When your garden runneth over: Veggie Trader

April 27, 2009

Veggie Trader is a new website that may well earn a place of esteem in the hearts and modems of gardeners and farmers across the fruited plains.

vegetablesThe innovative website arose from an exceedingly juicy lemon tree that rarely got picked. The lonely lemons inspired gardeners from East and West to consider the question: how could we help ensure that all the extra food people grow gets used and enjoyed?

The Veggie Trader website is their pilot effort to see if they can help more families eat well, make the most of the environment, and put more backyards to work for the benefit of neighbors, community and country.

Veggie Trader is free and easy. It works like classified advertising. You register, then post a listing describing the excess produce you have and what you’d like in return, and then you wait for a response…

Or, if you’re looking for local produce, you simply enter your zipcode and see what your neighbors have available. You can also post specific produce you’re looking for in our Wanted section and see which of your neighbors answers your request.

The Veggie Trader website lets registered users sell, barter or give away your extra veggies to other member who live nearby. The free registration also lets you develop networks so that those who have too many cucumbers can find people willing to swap some tomatoes in exchange.

The Open Veins of Our Land – Eduardo Galeano

April 20, 2009

At a meeting of the nations of our hemisphere last week, President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela presented U.S. President Barack Obama a book, “Las Venas Abiertas de America Latina,” or “The Open Veins of Latin America.”

The work, originally published in 1970, is the best known by Eduardo Galeano, an Uruguayan writer. It explores the history of European colonization of Latin America. Galeano’s book immediately began rising to the top of the best-seller lists.  I also became interested in his work, wanting in particular to learn what this influential author had to say about the land. What follows is an excerpt from a recent interview he did with Niels Boel of UNESCO:

Eduardo Galeano

Eduardo Galeano

“Five centuries ago, people in Latin America were taught to separate nature from Man—or so-called Man—which in fact meant men and women. Nature was placed on one side, human beings on the other. The same divorce took place the world over.

“Many of the indigenous people burned alive for worshipping idols were simply the environmentalists of their time who were practicing the only kind of ecology that seems worthwhile to me—an ecology of communion with nature. Harmony with nature and a communal approach to life ensured the survival of ancient indigenous values despite five centuries of persecution and contempt.

“For centuries, nature was seen as a beast that had to be tamed—as a foreign enemy and a traitor. Now that we’re all ‘greens,’ thanks to deceitful advertising based on words rather than deeds, nature has become something to be protected. But whether nature is to be protected or mastered and exploited for profit, it’s still seen as separate from us.

“We have to recover this sense of communion with nature. Nature is not a landscape, it’s something inside us, something we live with. I’m not just talking about forests, but about everything to do with the reverence for the natural that the indigenous people of the Americas have and always have had. They see nature as sacred in the sense that every harm we cause turns against us one day or another. So every crime becomes a suicide…I truly wish that we could manage to summon up enough energy to heal ourselves.”

The full UNESCO interview with Eduardo Galeano is available here.

A Model: City-wide Kitchen Scraps to Compost

April 16, 2009

windrow1I caught the CBS Evening news for April 15, 2009. The broadcast featured a  story about hundreds of restaurants around San Francisco. The restaurants are routinely donating their leftover kitchen scraps to create tons of fresh, organic compost for California farms.

Together the restaurants contribute as much as 300 tons a day of clean vegetable waste that is collected, composted in intensive, large-scale batches, and then sold at $400 a truckload to local farmers.

The report gets the story of this particular 21st Century agrarian model out widely for public consideration, and that’s positive. But to my eye it appeared that the producers of the news clip juxtaposed images of clean kitchen compost with images of city garbage heaps,  giving the impression that compost and garbage are one in the same thing. For the record, garbage has no place in a compost bucket or pile. That’s an important point. Good organic farms depend on clean, life-filled compost to grow future crops of clean food. The participating restaurants seem to be well aware of this crucial distinction.

I recommend sitting back for three minutes to watch the online video clip of this story.  It offers a clear and positive video explortion of a medium-scale model that other communities may want to consider.

Farming As a Way to Address Job Loss

April 15, 2009

The April 15 edition of the Wall Street Journal features an article on how people in Japan are coping with the mounting wave of job losses by returning to the land.

“As the global financial crisis sinks Japan into its worst recession since World War II and hundreds of thousands of jobs are slashed in factories and offices, farming has emerged as a promising new career track,” the article reports.

“Seeing agriculture as one of the few industries that could generate jobs right now, the government has earmarked $10 million to send 900 people to job-training programs in farming, forestry and fishing.”

Policy makers are hoping newly unemployed young people will help revive Japan’s dwindling farming population.

Of Japan’s total population, only 6% of the people work in agriculture. In the USA, where unemployment is also growing, less than 2% of the population works in agriculture.


As Land & Climate Degrade, Urban Farms Take Root

April 6, 2009

The journal Soil Use and Management has just published a study that measures the scope and severity of land degradation across the globe. The study concludes that 24% of our earthly land area – land that had been productive — is now degraded.

Degradation means a marked decline in soil, water and vegetation – the capacity to support life. The study concludes that the decline is driven downward primarily by defective land management and the onslaught of natural catastrophe.

This blunt, ugly fact – one-quarter of our land degraded in the last 30 years — directly impacts our ability to produce food and to enjoy the security and upliftment of a healthy planet.

Wilkins ice shelf collapse

Wilkins ice shelf collapse

Meanwhile, hundreds of square kilometers of the Wilkins ice shelf in Antarctica disintegrated on Saturday, April 4. Scientists are stunned. Nine other shelves have receded or collapsed around the Antarctic Peninsula in the past 50 years, the arctic ice is thinner than ever, and worldwide glaciers are melting more speedily than scientists anticipated.

U.S. Secretary Ken Salazar put it plainly in a statement from the Department of the Interior: “The rapid retreat of glaciers demonstrates once again the profound effects our planet is already experiencing — more rapidly than previously known — as a consequence of climate change.”

Our land massively degraded, our poles wobbling and disintegrating from climate change, and our national and global economies in the midst of immense metamorphosis. These are catastrophic cries from the land.

In measured response to the context of our environment and our economy, thousands of urban and suburban community gardens and farms have taken root in North America over the last 15-20 years.

An urban farm

An urban farm

Community farms and gardens – located in cities, suburbs and countryside – have established pathways that can lead to a healthy, sustainable foundation for our transition and our future. These farms and gardens are keystone models that – if widely emulated – can help us address step by steady step our crises of land and climate degradation, as well as a host of economic and dietary imperatives.

The existing and emerging agrarian models are oases of environmental health and stability. They bear potential to radiate out widely across the land as they are emulated, improved upon, and refined into networks.

Stories about these keystone agrarian models continue to appear in US and Canadian media, as well as internationally. These are not just good ideas and projects, they are essential.

Here are some notes and links on urban agrarian endeavors recently in the news. More models and resources are available on the Links page of this blog.

One encouraging possibility for urban food production is being established in Detroit, Michigan, where Hantz Farms has set a goal of becoming the world’s largest organic, urban farm. Last week John Hantz unveiled an urban-development concept that would convert hundreds, even thousands, of vacant parcels of the city into urban agriculture.

In collaboration with Michigan State University and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, the Hantz proposal envisions what would be the first large-scale, sustainable farming operation in a major American metropolis. Hantz advocates that the farm can increase the tax base, create jobs, and improve the quality of life in an area that has experienced a severe decline in population.

Detroit is already home to hundreds of smaller community gardens. One significant non-profit group, Urban Farming, has been cultivating land in Detroit since 2005. Their mission is to create an abundance of food for people in need by planting gardens on unused land. They started out in 2005 with three gardens, but now have established about 600. Those gardens provide fresh, clean produce for about 50,000 people.

Phoenix, Arizona — the fifth largest city in America, a place of shimmering heat and parched land –- seems an unlikely domain to attempt living off the land. But with organic gardening and permaculture, Greg Peterson has transformed his patch of Phoenix into a productive Urban Farm – a source of clean, healthy land and food.

Just ¾ of an acre, Peterson’s Urban Farm is both a laboratory and classroom—what works there can be replicated by other desert gardeners, His goal is to make edible yards a standard for urban and suburban Phoenicians, and attendance at his courses is exploding.

Urban gardening and farming is building momentum because, in a time of stunning environmental and economic tremors, agrarian logic is undeniable.

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