Thursday, June 11, 2009

Sustainability and Food

Why don't we do more programs like this in the US? Not sure, but here is a link a to a great program put on by BBC called "The Farm of the Future". Aside from having *amazing* videography, this film does an excellent job of explaining exactly what the problem is with the way we produce food now compared with regards to sustainability. I often times have a hard time explaining to folks I come across why I believe it is worth the effort to buy local or buy organic or grow food or plant fruit trees. I can certainly see their point, it is a lot more work than it's worth from any monetary sense or time sense. It is hard to explain that the entire system from seed, to the soil it grows in, to the process of watering it, fertilizing it, harvesting it, transporting it, processing it, transporting it again, marketing it, cooking it and finally eating it are all intimate bed-fellows with petroleum. This video, however, makes it quite clear how dire the situation is and exactly why it can't go on like this. For me, this is all intimately connected to our need for peace and justice in the world as well.

The video also goes a step further to suggest some possible alternatives and provides a glimpse of what food production might look like in the next century. One thing that particularly struck me about the "alternatives" to oil-dependent agriculture is that they truly are very much in their infancy. We can't go back to horse and plow, where do we go from here? Some of the innovative ideas included permaculture and forest gardening with some great interviews of people who are doing this on a small to medium scale. They focused on working with nature to reduce the amount of work necessary to produce food. Ideas included nearly eliminating weeding by creating plant eco-systems, improving the soil starting with the "life" in the soil, the insects and micro organisms and inviting bio-diversity in the garden.

The truth about oil-free agriculture is that there aren't a lot of current large scale examples of oil-free farming. This is very exciting because it is a real opportunity for innovation. Even home-scale agriculture could play a part. Back in the second world war, Americans produced about 40% of our food in "Victory Gardens" in their own yards. There is nothing more local than your own yard! This also re-defines the idea of wealth to a more sustainable model as well. Perhaps the Forest Garden or the vegetable garden may take on more status than the most pristine, dandelion-free green lawn. A fruit-tree may become more a sign of wealth than an Audi. Honestly, we need this. We really need this. If our kids and our grandchildren (and even us for that matter!) are to have a future in which they can drink the water, and eat food and breath the air and not be killed by wars over diminishing land and resources, than we need to redefine the idea of wealth. It can't be how much stuff can you buy anymore. Wealth and success have to be re-defined.


Ant said...

Well said, I couldn't agree more. Most people I've talked to seem to have at least two issues that prevent them from changing. Getting out of the rampant consumerism mindset that is advertised, marketed and generally accepted as the "norm" and overcoming fear. Fear of how much effort it *could* require to do things for themselves, fear of what other people will think, fear of what they don't yet know about it. I'm continually amazed at the effort people will put in to avoid something they perceive as work.They'll argue that 10m in the garden a day is too much but will drive across town to their favorite fast food place to get lunch. Later they may drive 15m each way to the gym to get on a stationary bike for 30m to 'work off' that same lunch. The 10m in the garden, a fresh healthy lunch directly out of it and a 15m ride on a real bike would probably serve the same purpose but for some reason is seen of as a far inferior solution.

I think that a lot of people, if they did it for long enough to really acclimate to the change, would probably come to appreciate the reward involved with growing their own food, providing the power for their transportation, etc. Most would probably also experience the stress reduction involved with a more active, present and yet less "driven" lifestyle.The problem is helping them to see that that is what the change really yields when all they see is the short term disruption to their current lifestyle.

Alas, that message is not nearly as glittery as the commercials for the new gadget/car/etc. How do you convince people that, perhaps, the void they're trying to fill by buying that new toy could be better resolved by reconnecting with their present/food/self/family/community/planet when 99% of the input they receive every day is geared toward the contrary....


Jen said...

Could not have said it better myself. I think as far as cost and time spent, we are still ahead by growing our own food. Last year, we spent $17 on our garden and got hundreds of dollars of food. It required one trip in the car to buy plants and manure vs. weekly supermarket trips (that I hate). It costs nothing to go to the backyard to get food. Also the time spent in the garden is quality time and stress relieving.

The Stouts said...

Thanks for the thoughtful comments. I couldn't agree more, the economy of a sustainable lifestyle is actually quite good. I think it is so different that it is hard to imagine that it really could be so.

Jen, I must take notes from you! My garden is not so cheap this year, even though I started it all from seed. Where did I go wrong? Could be because I am starting fresh in a place that needed a lot of soil amendments to work. Next year, I'm hoping costs will be pretty low.

2whls3spds said...

I agree with Jen's assessment, our gardens are inexpensive in terms of cash outlay. The two biggest expenses this past year were more non GM seeds (we also save seeds from year to year) and a Compos Tumbler. The main reason for that was to take the physical labor out of the compost piles we used to use. My MIL is the main gardener in the family and no longer has the physical strength to fork over the piles.

I believe we will be seeing more gardens in backyards in the future, at least I hope we do.


Brooke said...

Ant, I think part of that is also the long work week. Many people are working 40+ hours a week, some people are working two jobs, plus people have long commutes. Basically our society from every aspect is not sustainable. We do lots of finger pointing at the individual but we should start looking at society as a whole and how it creates these issues. For example maybe if we shortened the work week to 35 hours a week like most countries in Europe maybe people would have more time to create gardens or make home cooked meals. Or if we invested more money in the public transportation system and bike lanes, maybe our society would be less dependent on cars. We as individuals can do alot, but many of us are also prevented from doing things because of the very structure of our society.

madness rivera said...

Amen to you! And Ant and Jen and 2w and Brooke. I think there is a definite uprise in at least the conversations; that people are able to claim fresh food for themselves and not leave it up to shady oil-wasting big biz. From food justice efforts to take-action guerilla farmers. People become inspired by these conversations and efforts, especially the more familiar they become, because then common, city folk (like myself) realize that growing food is not as magical and mystical as once believed. I don't need acres of land and a PhD in agriculture it seems!

There are some great and exciting things going on right now if only a small scale, but still! In LA, we have an "Edible Wall Project" going on in skid row: where architects designed vertical vegetable gardens that are hung on concrete walls in poor city neighborhoods. This was kind of in response to a full blown uproar we had a couple years back when land developers took back 14acres of community gardens called the South Central Farms that fed over 300 low-income families in that area. The land developers sold the land so a Forever 21 warehouse could be built. But it's hard to take away the concrete walls in downtown LA, so eat that Forever 21.

Anyway, I'm so down for this even though I'm very green (pardon the pun) to things of the soil. But I recognize how crucial this topic is on every single level or our well being. Thanks for being part of the enlightening and inspiring conversations!

(oh, I found your blog through the cool flickr photo of your surley.)

The Stouts said...

thanks for the thoughtful comments. I am starting to think more about how we initiate change. I think there must be a financial incentive of some sort. Then you get back to the chicken and the egg thing. People say they can't take alternative transit b/c it's too slow, inconvenient etc... Then cities say they can't invest in alternatives b/c no one will use them. What if people took control of the markets by creating a new one? If even a quarter of the population decided to use alternative transit 1 day per week, think of the massive influx in ridership (bike and bus) that would create. Then there's a market for it and public transit and bike routes get easier and easier for everyone else. It's just an idea. But seriously, what are we all waiting for? A governement bailout? I guess we could use a charismatic leader to inspire and collaberate our efforts.