Note: This is the second time I’m taking advantage of my status as a student in Marylhurst University’s Food Systems and Society master’s program to use some of my writing from last quarter.
I am fascinated by the obsession some of my cohort members have with local community gardens. It seems that many of them actually feel that community gardens might save the world. Have they not seen community gardens? Do they not recognize the theft that occurs? Do they not realize their seasonal limitations? Their limitations of scale?
Community gardens are wonderful things; don’t get me wrong. They provide a place for people who live in “un-landed” domiciles (i.e. apartments or homes on small lots) to be able to experience the joy of working a plot of earth and raising a bit of food. And they create mini-communities of gardeners.
But by “a bit of food,” I mean a bit. My friend Rebecca has a plot in the P-Patch in Seattle’s Belltown neighborhood (which has appeared in this blog before). We went to see it when I was visiting. I noted the 3-foot-by-6-foot raised bed and thought, “Oh dear, what a tiny area to work with.” And then I realized she only had half of it.
Granted, at the time I was coming from managing a garden that was 100 feet across. But even that was not enough. There is no way I could have grown enough food to sustain my family of two off of that plot. It was something I did for pleasure. And it’s a good thing I enjoy gardening, for it basically commandeered my every weekend from May to September, and certainly didn’t save me any money if I factored in my time.
I don’t think people understand what is involved in growing food. Community gardens are more of a community-building activity than an arrow in the quiver of food security. Additionally, they are usually places of privilege—the P-Patch of which my friend Rebecca is a member has a waiting list, which means anyone who would like to garden there must have a fairly stable life, phone number, address, etc. As Allen notes, “[Community] is defined differently by different people as mediated by income, wealth, property ownership, occupation, gender, ethnicity, age, and many other personal characteristics” (Allen, 2004, p. 179).
So, how can we feed everyone without destroying the environment with toxic chemicals and excessive petroleum-based fertilizers, and exploiting thousands of farm workers? I propose a tiered system of personal (backyard chickens, tomatoes in buckets), local (CSAs and small farms supporting local markets), regional (grow food where it grows best in a sustainable manner), and global (disaster relief, staples, global trade of responsibly grown specialty items) food-growing efforts.
Feeding the world can be done; but it will take more than a few beautiful backyard garden plots.
Allen, P. (2004). Together at the table: Sustainability and sustenance in the American agrifood system. University Park, PA: The Pennsylvania State University Press.