Not your father’s backyard garden
Is there an urban, suburban, or peri-urban garden in your community, where you can sustainably produce or buy fresh local produce? Well, I think there should be, and I’m not alone.
As part of my interest in “eating local,” I have embarked on a mission to try to increase the amount of sustainable agriculture in my own neighborhood. Since I live on an island (admittedly a rather large one called Long Island), I would include the whole thing as my neighborhood, but the west end has already got a big head-start and the east end hasn’t yet become as “well developed,” so I’m going to concentrate a little narrower and stick to my home county, Nassau.
Geographically, Brooklyn and Queens are part of Long Island, even though politically they’re part of New York City, but one of the motivations to push Nassau toward increasing its agricultural footprint was my startling revelation that New York City has about three dozen community urban agricultural projects, as identified by Just Food’s City Farms. Nassau County not only has none, but what little commercial farming there is left is on the verge of extinction.
My family moved to Nassau County when I was four weeks old, and I can actually say that I have lived virtually my entire life on Long Island. I lived in Suffolk County at Stony Brook University and its environs during and just after college, before moving to Queens not long after I was married, and then moving back to Nassau to raise my children. The home that my parents purchased was on a “new development,” as it was called, which had previously been part of a farm that still existed across the street. I’m talking about western Nassau, close to the New York City border. If you know what Nassau looks like now, you will have already figured out that before I was a teenager, the rest of that farm’s land, like so many others in Nassau, was converted to single-family dwellings, while other farms a few miles away became vast shopping centers. Everyone called it progress. I had no idea that I was living one part of the industrialization of food in America.
To the east, Suffolk County is, by some measures, the largest agricultural producer in New York State. Indeed, there are a few farmers markets where some of Suffolk’s produce trickles into Nassau via early morning multi-hour truck run, and much of that agriculture is flowers and plants for suburban nurseries (which is great, don’t get me wrong). But we’re raising our children to think that pushing farms further away from us is fine. I feel that this eventually leads to thinking that food comes in a box, by truck or plane or a drive-thru fast food chain, all of which according to current wisdom leads to increased obesity, heart disease, and diabetes.
Now, I have returned to working my own little garden in my suburban plot of land, but that’s not for everybody. There still needs to be enough food grown locally that people don’t forget how genuinely healthy food gets to your table. And there’s evidence that, in spite of the shrinking of existing local farms in my area, this is a viable business. We must decide what we value. If we value healthy, fresh, local produce, we can have it at a reasonable price.
I can go on, and I may in future postings, but at this point I’d like to find out from the readers of this blog how it’s going in other parts of the country. If you answer a few survey questions, we might get a quick snapshot of the state of resurgence of local agriculture in America.
While we’re at it, I’ll refer you to an interesting article at the Earth Policy Institutes’s site, called “Farming in the City,” by Lester R. Brown. And in case you don’t know about it already, check out Local Harvest, a web resource to find local food sources.
Do you live:
a) In a city
b) Near a city
c) In a rural area
In your area, is community farming:
c) no change
d) don’t know
Are you and your neighbors seeking more locally produced food?
c) don’t know
How hard is it to get?
b) takes a bit of effort