Dear Cityfolk, here's why you need to grow food at home
We cityfolk consider ourselves to be very smart. Not so, discovers Gobar Times. The modern city has a garangutan appetite and is frightfully wasteful. It takes more than it gives. It ingests tonnes and tonnes of cereals, meat, vegetables and fruits grown in rural areas far and wide; chomps, chews and digests all that foodstuff; converts some of it into human energy; burps, and then spews the remaining all out as organic garbage and sewage. Nutrients in this waste that should have been recycled back to the land that produced the food, is instead dumped into and sealed in landfills or leaked into rivers. Smart idea?
With more and more people heading towards urban areas and the number of cities increasing dramatically, something will have to be done about these wasteful consumption habits. It is estimated that by 2030, 60 per cent of the world's population will live in cities. During the rural-urban population shift the cities have become supermarkets of employment, technology and processors of agriculture produce. Precious farmlands are being lost all over the world to these ever expanding cities. Who will feed these millions of cityfolk?
In a healthy ecosystem, nutrients are largely recycled. The urban ecosystem, however, is a dead end. That means depletion of resources in areas outside the city and poisoning of places within it. Writes Toni Nelson, a researcher at the World Watch Institute in Washington, "This massive shifting of nutrients from rural to urban areas has already diminished the vitality of many of the planet's most productive croplands, grazing lands, and fisheries, and the process could accelerate as more and more of the human population concentrates in cities in the coming decades. It is also creating a dilemma: how to feed the growing number of people who are far removed form their main sources of food, without unbalancing and collapsing the ecosystems on which those people ultimately depend."
That’s where Urban Agriculture (UA) helps. UA puts vacant unused urban land to good productive use. All the rubbish like discarded containers, empty tins, plastic bags, styrofoam boxes along with unutilised terraces, rooftops and balconies become the 'fields' on which crops can be grown. Biodegradable waste becomes organic fertiliser after composting. That means less garbage, less pollution and more food. Besides producing affordable nutritious foodstuff for the urban poor in developing countries, UA also generates more employment within the city. Smart idea!
Agriculture, an urban invention?
Cities and farming have an ancient relationship. The idea of farming in cities might seem strange initially to our urban ears. In the classic The Economy of Cities, Jane Jacobs argues that agriculture is actually an urban invention, developed in cities which were first founded as centres of trade. As the majority of people who arrive in the city become part of large squatter settlements within the city limits, it is challenging city managers to assist the newcomers with jobs, shelter, social services, and proper environment.
That’s why urban cultivation has been rediscovered in developing world cities, in recent years. Toni Nelson in the World Watch Magazine again, "Political leaders have been slow to recognise and respond to this dilemma. But in many cities residents are not waiting. Both with and without official sanction, millions of people are now producing food right where they live–in empty lots, on rooftops, and in their own backyards."
Estimates say that as many as 200 million people are engaged in UA the world over. Half of Latin American cities and 40 per cent of African ones are involved in urban agriculture. In Russia, 72% of all urban households raise food and in China, the 14 largest cities produce around 85 per cent of their vegetables.
Want to be a city farmer?
Pushed to a corner, three Latin American countries resort to urban agriculture – local, organic.
Till 1989, the USSR powered the Cuban economy. The Russians sold Cuba oil at a discount and bought sugar from it at five times the market rate. In fact from 1959, when communist Fidel Castro came to power to 1989, when the communist regime collapsed in Moscow, 85 per cent of Cuba's trade was with the USSR. Then in 1992, America slapped a trade embargo. By conventional economics, Cuba should have just collapsed.
But it responded to the crisis by restructuring it's agriculture in the country. Pesticides and fertiliser stocks dwindled. Oil was in short supply. Transportation, refrigeration and storage costs had to be reduced and 2.5 million strong Havana had to be fed. The Cubans found answers to these problems in urban agriculture. The people took the situation into their own hands and started gardening in their homes on a massive scale.
The Urban Agriculture Ministry decided to back the urban farmers and made it a policy of putting all the city's open land into production. The gardens of Havana are small parcels of state-owned land, ranging from a few square meters to several hectares, which are cultivated by individuals or community groups. The city now aims at feeding itself entirely —without imports from either rural Cuba or anywhere else in the world. Today, Havana rightly claims to be the leader of urban agriculture in the world.
Organoponic gardening is taking root in central Caracas amid the piles of garbage, bands of homeless beggars.
"Let's sow our cities with organic, hydroponic mini-gardens!"
The gardens of Peru
With 7 million citizens, capital Lima houses 30 per cent of Peru. The city was groaning thanks to rapid growth. UA was used as an instrument to improve the living conditions of the urban poor. Slums started growing food in a bid to feed themselves and generate income by sell extra produce.
After that, gardens were established in household plots, schools, hospitals and public spaces. No chemicals were used as fertiliser and solid waste was used to produce compost, pests were controlled using domestic methods. The women converted household leftovers, chicken and guinea pig dung to manure. Wastewater was used where there were water shortages.
Venezuela is relatively well-off and rich in resources. But it decided to take inspiration from Cuba and practice UA in a bid to prevent food shortages and be less dependent on imports. Traditionally, more than half of the country's food needs are imported.
Organoponic gardening (See box) is taking root in central Caracas amid piles of garbage, bands of homeless beggars, and tens of thousands of vehicles belching out polluting gas fumes.
Inside Fuerte Tiuna military headquarters, soldiers of the crack Ayala armoured battalion supervised by Cuban instructors have swapped their rifles for shovels and hoes to tend neat rows of lettuce, tomatoes, carrots, coriander, and parsley.
Food in the United States travels an average of 2000 kms and changes changes hands half a dozen times before it is consumed (The Packer, 1992)
How much distance does your food travel from the land where it was produced, into the marketplace, to the corner store, before it reaches your plate? If food products must travel 2000 kms, they must be sufficiently durable to withstand shipping. That, at the cost of palatability and nutritional content. The denatured, deflavored, industrial tomato is but the best known exemplar of a process that has affected many fruits and vegetables. These processed foods depend on artificial colours, flavours, stabilizers, emulsifiers, sweeteners and preservatives. Let’s get closer to our food chain by growing within the city itself. Urban agriculture gives the city a chance to close the ecosystem loop and move towards sustainable cities. And let’s also consume fresher and more nutritious food.
To describe sustainable food systems, defining the origins and destinations of food within a particular bioregion — the food shed — helps one to visualise the actual ecological impact of what we eat. The foodshed concept uses the analogy of a watershed to describe the area that is defined by a structure of supply. Food comes to most of us now through a global food system, which is destructive of both natural and social communities.
While corporations which are the principal beneficiaries of a global food system now dominate the production, processing, distribution, and consumption of food, alternatives are emerging which together could form the basis for foodshed development. For example In a New York supermarket, you can find tomatoes from Mexico, grapes from Chile, lettuce from California, apples from New Zealand.
But the chances of finding city-grown tomatoes, grapes, lettuce, strawberries, or apples in the same supermarket is pretty dim, even when those crops are in season locally. What is eaten by the great majority of North Americans comes from a global everywhere! And metropolitan India is fast catching up.
London city’s ecological footprint is 125 times its surface area, requiring the equivalent of the entire productive area of Britain to sustain itself each year
The Food Circle is a production-consumption-recycle model. A celebration of cycles, this model mirrors all natural systems and is based on the fact that all stable, biological and other systems function as closed cycles or circles, carefully preserving energy, nutrients, resources and the integrity of the whole. It links the many people involved in food production together in nterdependent, holistic ways.
When we conceive of our food system as a circle, we acknowledge that we are connected with every other person in that circle through the act of food production. Practically, a Food Circle is concerned with promoting the consumption of safe, regionally grown food that will encourage sustainable agriculture and help to maintain farmers, who will sustain rural areas.
The goal of a Food Circle is to develop a communitybased, sustainable food system by reshaping the relationships that surround food. Our dominant food system is globalized and industrialized, while Food Circles seek to create a personalized and sustainable food system.
The Food Circle philosophy is built on four fundamental principles borrowed from Green thinking and systems theory. In sum, a Food Circle is about knowing the person who grows our food or who eats the food we grow.
Source: Food Circle Networking Project: http://foodcircles.missouri.edu