Urban farming: for food and therapyMy daughter recently joined the ranks of urban farmers. She and her family, like many other urban (and suburban) dwellers, are looking for ways to ensure the quality of their food and decrease their impact on the environment.
By: Tammy François , For the Budgeteer News
My daughter recently joined the ranks of urban farmers. She lives in a very nice neighborhood in Northfield known for its beautiful and eclectically designed homes, well-kept yards and flower gardens, but behind her trendy mid-century modern home and meticulously landscaped yard is a vegetable garden, container gardens, berry patches and, soon, a chicken coop.
I’m sure it will come as a bit of a shock to some of her neighbors, but it’s a growing trend in urban and suburban areas everywhere, even here in our region. I can think of a handful of people I know who are now proudly raising chickens, ducks or rabbits. There are also some folks raising bees for honey production and sale and those who raise the bulk of the vegetables consumed by their families in their back yards or plots they share with others.
My daughter and her family, like many other urban (and suburban) dwellers, are looking for ways to ensure the quality of their food and decrease their impact on the environment. They are concerned about the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides, the effect of genetic modification on our food supply and our health and the deplorable conditions in which animals sometimes live on large-scale, factory farms. They want to live with respect for the animals and earth that produce their food and feed themselves well.
Other folks want to make their food dollar go farther. In these days of $2.25 a pound for tomatoes and red bell peppers, taking advantage of a sunny spot on the deck or in the yard makes sense.
A few years ago, family economics dictated a change in our approach to many things, so my husband built some frames for raised beds and I dug, re-dug, amended and planted my little heart out.
After the hard work was done I had the fun of watching my seeds and plants grow. I was surprised by how little time it took to get my gardens ready and how little work was involved compared to how much joy I had in eating, canning and freezing my own produce.
My work translated into something tangible and a means of taking care of the people I love. Perhaps another facet of the appeal of this movement is that it’s a chance to slow down and disengage from the harried nature of everyday life. Someone once told me that people usually need one of three elements to decompress — fire, water or earth. For many people, a day in the dirt is the perfect therapy.
In communities like Duluth, there is increasing concern about “food deserts.” These are areas where economic conditions and business decisions have contributed to the loss of grocery stores in neighborhoods. Access to fresh produce and unprocessed, healthy food is limited in some places.
A few years ago I attended an all-day conference on poverty and was particularly disturbed by one speaker who was very pleased to report that her organization was pivotal in building two convenience stores near one of the poorest communities South Dakota. Convenience stores? How far does a food dollar go in a convenience store? If it’s anything like the convenience store in my neighborhood (or yours) there is no way to feed a family healthy food on convenience store fare, nor is it affordable. People living in poverty, sometimes with limited access to transportation, are hardest hit by the disappearance of neighborhood grocery stores.
Growing food in the yard or reclaiming empty lots for neighborhood gardens, sharing produce with neighbors and eating more healthfully becomes a political act when access to good food — either logistically or financially — is placed further out of reach.
Urban farming, beekeeping and even gardening are not without detractors. Neighbors of people who keep fowl express concern that rats may be attracted to the feed or that larger animals may be attracted to the birds themselves. Some complain of the noise, smell or would prefer that their neighbors’ yards looked more like a Better Homes and Gardens cover.
There’s no doubt about it, some of these can be legitimate concerns, but in a growing number of communities, including our own, ordinances have been passed to ensure that chickens are kept responsibly. Recently, the Duluth News Tribune published a story about local beekeepers. According to the article, beekeeping generally flies under the radar screen as long as no one complains, and someone did. It created a sense of urgency among beekeepers to recommend an ordinance that relaxes the current restrictions on hives in the city. This can only be a win-win. Currently, the number of hives in the U.S. is at its lowest point in 50 years, and yet bees pollinate $15 billion worth of food crops annually, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council.
Whether folks are gardening or raising critters for food for the first time, or have been doing so for years, the increasing awareness of food safety and food security, the ethical treatment of animals, and the environmental impact of pesticide use is a good thing.
Our health and the health of the planet are at stake. There are a plethora of resources available to help everyone get involved and trust me, if I can grow a tomato, you can too! If you’re a Facebook user, take a look at the pages for Organic Gardens Network and Organic Gardening Magazine.
You can go to the library and borrow Square Foot Gardening or a number of other books. A Google search for “organic gardening” yielded over 31 million results. And don’t forget to check out the Duluth Community Garden Project web site and see what’s going on with Community Action Duluth’s Seeds of Success program. There’s lots of inspiration out there! Now go on, get out there and get dirty. See you in the garden!
Tammy François is an older-than-average college student living in Morgan Park.