Tag Archives: industrial agriculture

Can Tiny Gardens Feed the World?

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.

Rebecca persevered and enjoyed many salads!

Beautiful plot grown by my friend Rebecca

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.

Reference:

Allen, P. (2004). Together at the table: Sustainability and sustenance in the American agrifood system. University Park, PA: The Pennsylvania State University Press.

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Pragmatism With Big Ag

Note: As a student in Marylhurst University’s Food Systems and Society master’s program, I am writing a lot. When I started the year I was a bit concerned that I wouldn’t have time to also write my weekly blog posts. That concern has born itself out—it’s been a struggle! But I recently had an epiphany: I could use some of my writing from last quarter in my blog posts. So, the following is an essay I wrote, citations and everything!

My goal in considering solutions for the food system is to challenge Big Agriculture without becoming an apologist for it. As I noted in [a previous essay], I value small-scale farms and community gardens but doubt they alone can solve the food crisis. I feel that if Big Ag can be coerced to embrace more sustainable practices, as is being attempted within energy industry policy with solar and wind power, or the automobile industry with more efficient cars, more headway will be made than by trying to replace Big Ag with something else. In this way, I consider myself a pragmatist.

As noted in Bennett et al, being a pragmatist is somewhat dicey: “When praised, the pragmatist is credited with hard-headed attention to what it takes to get things done, combined, perhaps, with a necessary indifference to abstract questions concerning the good and the true. [Author’s note: I would put ‘good’ and ‘true’ in quotation marks.] When blamed, the pragmatist is contrasted with the ‘person of principle,’ who ignores the world’s political realities and holds fast precisely to those considerations of the good and the true that must not be slighted or compromised in the interest of achieving some desired end” (2005).

There is a tradition in the United States of supporting an entity until it becomes too powerful, at which time then it becomes reviled in popular culture (though still powerful). Examples: Microsoft; Britney Spears [substitute Justin Bieber in light of recent events]; Facebook; Science; Monsanto. This is made easier by the fact that entities that become too powerful almost always abuse their power. Monsanto is an interesting case, as it’s become the scapegoat for all industrial agriculture—Archer Daniels Midland, Cargill, or ConAgra are rarely mentioned for similar pursuits. While Monsanto spent more than $8 million on the Prop. 37 campaign in California in 2012, DuPont spent $5.4 million (Voter’s Edge, 2012). But few protesters mention DuPont on their placards. Pointing this out sometimes makes me appear to be speaking up for Monsanto, when really I’m just trying to paint a more complete picture.

Along the same lines, I might appear to be defending Big Ag when I suggest that they might need to be included in, rather than routed from, a solution to our food crisis. As Holt-Giménez and Wang note, “If the history of U.S. capitalism and social change is a reliable guide, we can be assured that substantive changes to the corporate food regime will not come simply from within the regime itself, but from a combination of intense social pressure and political will” (2011). But it can happen. The successful photocopy corporation Kinko’s added Forestry Stewardship Council (FSC)-certified paper to its selection (GreenBiz.com, 2003). Nike changed its corporate policies to improve working conditions and compensation. The effect of scale when a corporation makes a change like this is much more significant than that of a bunch of smaller companies.

If Big Ag were convinced, via social pressure and/or political will, to halve its pesticide use, the result might eclipse all of the organic community gardens combined. The public never tried to eliminate Kinko’s or Nike (not to mention such effort would be futile); they simply sent a message to act like responsible global citizens. If Big Ag is approached in the same way, we might see similar results.

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