Utopia?

One evening last week I attended a lecture/discussion on food — how it’s grown, packaged, and distributed, what our relationship to it is, etc. It was a great session and I heard a lot of the same horror stories I’ve heard before: cows rarely get to live longer than 1 year and that one year ain’t too pleasant, you don’t want to know what happens to the chickens and I don’t want to tell you, and the fruit and veggies we eat today contain, on average, 40% less nutrients the same fruits and veggies contained less than 25 years ago. And these aren’t made-up stories, folk, this is our reality!

But this session raised several happier scenarios as well: we heard and talked about community supported agriculture (CSA), about community gardens (right here in Montreal!), about urban agriculture — growing veggies in a sunny spot in your living room, or on your back deck, or if you’re really lucky, in your back yard. We heard from people who were collaborating on a variety of projets: one group of families within the city limits have decided to turn all their back yards into gardens and will be sharing the resulting harvests with one another, down-town dwellers (like me!) are doing similar kinds of things on balconies, rooftops, etc.The folk who set up and maintain the container gardens you see sprouting (pun intended!) at McGill were also there. (Check it out!)

And then there was a farmer who came out to tell his story about how he and his wife and a couple of their friends pooled resources, rented some land from farmers very nearby (still on the Island, even!) and started their own farm. They grow organic fruits and veggies, enough to feed themselves and sell baskets direct to subscribers in the city effectively skipping the whole middle man bit of the business which means the consumer is only paying for the food and nothing else, and the farmer gets more of the profits, which he can then put back into the fields and next year’s crops. Better for the grower and the consumer.  And because they’re renting land and started out small and are growing slowly making sure to never do more than they can handle on their own both physically and financially, they’ve not had to borrow, which means they are not subject to the demands of the bankers and other business folk. They make decisions collectively and as a result, says this farmer, they are able to make more intelligent decisions.

And when this farmer told us that it takes as little as $50,000 over 4 years to start up that kind of venture, there was a collective gasp of astonishment from the audience! Clearly, this guy and his friends have adopted a more frugal lifestyle than most of the rest of us have been able to do, and clearly he and his fellow farmers know a lot more about soil and growing stuff than the rest of us are ever likely to know.But the main message of the session was that each of us can do some small thing, start in some small way, to take control over our own food.

And I must admit – I’m intrigued …

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my next project …

heading out shortly to pick up the supplies I need to make a couple self-watering containers to put out on my fire-escape/balcony to grow veggies in. I got the book, Fresh Food from Small Spaces to help me figure out what I most need to think about, and this site and this one to go to when I run into the inevitable difficulties (as I did when my worm compost became the spawning ground for hoards of fruit flies).

Urban agriculture is becoming more and more an interest for me, and as I get my thoughts together on just why that is, I’ll post more on that subject…