comes from has caused me to cross many, many, many things off my list over the years. Awareness has its pain points!
Re: Slow Eating Not Slow Growing Have to admit I'm not growing my own vegetables. But that said, I'm buying organic regularly and locally grown wherever possible. In the late summer, a local farmer opens up a produce stand that lands well into the fall, and I get almost all of my vegetables there -- which are both organic and locally grown.
Re: Slow Eating Not Slow Growing Right now we buy mostly organic and for the most part Locally grown. We are planning our window planting now for Herbs. We tried last summer but it just didnt work out right. So we are trying again...LOL
Re: Slow Eating Not Slow Growing Growing ones own greens can give you a new perspective on what can be available to eat. If I have basil in a window pot, it's a lot more likely that I'll be inspired to use it in a sauce, for instance. So growing good food leads to eating good food, IMO.
So much more to growing food than just food Thanks for a great blog, Andrew.
Creating a closer relationship with our food supply has so many benefits beyond simply better diet and health. There's the meditative aspect, the nurturing, the joy of seeing things grow, the pleasure of eating home-grown or locally grown food. And even though the economics might not seem competitive at first glance, human ingenuity has a way of making things work well when the incentive is right.
I also remember visiting a urban plot for city kids in Cinncinnati. The children came each week to check on their plants and learn how to care for them and garden. They were so thrilled to see the development. That's the next generation....
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