Urban Farming, Permaculture, Accessibility, and Organic Farming
My family lives on half an acre in an urban setting and uses part of the land to grow a garden filled with veggies and raise four chickens. I grew up on farmers’ markets and usually eating locally; there are dairy farms close to my hometown, chickens are becoming more regular for families in the city, gardens are a staple for many of my family friends. Every summer, my mom (and usually with my sister and I in tow) goes berry picking at a local farm for a couple hours and comes back with pounds of berries to make jam or freeze. Urban farming hasn’t always been the significant portion of my diet but it has been a big part of my life. Being able to provide for ourselves with some veggies every summer and eggs year round not only feels amazing but for me, everything tastes significantly better as well.
There is one documentary that I am excited to see related to urban farming and reminds me of the post I wrote a few weeks ago about food deserts and food forests. Occupy the Farm is about a local community in Berkeley that worked to reclaim some land for a farm in the middle of an urban setting and the challenges they faced by reclaiming the land.
Permaculture is also important in any discussion of farming and “is a branch of ecological design, ecological engineering, environmental design, construction and integrated water resources management that develops sustainable architecture, regenerative and self-maintained habitat and agricultural systems modeled from natural ecosystems” (from the wiki page about permaculture). A big part of permaculture is working with the surrounding nature to grow food and having a mixed system of plants and animals in the area rather than a single product system.
It’s also really important to address accessibility issues within the food movement and urban farming. Of course, not everyone has access to the amount of land allows me to garden and raise chickens but it is possible to grow herbs in small places that have no access to a yard (apartments, condos, etc). The Boston Food Project works to not only help farms thrive but widen the access to fresh, local food to low income communities and teach youth how to farm. Being able to afford local and organic food also is a luxury and privilege for the upper middle and richer classes because the cost can be incredible prohibitive.
Local and organic food also comes with the catch that the yields of organic farms aren’t as large as non-organic farms, leaving the issue of feeding a world with several billion people. There was a meta-analysis study done a few years ago that looked at the yields of organic farms versus non organic farms and found that the yields of organic farms are typically lower but are highly contextual. (Unfortunately couldn’t access the entire article.) Additionally, Roger Cohen wrote an opinion piece titled “The Organic Fable” and while I don’t agree with everything he wrote, he does bring up the great points that being able to buy organic food is an affluent luxury of the upper middle and richer classes and that:
“even if it’s not better [nutritionally] for you, organic farming is probably better for the environment because less soil, flora and fauna are contaminated by chemicals (although of course, without fertilizers, you have to use more land to grow the same amount of produce or feed the same amount of livestock.) So this is food that is better ecologically even if it is not better nutritionally.”
So there needs to be that balance between feeding the world’s population and taking care of the earth. Plus, buying local and/or organic food also needs to be more accessible for those who want to buy it. And there are so many other things that go into farming and food that can and have filled books and books, like how the capitalistic nature of our society means so much food goes to wasted despite the hunger of so many around the country and world. But having real conversations that come up with sustainable solutions to the many dilemmas of farming and hunger is incredible important at this point for both the earth and humanity.