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Urban Farming — An Idea Whose Time Has Come

As “green” as he likes to claim he is, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa missed his chance to lead the growing urban farming movement.

That honor belongs to First Lady Michelleobamagarden.jpg Obama who last week gathered a group of students and began digging up the White House lawn to plan a vegetable garden — a symbolic step that harkens back to Eleanor Roosevelt planting a Victory Garden on the White House lawn during World War II.

California First Lady Maria Shriver quickly followed Mrs. Obama’s lead and announced today she will join the urban farming fever and plant a vegetable garden in Capitol Park in Sacramento.

I have to admit I’m not exactly the most environmentally-sensitive guy in the world but I’m learning.

For months, my wife has been talking about digging up the front lawn and planting vegetables. It has something to do with not wasting water on something as pointless as grass, saving money on food and having fresh, healthy organic produce on the dinner table.

I didn’t take it seriously but then I met Tezozomoc, head of the South Central Farmers movement who raised by consciousness.

The 14-acre community farm was bulldozedurbanfarm1.jpg in 2006 by developer Ralph Horowitz to build a warehouse for clothing maker Forever 21, whose executives have donated $1.3 million to the mayor’s various campaigns and fund-raising efforts.

Because of that connection. backers of the South Central Farm hold the mayor responsible for fumbling efforts to buy the land from Horowitz and preserve what was widely seen as a positive asset to the area, bringing people together in a healthy activity and serving as a center for community life.

The warehouse still isn’t built and the fight goes on and Tezozomoc has started a farmers’ cooperative and is growing organic produce for sale.

Then my friend Bob Singer got his own far-out ideas into my head about how we need to return to our agrarian roots to save the planet, how we need to become vegans, how we need to put people to work as owner-farmers in the absence of industry, and rebuild community life.

He introduced me to Duane Thorin and Evelyn Hansen and others who are at the forefront of the trend.

And he work Villaraigosa back in December with what seemed like a cockamamie plan to make him the volunteer head of a Commission on Urban Farming. When he didn’t hear back, he sent his letter to the mayor to OpEdNews.com which published it.

“Is the city or the nation prepared for the social dislocation, economic despair and breakdown in law and order that could occur as the crisis worsens? Are there enough police, National Guard or military to keep order when millions of out of work, out of home and out of food?

“You as Mayor can steps to mitigate the chaos and possible anarchy now before it is too late. One activity that can have the most far-reaching effects in these times of crisis is Victory Farms as put forth by Eleanor Roosevelt during the Great Depression.”

Well, he still hasn’t heard back from Villaraigosa and probably never will what with the mayor wanting to put up warehouses and factories and skyscrapers on every bit of open space in the city, and wanting the DWP to install solar units on what little is left unpaved under a program that’s supposed to let poor people buy shares.

Now that the First Ladies of the nation and state are aboard the urban farming movement perhaps the mayor’s desire to hang out with them and their friends will get the best of him and he’ll respond to Bob Singer or take the initiative himself.

His support would be nice but unnecessary. Urban farming is taking root because it makes sense. It conserves dwindling water supplies, makes little plots of land productive, reduces food bills, provides healthy produce free of salmonella and chemicals and gets people off the couch and in motion.

Personally, I’m ready to join the movement myself. Anybody got a back hoe to dig up my lawn?

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15 Responses to Urban Farming — An Idea Whose Time Has Come

  1. Anonymous says:

    Ron-
    Read the book “Deep Economy” by Bill McKibben. He was the same economist who explained the implications of global warming in layman’s terms in his book “The End of Nature.”
    “Deep Economy” argues that we can, in small incremental ways, turn the Titanic on global warming by growing food locally, producing electricity in local energy exchanges, and yes, rebuild local new markets.
    Deep Economy is an easy read and it will open your eyes.
    The book made me remember summers at my grandparent’s place in the Midwest. They were retired from farming and they survived the depression. My grandfather was lame in one leg because he was injured in WWI. I was able bodied and pushed the plow, the tiller, and picked all the incredible food that came from that garden.
    They planted a one-acre garden. It had corn, peas, green beans, potatoes, squash, pumpkin, cucumber, asparagus, strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, currants, gooseberries, lettuce, tomatoes, and probably stuff I cannot remember. Friends came by every week and food from the garden was shared with these friends. Of course they stayed for a bit of tea or a conversation. We sat under the big maple tree in big wooden chairs and shelled the peas or cleaned corn on the cob for dinner. A pan of blueberries I picked in the morning would be an incredible dessert by dinnertime. Canned items from the garden sustained us during the winter.
    We need not go back to all of that intense labor of my Grandparents who were retired but think about some of the fallow land in south Los Angeles. McKibben argues that growing food locally not only reduces the carbon footprint of food, but it brings people together at farmers markets and some farmers on small parcels of land are now making a living at this kind of new farming.
    People who go to farmer’s markets have 10 more conversations with other human beings than if they visit the local sanitized and commodified mega grocery chain that is currently eliminating the live checker. Soon you will go to grocery and have no human interaction. Yuck.
    Deep Economy is probably like a number of books on the subject. We are reaching a tipping point where the relentless pursuit of economic efficiency cheapens our lives. This book and others like it are worth a look as the City takes up the alternatives to Measure B for the production of electricity and the alternatives to the Mayor’s failed Million Trees initiative.
    This is a productive area of inquiry.

  2. I’m all for this and used to do a lot of gardening with my stepfather. We grew some great tomatoes.
    However when you have to work 10-12 hours a day to keep up with the taxes Bush and Obama have laid on us, how do you find time to garden?

  3. Anonymous says:

    The city has been building more pocket parks than ever and they said that this is in fact helped unintentionally by the slow economy, as plots become cheaper. I’m not sure if the city should be spending to buy plots for small gardens, but if they want to add one to a larger park or lawn or school grounds that can spare it, they are good places for the community to get together as well as to get some extra free food.
    I like what Michelle’s wearing — showing off her legs in that fashionable outfit, instead of the usual boring garb politicians and their wives usually wear. It’s liberating.

  4. Chris Rowe says:

    Ron,
    There are many important aspects to the Pierce College farm. One is that it is dedicated as open space in the Woodland Hills Community Plan for the City of Los Angeles.
    Next, it is the only farm in the Valley where children can actually see a working farm.
    It is a wildlife habitat, and at one time, the home to many more Canada geese than are there today. I suspect that has a lot to do with the parking lots growing on the farm land instead of grasses, and the removal of a number of established 50 + year old nesting trees.
    But finally, it is my hope that this farm would be a place to teach about sustainability – about organic farming – and as the first blogger said – a place for food to be grown locally. We need to make sure that Pierce is maintained and fostered for sustainable agricultural programs and other farm / environmental purposes.

  5. Chris Rowe says:

    Ron,
    In rereading your blog, please tell your wife that she cannot have her home garden because we will be going to three day and later to two day water rationing for our lawns.
    Now, you can find out if you live on property zoned “agricultual”. Then maybe you could apply for an exemption.
    I wanted more fruit trees – instead, I want to look into a cistern.
    Water rationing will become permanant in California. Even the farmers will be forced to cut back.
    Do you know anyone at the LADWP that will help you with your water usage needs for your garden?

  6. Anonymous says:

    Critical to watering is what kind of soil do you have? If you have clay soil as I do, every three
    weeks in the hottest weather will work but you have turn your sprinklers on and off every few minutes to allow the water to penetrate the soil.
    Watch that there is no run-off. That is what the inspectors will be watching for. I call them the spy patrol.
    If you have sandy soil you have a very bad problem because if you plant anything except natives to Southern California you will have to water every day and take shorter showers and
    have full loads of wash to get the max out of your water use. Whatever you do, whatever kind
    of soil you have, do not succomb to those gorgeous tropicals from Africa and South America.
    The only place for one of those plants is in a flower pot inside of your house.
    One more important hint. Be sure to water your trees deeply, not every day or week necessarily but especially after very hot and windy periods. Shallow watering of trees is how they grow root balls close to the surface and
    then blow over when they get top heavy and there is a strong wind.
    How did I get so smart-alecky? Studied Horticulture at the University of Illinois in my youth. TH

  7. Glenn Bell says:

    continued from post I hit enter damn it, it wasn’t even spell checked.
    4 crookneck squash plants net 30-40 LBS
    14 tomato plants (indeterminate) 140-160 LBS
    4 strawberry plants 5 LBS ?
    white and red radishes 20 LBS
    carrots (hate carrots) 10 LBS
    Broccoli 20 LBS
    Cauliflower 20 LBS
    Leeks 10 LBS
    Onions 30 LBS
    Spring onions 10 LBS
    continuous growth Leaf lettuce
    Arrugla, mescaline, red leaf 60 LBS
    Ice Berg lettuce 50 heads
    Red head ” 50 heads
    2 Tomotio plants 10-20 LBS
    2 jalapeño and 2 Anaheim pepper 10 LBS
    Basil, cilantro, chives, sage
    I am sure I am missing some, the point is this is about 1 of 4 crops. That is a good 350 LBS of vegs and 600 ears of sweet corn.
    if you were to price this , remember all is organic only.
    on the real low side
    corn 2$ per ear 1200.
    350 LBS assorted VEG $2.50 @ LB 700.
    now minus the cost of the garden
    wood $650
    Soil 250
    fertilizers 50
    water 60
    seeds 30
    total cost first crop only $1,040.00
    Food costs (way under market est.) 1900.00
    1000$ profit first crop
    next crop will cost roughly 100$
    for the same $1900 return
    4 crops or $7600.00 worth of groceries
    the economics work!!
    The water savings work
    how many people could be fed if just 20% of the home owners did this.
    Your friend
    Glenn Bell

  8. Anonymous says:

    There are food growing cooperatives where a family pays $20 per week for a box of fresh vegetables for their refrigerator.
    This is similar to what the South Central Farmers were doing at a plot on Alameda until the Mayor would not life a finger to help secure this incredible garden in Los Angeles. This year’s Academy Awards featured the nominated film “The Garden” that was shot here and told the story of the eviction of the South Central Farmers at the hands of the City’s power elite.
    This is an idea whose time has come for Los Angeles.

  9. Michael (Venice) says:

    Hi Ron,
    Forget the backhoe. Announce the day and invite twenty or thirty to bring our shovels and we will turn the lawn into a great garden! Yes, we have water conservation issues to deal with, but you will use less water, properly applied, to keep your annual and perennial vegetable alive than to keep the grass green.
    I’m in Venice; currently eating artichokes, asparagus, carrots, beets, broccoli, lettuce, arugula, fennel, limes, avocados…
    Let me know the day!
    Michael

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