Monday, June 30, 2008

The British are kicking our cans...

(Ok, this is really Chicago City Hall, not a building in the UK. But isn't it COOL?)
--- the urban food-growing movement. This article is from today's Times Online.
The Times has outstanding coverage on the environment, and since the Brits are obsessive gardeners to a man, there's always some fine garden writing, too. Bonus: The Times never fails to connect the dots between environment, sustainability, personal independence, and agriculture.
The linked article above discusses various ways we can bring food sources closer to rapidly growing urban populations, and opens with permaculture gardening on rooftops. Rooftop gardening brings fresh food to urban dwellers, creates community parks for individual buildings, provides a home for urban species like bees and birds, reduces rainwater runoff, and cools the buildings, all at the same time. Flat-roof city gardening is sort of a big fat no-duh, dontcha think?
The article goes on to talk about urban vertical farms. I have to admit, I'm not on board with vertical farming. It seems to me the format would require too much energy, and the hydroponics it touts requires a lot of fertilizer. But the article also mentions a UK project called "Vacant Lot"- the goal is to turn empty urban spaces into productive gardens. And another project mentioned, one that is near and dear to my heart-- the UK is fast converting portions of city parks into food-growing spaces. I can't count how many times I've looked at the enormous, empty fields in American parks and thought: what a waste of perfectly good food-growing space. Or watched those loud, stinking riding mowers in those parks and thought: if this was a community vegetable garden, not only could we put this space to practical use and get to know our neighbors, we could also save countless gallons of petroleum and reduce our city's carbon output. And while we're at it, grow the best food money can't buy.
Ok, I'll digress a bit here. Towards the end of the article was a little factoid I already knew from reading various Brit blogs online, but I was reminded again: keeping backyard chickens is a perfectly acceptable practice in the UK. Gah! This makes me so crazed with jealousy my eyes bleed. State and local legislators in the US have meticulously assembled a vast list of wrongheaded ideas to write into law; subsequently we have no shortage of stupid laws regarding zoning and urban, micro-scale farming. Food freedom in America is really only Choice Lite- our food freedom has been reduced to having 300,000 overpriced, nutritionally vacant (but ready-to-eat!) food-like substances to choose from, all brought to you by megacorps who only care about next quarter's profits-- and who also, by the way, have most of our federal politicians tucked neatly in their vest pockets. Fighting those stupid laws is definitely a steep mountain to climb, but stupid laws are meant to be repealed. So start small- go to a few city council meetings. Get to know your State Rep. Support a sympathetic, not-yet-elected local politician, and invite him to dinner made with food from your own garden. We can do it, in small steps.


heather t said...

I had the same thought this weekend about parks and growing food. The idea of open green space is nice, but I think they are rarely used for picnicing or whatever the intention was. Why not convert to food gardens? "Food Not Lawns" (book) talks about doing this covertly if it can't be done overtly.

Also, when you said, "keeping backyard chickens is a perfectly acceptable practice in the UK," I read it as "keeping backyard KITCHEN GARDENS is a perfectly acceptable practice." And went on to read about zoning laws, and didn't think a second thing about it until I came in to comment. See, out in the exurbs here, some neighborhood/subdivisions have bylaws that prohibit veggie gardens!! If you think not being able to keep chickens is bad, imagine not being allowed to grow your own tomatoes!

ilex said...

Oh Heather, I know-- the sheer ridiculousness of all the subdivision bylaws is crazy-making. And the bylaws are seldom known up front by home buyers. It's madness. Just what are they afraid of? Dirty hippies? Anarchy?

Garden Wise Guy said...

ilex - love your passion. Keep up the heat.

And thanks for your solution to my Martian organic material dilemma. I've got my own worm bin pumping out some good sh*t right now. Good solution. Just a couple more bugs to work out and I'll start my marketing campaign! Thanks for the inspiration.

Hey, if you need some fodder for your grow-your-own-food endeavors, stop by and read about his idea for Neighborhood Foodsheds. He's my TV show co-host and quite the urban farmer. Lots of great info there.

Robbyn said...

Yup, Florida is one big homeowner's association/deed restricted community, it seems. I'm soooooooooooo tired of the whole Lawn Is King movement, and how silly is it that they force you to have lawns but then enforce water restrictions necessary to keep them green? lol

I'm so jealous of the rest of the world being able to have chickens...and they'll be the first animals we get on our someday-homestead, besides a good dog or two :)

Melissa said...

I'll have to show this post to my husband...he's always complaining about the wasted roof spaces here in CA (especially since we have nice weather virtually year round). The other thing we've discussed a lot lately is the fact that people seem to spout out the whole "this is the most free country" in the world line without really thinking much about what that means. On a macro level, yes, we are incredibly lucky and enjoy tremendous freedom. But on a micro level? Well, I think you'd be hard pressed to argue that we are the most free anything when I can't install solar panels on my house without prior approval, and people can't grow veggies or keep chickens.

Carolyn said...

Off topic but......guess what!?!?!?! I am getting a worms and composting bin on Wednesday!! I am excited!!

Rabbits' Guy said...

Boy you sure get the juices going!!!! :<)

Fortunately there are still many more rural areas where almost anything goes, livestock and garden-wise. Sometimes too much!

It is the city and suburb dwellers who face a big change coming ...

Love that squished bunny ... maybe a plea for more food?

d. moll, said...

We can have hens here, but no roosters. I just bought some Day Lillies because they were on sale and edible, very high in beta carotene. It felt funny and fun looking at flowers with a gastronomic eye.