Blog Update!
For those of you not following me on Facebook, as of the Summer of 2019 I've moved to Central WA, to a tiny mountain town of less than 1,000 people.

I will be covering my exploits here in the Cascades, as I try to further reduce my impact on the environment. With the same attitude, just at a higher altitude!

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Community and backyard gardens aren't enough

There has been a huge push this year in Seattle and King County to focus on changing the laws on community gardens to promote backyard gardens and develop more P-Patches. Overall, the idea is to allow residents to sell produce grown in their backyards and in community gardens to encourage developing a more local, and sustainable, foodshed.

I applaud this on all counts for all the obvious reasons. Giving residents more control over how and where they get their food is not only beneficial, but it adds to our local food security.

But, that's not enough to feed everyone in an urban area. Unfortunately, local politicians haven't been putting as much focus on local agriculture and fostering that as much as these Urban Agricultural Initiatives we are seeing. I guess supporting plain ol' farms and farmers isn't as sexy as groundbreaking new community gardens in abandoned plats or giving people permission to set up a farmstand in their driveway.

If we are going to truly focus on local food security, local agriculture must take the spotlight and promoting agricultural land, farmers markets and connecting residents with the farmers should be the priority. Somehow though, what should be considered supplemental, has been the focus of funding, much to the detriment to those who spend their livelihoods trying to make sure we have not only consistent land to farm, but food to eat.

What do you think? What role should individuals growing food in urban areas have in building a local food economy be in comparison, or addition, to more traditional (yet sustainable) agriculture? If we have limited public funding to spend on food security, where should it go?


Mary said...

I agree that urban gardening efforts should be encouraged. It provides so many benefits to individuals and commmunities. However, urban gardening will not feed communities and regions. The food safety, production, processing, distribution and other issues we struggle with at a regional level are even more exacerbated when we start to contemplate an urban gardening component. We have nearly 4 million people in the central Puget Sound region alone. We continue to lose productive ag land and critical infrastructure to development. If we truly care about a sustainable regional food system, we have to start addressing affordable and secure land access for agricultural production - commercial production; support for a diversity of processing and marketing opportunities; expanded institutional support for the purchase of local food; policies that foster a healthy and viable farm economy and so much more. "Urban farming" is the 'sexy' du jour; we cannot afford to lose sight, nor divert attention from the bigger issues affecting sustainable food production in our region. I am afraid that is the path we are on.

Tree Huggin Momma said...

Yes the local small, family farm needs support just like the backyard farmer. While many people have the means to grow most or all of their produce, not all have the means or desire to raise animals. And somethings are just better left to buying from a small farm. I live in an area where small local family owned farms abound, yet I still have trouble finding what I want within my driving limits (I refuse to drive 2 hours each way to get raw milk). But I get my Dairy and Meat Local and those guys are great and could use just a little more government support.
I do think this is a good step on its own, in that people could make some extra money by selling the excess, for those who don't want to put up the excess for winter or say plant all 30 zuchini seeds in the packet.... not that I know anyone who has ever done that, come on I was like 6... no wonder I hated zuchini as a kid

Kelli said...

I agree with you that all of the focus should not be on the "sexy" community/front yard garden craze. We definitely need folks looking at the entire system with an eye to how we are actually going to feed ourselves over the coming years. If I were prone to conspiracy thinking I would wonder if all the food project grants the USDA is handing out and all the media attention little gardens are getting are there to distract us from the larger issue of who is making the money off the way we grow food now and how to keep it that way as long as possible. This is definitely not to say that growing your own and making agriculture more visible in urban areas is a bad thing at all. It's just one step, not a stopping point.

Rosa said...

Urban gardening is a pretty cheap and easy thing for local governments to do - pretty much all they have to do is change ordinances to allow people to garden, and toss a little bit of organizing/funding/vacant land to the community gardeners. It makes sense for that to be the low-hanging fruit that city councils and neighborhood groups go after first.

Sustainable food systems are a way bigger project, that take more money and time and understanding.

At least around here we've got a couple great sustainable food network groups - Land Stewardship Project, Minnesota Food Network, New Immigrant Farm Program - but none of them are governmental (except that NIFP is out of the Ag extension at the public university.)

E said...

And then there is this: Why eaters alone can’t transform the food system

Robj98168 said...

AFTER JOING THE BATTLE TO GET A Community Garden added in Burien, trying to convince the powers that be that it is a cheaper alternative than hiring a contractor to mow the land and care for it, costs nothing to the city- the plot holders take care of it blah blah blah... I would say it is important, but also important is getting rid of do nothing politicians who say they agree then get into office and go the status qou. It would be easier to start a p-patch if one could bypass the politicos and just do it. Of course, I have the patience of a whistling tea kettle.

Lee said...

I think we need to grow food where the people are, in light of peak oil breathing down our necks, so localising our food has to take priority.

As far as traditional agriculture goes, we need to re-learn so much. Traditional agriculture is incredibly labour-intensive, and we need to re-learn how to properly use manure and compost in ways that we are not currently doing.

So with limited resources available, I'd say spend the money on small, local food growing. Encourage retirees to offer free gardening classes, get community groups working together and sharing knowledge, remove taxes on seeds and seedlings, plant cropping trees in suburban streets.

And at the other end of things, teach composting, get councils handing out (for a small cost maybe) family compost bins and bokashis, community composting sites for apartment towers. This would more than offset landfill and dumping costs that are currently incurred by removing compostable material to landfills.

I do know that individual veg plots also produce far more food per calorie of effort than industrial farms. They're just more efficient.