Research (provided below) shows that a city can grow the food necessary to feed all of its inhabitants. The end of destructive farming practices and food miles would appear to be right around the corner. Have you ever been driving along, focused on a place at a far distance, a mountain perhaps, growing excited because the map says that that mountain is near the destination, but no matter how many miles you log, that mountain never seems to get closer? We’re all here in this sphere, a sphere comprised of those ready to take it all to the next step; we have no choice but to take that leap if we are to begin reversing some of the damage we’ve done. So first let’s look at some of the necessary practices, and uses of space that would help a city of any size to achieve sustainability, then we’ll get into the real problem, beyond even the seemingly impossible politics that would appear to be in the way.
Assuming we won’t get the dream system reset, we have to move forward with the understanding that everything possible has to be done within our current system (individuals & capital). We aren’t yet making decisions collectively to the point that any given city can or should seize the means of producing food while disallowing imports, and whether or not it’s possible revolves around a different set of factors for each city.
Here’s a few ways a city can move toward sustainability before we get to the most difficult usage of space to pull off:
- Commercial production of greens, tomatoes, peppers, mushrooms, strawberries, and a whole host of greenhouse or indoor capable crops are most often produced with consistent guarantees, and the purchasing power of restaurants and large grocery stores. Local governments should offer incentive for as much private investment as possible.
- Abandoned buildings, vacant lots, and various plots of land that the city may own can be utilized and incentive should be offered to both renovate and plan for food production on those resources. Incentive should go to both the public/ non-profit sector, and the private for-profit sector.
- Rooftops are a key addition to a city’s portfolio. Anything from a government building, a hospital, to an apartment building can not only be farmed economically and responsibly, but they often offer a stream of revenue from tenants of the building, which can include individuals, stores, restaurants…
- Public lands and parks are a great place to plant nut trees, fruit trees, and a whole host of other plants including high energy root crops, grains and legumes.
- Individuals producing their food at home is the most important piece to the puzzle. The space available in a city of 5 million people is quite often very limited, so with that being the case, an undefined percentage of the population must be growing a good amount of their food.
Without a good portion of the population (upwards of 20%, probably more) growing the majority of their sustenance, subsistence farming, or growing as a part of a trade network where each grows specific crops for trade, there will not be enough space for the city to achieve full sustainability/ food independence. Numbers 1-4 on the list above seem like big challenges, but easy financial incentive can often offset the hurdles. The problem that a city faces is the way people eat, in western societies more specifically. We may not be willing to trade wheat for amaranth when necessary, we may not be willing to give up corn, and some of us may not get things like cherries. Are we willing or even able to see past choice, before it’s necessity driving the final decision home? Upwards of 95% of people living in western societies consume animal products of some kind every day. Popular culture, and the legal system, tends to drive our eating habits, but it also tends to drive how we perceive the nutritional value of the foods that we eat. In America, for instance, if you read the nutritional values on a jar of low sodium pickles, you’ll think you were eating something void of nutrition, when the opposite is the case. Cucumbers contain many vitamins and essential minerals including, vitamins A,C,D,E, & K, B vitamins thiamin, Riboflavin, Niacin, Folate, Pantothenic Acid, choline, betaine, calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, sodium zinc, copper, manganese, selenium, flouride, and Omegas 3 & 6. We have a perception problem.
Cities can not achieve full independence without a cultural realization that the benefits to at home gardening are worth the energy and resources invested. In the beginning, it may not seem cost effective for an individual to spend a couple hundred dollars on soils, tools, seeds, etc., when that person feels a need to consume steak and cola for energy rather than a salad, some beans, and some bread. A cultural revolution is needed to get where we need to be, but it isn’t impossible. It’ll be up to each of us who have the drive to make it happen to look at our own cities and decide how we can begin to change hearts and ways.
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