The three week journey of an aspiring high school senior and her mission to learn about urban farming and write about her experiences.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Nurturing the Sprouting Plant--Doing My Research

It is 9:30 on Wednesday night. I have been working with the farm for just over a week now. The most surprising thing for me about my experiences on the farm is not so much what is being done there or who is there or anything like that. The most impactful moments for me occur once I leave the farm. They happen when I am driving around town, getting lunch or going for a walk with my German Shepherd, Casey. It is astonishing how much attention I now pay to the yards, curb strips and parks around me. I notice every luscious, blooming, colorful garden I pass by on the street, but I also notice the ever so many yards in my neighborhood with nothing alive except for maybe some patches of grass and a bush or two. So why is it that we, as Americans, throw out up to 50% of our food ($165 billion!), yet there are nearly 50.2 million Americans who are food insecure (including 17.2 million children)? Two-thirds of Americans are overweight or obese, yet they are undernourished. Our industrial food system pushes for harmful, chemical fertilizers, dangerous pesticides, earth-crippling fossil fuels and reckless, genetic modified crops. Just in the last decade we have had outbreaks of BSE (or mad-cow disease) and high arsenic levels in a childrens' organic pear juice in 2003, a deadly strand of E.Coli found and traced back to spinach packs from California that killed five people in 2006, among many other food scares to come. All of this just for a little less manual labor and a slightly cheaper price tag. In addition, our grocery shopping experience has lost almost all human interaction. Buying food used to be an experience of going to see your local farmer or farmer's market for fresh fruits, vegetables, and herbs, then heading to the butcher for your meat, and to the shopkeeper at the grocery store for any canned food you may have missed. Families knew and trusted their farmers, fishermen, butchers, shopkeepers, ranchers and fruit growers. Today, you are lucky if you even speak with an employee at the store, let alone know who planted, grew and harvested your food. So why is it this way? Why does the industrial food system account for 99% of food purchased in North America? Why, with all these medically harmful and morally shameful realities, do we perpetuate this situation? It's simple...the food industry is big and we are very small. Nobody thinks about these things as they are perusing the aisles at their local grocery store or as they dump the leftovers that sat too long in the fridge from dinner just a few nights ago. So why not? Why not plant a garden in your yard, raise some urban chickens, keep an urban beehive? Let's just run up to our local garden center, buy some plants and take them home with us! ...okay...a bit of a stretch, right?? That is originally what I thought to. I am not sure what I would do if I walked down my street and saw fresh tomatoes and basil growing in all the yards of my neighbors as they knelt tending to their flower beds...overalls, sun hat and all! But hey, you have to start somewhere right? Wrong. You can't start with the plant, but you need to start with a book. I wanted to find an economically and environmentally viable way of approaching this idea. The next day, I marched up to my local library and borrowed seven books about urban farming, the industrial food system, the food waste in this country, vertical farming, composting, hydroponics, vermiculture, and any other aspect I could think of that would be helpful in my adventurous plan. (I know it may be a bit much seeing as we have the internet and all, but I am a bit old fashioned that way I guess) I read stories of fellow urban farming fanatics, statistics and numbers that blew my mind and gained some basic knowledge of a few techniques that are specific to urban farming, but nothing really set me on a path to putting this thought logically into action in my neighborhood. Then I met Dave Wright. Dave works with the farm with a focus in permaculture and education. His education side became apparent very quickly upon meeting him. He had a wealth of knowledge about how everything worked and why it was set up the way it was on the farm. Within the next two days, he placed two books in my hands that were the missing pieces in my puzzle. The first was, Gaia's Garden: A Guide to Home-Scale Permaculture-Second Edition and the other was, A Pattern Language: Towns Buildings Construction . Okay, not to be that girl, but what in the world was permaculture?? I hoped that was not just my eighteen year old side peering through, but an honest question of many (and hopefully a few of you reading this)! I learned that the word permaculture is actually a combination of the phrased "permanent culture" and "permanent agriculture", originally coined by two Australians by the names of Bill Mollison and David Holmgren. The idea here is to follow a set of principles and practices to design and create sustainable human settlements. The system follows a set of "permaculture ethics" which are to care for the earth, care for the people and reinvest the surplus that this care will create. From those ethics comes a set of 12 "permaculture principles" which are as follows... 1. Observe and interact: By taking time to engage with nature we can design solutions that suit our particular situation. 2. Catch and store energy: By developing systems that collect resources at peak abundance, we can use them in times of need. 3. Obtain a yield: Ensure that you are getting truly useful rewards as part of the work that you are doing. 4. Apply self-regulation and accept feedback: We need to discourage inappropriate activity to ensure that systems can continue to function well. 5. Use and value renewable resources and services: Make the best use of nature's abundance to reduce our consumptive behavior and dependence on non-renewable resources. 6. Produce no waste: By valuing and making use of all the resources that are available to us, nothing goes to waste. 7. Design from patterns to details: By stepping back, we can observe patterns in nature and society. These can form the backbone of our designs, with the details filled in as we go. 8. Integrate rather than segregate: By putting the right things in the right place, relationships develop between those things and they work together to support each other. 9. Use small and slow solutions: Small and slow systems are easier to maintain than big ones, making better use of local resources and producing more sustainable outcomes. 10. Use and value diversity: Diversity reduces vulnerability to a variety of threats and takes advantage of the unique nature of the environment in which it resides. 11. Use edges and value the marginal: The interface between things is where the most interesting events take place. These are often the most valuable, diverse and productive elements in the system. 12. Creatively use and respond to change: We can have a positive impact on inevitable change by carefully observing, and then intervening at the right time. (Here is a picture model of the permaculture principles for you visual learners like me!) Everything in permaculture is done to reflect the natural occurrences in nature and mimic natures self-sufficient ways while factoring humans into the equation. Take weeds for instance. It is a hated word and a dreadfully annoying reality for many garden growers and landscape fanatics alike. But why are the weeds there? When humans dry out the soil by over fertilizing and overly planting, weeds (with their strong roots) sprout up to break up that hard, dry soil and allow air to reach it. Weeds are part of natures natural "fix-it" system. Less abuse to the soil=less weeds. So, it is not so much about what to plant and what not to plant or what to keep and what not to keep, and more about taking each and allowing them to work together in the most natural way possible. Focus less on the components themselves and more on the way that they interact with one another. Find patterns and systems that flow and work to assist one another. Setting up a permaculture garden can be a bit a work to begin with, but the cool thing is that after about three years, the garden will be basically self-sufficient and working naturally, meanwhile providing you with an abundance of resources, food, comfort and even more money in your pocket! I learned all this from reading for a few hours and I couldn't be more excited about my research to come. I'll be sure to check in soon! Peace. Source Citing: 1. Food and the City by Jennifer Cockerall-King 2. Gaia's Garden-A Guide to Home-Scale Permaculture by Toby Hemenway

1 comment:

  1. Hi Chloe,

    Thanks so much for the great blog post. Your enthusiasm and passion is fantastic. I'm going to keep reading, and it's an honor to be on your "reading list." Jennifer Cockrall-King