Pearce also argues that it’s not enough for cities to recycle their waste and design green buildings: they need to farm. Trucking bad-tasting food thousands of miles at the cost of huge amounts of green-house-gas-producing petroleum to your unpleasant local supermarket with the hideous lighting, frigid air, and terrible music–when it could just as well be grown down the street? That is the definition of insanity.
Urban farms, on the other hand, actually improve the micro-climate. And they make urban life less desperately awful and disconnected from the Prozac called “greenery.”
In centuries past, as New Scientist points out, farming went on close to every city center. Wanna bet the food tasted better than the engineered slop we Americans eat? Even today, in Shanghai, with an exploding economy, a third of the land within the city center is used for farming. The city pretty much feeds itself, and the farmers who do the growing get rich.
This seems ideal to me for many reasons, and one of them is moral–a form of earth-lover’s morality. In any crowded city in a crowded world, no piece of land should be wasted. It’s just wrong. The old Italians in Brooklyn when I lived there in the 1980’s knew this. They had vegetables gardens in their backyards and even little vineyards.
I cheered when I read that New York Times piece a few years ago about people buying abandoned lots off the tax rolls in Detroit–a failing car-based city if there ever was one–and starting to farm them.
Of course, my own experiments in urban farming in Saratoga Springs, New York have proven to be embarrassing failures. My hens cannibalized each other when confined to their yard. My vegetables were simply stunted by the awful, sandy soil. So now I grow my vegetables in the country and get my country neighbor to give me eggs.
But that doesn’t mean I couldn’t make it work here, if I had to. Several tons of manure might do my backyard some good.
And in more favorable conditions, i.e. California, where they have that Jack and the Beanstalk magic soil, the people in a group called Path to Freedom feed themselves entirely on a fifth of an acre in urban Pasadena.
The great thing about Path to Freedom is that from the pictures, the garden appears to be rather beautiful. I’d argue that we need to start throwing arugula seeds onto vacant lots and sidewalk strips and into city parks for aesthetic reasons alone. Forget the planet. A well-maintained vegetable garden is as lovely as the Louvre any day.