Practitioners of urban agriculture have a lot to be proud of, including forming part of a “food movement,” which is increasing in size and influence. People are questioning food systems conventions and the dominant forms of food production (industrial farming) and distribution (globalized trade) are being opposed more and more by communities around the globe. Urban agriculturists—with their claim for a viable alternative to the broken food system—seem to have at this moment a certain cultural cachet.
This is reflected in the attention urban farmers have garnered in the New York Times, Washington Post, and many other media outlets. It can be seen in the plethora of food movement documentaries like Food, Inc., Edible City, and Growing Cities. The idea of farming as a viable city activity has been further bolstered by initiatives like the White House garden. The founder of urban farming organization Growing Power, Will Allen, was even given the MacArthur “Genius” Award in 2008, in what some might pinpoint as the point of arrival for urban agriculture as a social force in the United States.
But there is an aspect of urban agriculture (UA) that is often overlooked: Economic and social class dynamics. Read more
Last month urban agriculture advocates in San Francisco got another piece of legislation to celebrate. City government once again came out to support the growing of food within this dense city, this time by mandating that an “urban agriculture program” be organized. The program will help coordinate existing programs within and between city agencies that touch food production (including the Recreation and Parks Department’s community gardens, the Department of the Environment’s urban orchard work, and the Public Utilities Commission’s water-saving education efforts), as well as look into new ways to expand and improve urban agriculture opportunities (including an audit of city-owned rooftops with potential for gardens or beekeeping; the development of incentives for private landowners to lease undeveloped land to urban ag projects; and–perhaps most importantly–the creation of materials resource centers, where urban agriculturists of all sorts can find the compost, mulch, and materials needed to successfully grow more food).
As a co-coordinator for the SF Urban Agriculture Alliance, a grassroots volunteer group supporting local urban agriculture projects and their respective goals, I am happy that we not only achieved the passage of such legislation, but achieved a more difficult goal: funding for the program. In these days of austerity and endless cuts, our members’ advocacy, and the support of particular city Supervisors (in particular, David Chiu, the legislation’s sponsor, and John Avalos, chair of the Budget committee) were crucial to ensuring that the program would not just exist on paper. The budgeting process is a complex and mystifying beast, but we tamed it, and came out with $120,000 for implementation of the program in the coming fiscal year. Read more
We all know that “Every Day is Earth Day” and many environmentalists feel that their eating habits are their daily affirmation of a commitment to the planet. But what does it look like to take action for the environment, beyond the fork? There are many options, of course, but one particularly inspirational tactic manifested this past Earth Day in Albany, CA.
On April 22, a week after the International Day of Peasant Struggle, hundreds of Bay Area food sovereignty activists and community members broke the locks on a huge piece of urban agricultural land, tore up mustard weeds, and planted veggies. “Occupy the Farm” was organized as an occupy-style protest, including tent encampments and a “farmers assembly,” but with one very meaningful difference: This act of “moral obedience” (AKA civil disobedience) was the direct outgrowth of years of neighborhood organizing around the piece of land in question. Read more
The content of “On The Future of Food” (a speech given in May of 2011 by His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales at Georgetown University and recently published by Rodale Press) shouldn’t surprise anyone familiar with the Prince or sustainable agriculture. The two have been connected since at least 1985, when HRH converted his farmland to organic, wildlife-friendly practices. In contrast to other monarchs and heads of state, the Prince has also been an advocate of sustainable practices for commercial operations and has long stood out as a critic of industrial agriculture. That he is so personally knowledgeable on the subject—as well as being in a position to influence discourse and policy at such a high level—gives him some clout to tell us what is wrong in the food system and what can be done about it.
The newly published version of his speech is a good book for someone who hasn’t yet heard: Our current industrial food system is failing us and the planet. The Prince shows the irony that “an industrialized system, deeply dependent on fossil fuels and chemical treatment, is promoted as viable, while a much less damaging one is rubbished and condemned as unfit.” He also addresses the irony of obesity and hunger, two sides of the same dysfunction. He makes the usual case for the depth of the problem and the urgency of change and shares some reasonable solutions. Read more
My friend Tree runs the Free Farm Stand, a weekly give-away of left over farmers’ market produce, plus “hecka-local” produce gleaned and grown in San Francisco. Working the line between charity and community building, the Free Farm Stand allows people to provide for each other without requiring proof-of-poverty–which for many hungry people can be stigmatizing. People line up at the stand every Sunday, get food, share food, interact, and enjoy.
Recently, Tree and I discussed the recently-passed legislation which officially legalized urban agriculture in the San Francisco. His project is primarily concerned with food access for low-income communities and creating collaborative, non-commercial projects. Tree does not see a benefit in gaining the legal right to sell city-grown food because he wants food to be free. How, Tree asked, is the San Francisco Urban Agriculture Alliance (SFUAA–the main civic group pushing for the passage of the legislation) going to work for those who want to see volunteer-based, collective, and non-commodified forms of urban agriculture?
As mentioned in my previous post, the SFUAA worked on this new legislation out of a need expressed by one of our members, Little City Gardens, and an opportunity presented by members of city government. But my conversation with Tree has brought to my attention a rift forming in the San Francisco urban farming scene. Read more
This week, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors passed one of the most progressive pieces of legislation for urban agriculture in the nation. The new legislation has amended the zoning code to allow agricultural activities in all parts of the city, as well as defining the parameters by which urban agriculturists can sell their products. It doesn’t address the touchier subjects of animal husbandry or marijuana cultivation, but has created opportunities for and the legitimacy of urban fruit and vegetable cultivation.
The legislation was the result of a rare combined and cooperative effort between city officials and urban agriculture practitioners and advocates. This was accomplished mainly through the work of the San Francisco Urban Agriculture Alliance (SFUAA), an organization of which I am a member, which formed nearly a year ago to coalesce the various efforts and projects focusing on local food and agriculture into a cohesive political voice. The coalition is made up of over 300 individual and 40 organizational members, and its formation turned out to be very well timed. Read more
The new documentary screening around the country The Economics of Happiness says everything it should say. Ambitiously, it attempts to explain the many downsides of economic globalization, while offering actual alternatives that the viewer can get behind, and (for a movie just a little over an hour long) it does this concisely and without too much dreadful hyperbole or schmaltz. For this I am thankful. All too often, environmental themed movies rely on over-exaggerations, simplifications, and a preaching-to-the-choir sentimentalities–which result in a product unlikely to perform the educational (that’s entertainingly educational) role it was made for. Read more
One thing that fascinates me about political theorist Murray Bookchin’s writing is how prescient it is. His essay, “Ecology and Revolutionary Thought,” was written in 1965, six years before Earth Day, and almost a half-century before now. Yet its content is as relevant as ever, if not more so, given society’s increasing interest in all things “green.” Bookchin even references future ramifications of climate change, long before many had even considered it. Read more
As I understand it, the Ecological Farming Association‘s annual EcoFarm conference has been held at the Asilomar Conference Grounds for 20 of its 30 years (the unofficial conference motto this year was “Still Dirty at 30″). With that long of a commitment to this beach-side central coast location, you’d think that there was a good thing going. However, things are not always that rosy, and EcoFarm is needing some help. Read more
“…the global economy and ecology are both systems. Global causes are systemic, not local. Global risk is systemic, not local. The localization of causation and risk is what has brought about our twin disasters. We have to think in global, system terms and we don’t do so naturally. That is why a massive communications effort is needed.” – George Lakoff
As an ecologically-minded horticulturist, I like to think about everything with an ecological framework. Ecology, simply, is the study of organisms in relation to other organisms and the environment. Many things could be said to be wrong with the state of our nation’s political life, but if there is one to emphasize, it is the lack of a political ecology. We tend to compartmentalize political issues, along the lines of our individual political identities (sometimes referred to as issues “silos”), and this often negates efforts to connect the dots between diverse issues.
If there is one political identity that should be able to look past these divides and see the importance of ecological connections between movements and struggles, it is that of the environmentalist. The environmentalist’s worldview is steeped in the interdependent view of life; the understanding that one action can cause reactions beyond the expected. And the most visible (and seemingly the most active) environmentalists, these days, are the food sustainability activists. Yet even food activists themselves have their silos: urban food access, farmland preservation, nutrition education, and so on. I hope this article will help us see our commonality outside of our silos, and see how to use that to better work towards change. Read more