Saturday, September 10, 2011

Urban Farming and Democracy: Part III

The promise of the backyard
The New York Times has an excellent article on rural vegetable gardening for sustenance in West Virginia.  It represents national coverage for an important phenomena : the nation's families are worried about feeding themselves. Urban gardening contains rich possibilities for local policy and subsidization.  Why finance road building when you could be paying people for feeding themselves and their communities? At the very least, cities and counties could team up with university agricultural extensions to offer advice, subsidized equipment rentals, informal neighborhood markets, etc.   There is a good chance this will happen on it's own without help. But subsidizing and encouraging urban farming might just be a worthwhile public mission in times of economic contraction and increasing food prices.

Urban farming is different than commercial farming.  It involves making a wide variety of vegetables grow in small spaces. Often produce looks a little different than what you buy in the store, but tastes much better. Cooking, canning and preserving are part of this process. Every city in the nation should help subsidize and encourage this process in the current "unemployment economy". It gives the urban farmer a sense of worth, helps reduce now outrageous produce and food expenses, and will give the vast army of unemployed meaningful and local work. Why spend money building roads for subdivisions that will never be occupied amidst interminable foreclosures?  Here are more ideas for a set of  "urban farming" municipal policies:

(1) Use municipal information architecture to encourage urban gardening.  Create municipally sponsored web-based chat rooms and government channel television documentaries on local urban farmers. Interview urban farmers. Talk about building greenhouses, working with fertilizer, climate issues, etc.
(2) Create government employment surrounding "urban gardening".  Create "urban farming" missions where city or county representatives come out to discuss how to create bountiful vegetable gardens, canning fruit, preparing meals, planning for the nutritional needs of your family by planting appropriate crops.
(3) Subsidize 'victory garden' plots in every community.  Fence them in, provide for them, and staff them with city hirees or 'paid' volunteers. Encourage informal exchanges between neighboorhoods. Create local neighborhood group structure that help feed the needy in their neighborhoods with community grown food.
(4) Ally with Agricultural Co-operatives, Universities, State and other local resources to encourage and subsidize "urban farming", composting,seed distribution, seed saving, food production.

Whatcom County has a number of food banks and considerable unemployment and poverty. A decentralized municipal policy that encourages urban farming won't solve those problems, but could be part of a larger package that dedicates tax dollars that are distributed directly to neighborhoods to increase the health of the larger community.

1 comment:

Expected Optimism said...

If there's a good chance this will come to pass on its own, why do we need subsidies in the first place?

Many local governments are already facing huge budget shortfalls. Where does the money for all these new subsidies and programs come from?