My Big Sustainability Idea: small scale, decentralized, biodiversity-enhanced, organically cultivated agriculture
If you were to name the top challenges facing humanity today, what might they be? Climate change? Water shortages? Food shortages? Too much waste? Decreasing biodiversity? Toxic substances? Cancer?
If you are sitting at home right now, then just take a quick look outside. The answer is there.
The key to taking a sizable chunk out of some of the most serious problems humanity faces to day is in gardening. Our current agricultural model is founded on the principle that plants are machines charged with the single task of converting inputs (chemical fertilizer, petroleum, water, pest/herb/fungicides, topsoil) into outputs (what we eat). As such, small-scale farms have given way to massive-scale industrial agriculture. The result is that 40% of our greenhouse gasses are produced by the agriculture industry, our water tables are dropping, deadzones are expanding, more and more people are getting more and more allergies, and people are becoming sick.
We need to rethink this model. In agriculture, long-term productivity is not the result of increasing inputs, it is the result of promoting biodiversity, using organic waste to boost fertility, and giving the soil the care, attention, and respect it deserves. Furthermore, some of the world’s most productive lands, such as Richmond and the Fraser Valley, are being converted to residential areas. Lets not turn back the clock, but lets use that prime agricultural land for what it does best: growing food.
Here is my proposal: every person on this earth, be they a doctor or a waiter, a lawyer or a homeless person, grow food in whatever space they have available.
For the doctor or the lawyer this might be in their back yard. They could convert their nitrogen-fertilizer soaked lawn into an organic garden. With a quarter acre, they could produce all the fruits and vegetables they need to feed their family. They could even raise a few chickens and collect the eggs. The only food they would need to buy would be grains and dairy.
For the waiter this might be putting planter boxes on their condo balcony and seeking out space on the roof of their building for a plot. They could get a space in a community garden. At that level of production, they could reduce the food they buy by about 10%.
For the homeless person, they could find enough growing area, right here in Vancouver, to grow close to 100% of their food. Unused railroad tracks keep trees from growing, which allows any crops planted to have full sun, year round. Vacant lots could be used for one short growing season, to grow say 100 heads of lettuce whether it be spring, summer, or fall. Many highly nutritious and productive crops blend very well with other plants. Kael or beets, excellent crops that produce large quantities of food 12 months a year in our climate could be planted along side shrubs or ferns in Stanley Park.
Furthermore, growing your own food is not just good for the planet and healthier for your body, but it is empowering. When someone asks your children "where does food come from", do you want them to say, "Safeway", or do you want them to say "my backyard".
In sum, my big sustainability idea is really not so big at all. It takes a little bit of time, it is a lot of fun, and the aggregate effect is profound. So join me. Grab some seeds, turn up a bit of soil, compost your kitchen scraps, and grow your own food.
Posted by nigelt on April 10, 2009 01:59:53
Filed in : Water Resources & Water Pollution, Sustainability Ideas, Human Health & the Environment, Healthcare & Nutrition, Green Living/Sustainable Living, Energy, Climate Change & Your Carbon Footprint, Ecosystems, Wildlife & Biodiversity, Agriculture & Food
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