Green Acres was a TV sit-com about Oliver Wendell Douglas (Eddie Albert), an accomplished and erudite New York City attorney, acting on his dream to be a farmer, and Lisa Douglas (Eva Gabor), his glamorous, bejeweled Hungarian wife, dragged unwillingly from the privileged city life she adored to a ramshackle farm.
At the prospect of our fledgling not for profit organization being gifted with nearly six acres of land, my husband is poring over websites and manuals about growing vegetables, what makes “organic” organic and other farming related materials.
While he reads manuals, I am wondering if gel manicures can stand up to manual labor. I have a lot more in common with Eva Gabor’s character than I do with Eddie Albert’s. First off I’m a female, not Hungarian. I’m African American. I live in Bronzeville not on Park Avenue in New York. I won’t be dragged off to a rural no man’s land (or no woman’s as the case may be). I will be smack dab in the middle of my familiar urban surroundings. So, I wouldn’t exactly be shaking in my Prada’s, if I owned any.
My husband is a mere generation away from family owned farming. The closest I got to a farm in my childhood was Lincoln Park Zoo’s kiddie farm and I wasn’t too crazy about that.
Two years ago we traveled to Milwaukee Wisconsin for a visit to Growing Power www.growingpower.org, a commercial urban farm. Growing Power was giving tours. It was fascinating. Edible things were coming right out of floating water beds, no plastic, no bar codes. But the place smelled...well like I guess a farm. There were compost piles and a considerable amount of manure. I
was told that both were great for fertilizer. OK I said to my beaming husband. So, we’re going to do this in Chicago? NOT! I knew there was no way in Hades the city council was going to approve of this (earlier post, No Fish Allowed).
I admit I had already been following the process of urban agriculture for several years before our visit to Milwaukee. It all started with our interest in sustainability and specifically sustainable urban communities. I thought the easiest topic to Google would be “urban survival”. About 80% of Americans live in a metropolitan setting; urban survival seemed a valid starting point.
Have you ever Googled “urban survival”? My first hint that this wasn’t the place to start was a blog (that shall remain nameless) in which the blogger noted his daily diet of morning Fox news. He wasn’t scoping the opposition to see what the ultra-conservative were up to. He was a fan. He listened to you know who on the radio.
The next site I Googled upon had links to paramilitary urban gear. I started to shudder. I could not imagine my husband in paramilitary gear in a greenhouse (thus the cartoon). This is not what I had in mind. These folk were planning urban warfare and all I wanted was to find ways to bring sustainable energy and green jobs to Bronzeville.
I became particularly interested in one need, food. I thought that’s got to be a safe topic to Google. It’s not that I just like to eat, though I do. I also like to cook and what could be more mom and apple pie? Some of the information I found was frightening. Peak oil (when we reach the tilt), natural disasters and other things can stop access to food in a hurry. The supply of food is tied to oil, big time.
The American Truckers Association posits it takes retailers up to three days to recover from disruption of deliveries. This in itself didn’t scare the bejeezes out of me. What would happen if deliveries were not possible for much more than three days? What if no deliveries could be made?
“Eating Oil” written by B. M. Green in 1978 Eating Oil - Energy Use in Food Production was published following the first oil crisis in 1973. The aim of the book was to investigate the extent to which food supply in industrialized countries relied on fossil fuels.
According to Norman Church in a 2005 article for Powerswitch:
- Oil refined for gasoline and diesel is critical to run the tractors, combines and other farm vehicles and equipment that plant, spray the herbicides and pesticides, and harvest/transport food and seed
- Food processors rely on the just-in-time (gasoline-based) delivery of fresh or refrigerated food
- Food processors rely on the production and delivery of food additives, including vitamins and minerals, emulsifiers,
preservatives, coloring agents, etc. Many are oil-based.
- Delivery is oil-based
- Food processors rely on the production and delivery of boxes, metal cans, printed paper labels, plastic trays, cellophane
for microwave/convenience foods, glass jars, plastic and metal lids with sealing compounds. Many of these are essentially oil-based
- Delivery of finished food products to distribution centers in refrigerated trucks.
- Oil-based, daily, just-in-time shipment of food to grocery stores, restaurants, hospitals, schools, etc., all oil-based;
- Customer drives to grocery store to shop for supplies, often several times a week
The list is dizzying.
Theoretically I would love to cut out a bunch of these oil based needs, like additives, preservatives, coloring and pesticides. I think we could learn to live without them. The problem remains delivery. Local production is still not capable of meeting local needs, far from it. If we are going to survive we have to take the gas/oil guzzle sub sandwich off of the menu. Local production of food has to increase. So when this urban agriculture on the donated land gets moving, I’ll be out there manicure and all learning everything I can about hydroponics and alternative energy. After all it’s a matter of survival!