19. January 2010 23:11
Nate Berg, a frequent blogger on Planetizen, has become the pulse of agriculture reporting for me. If you are at all interested in the future of agriculture and how it interplays with urban environments, I would stalk his blog. One of his recent posts is about water shortages in California. Irrigation of crops accounts for 80% of the water used internationally. Of course, the number makes me panic, but all six billion of us on this planet need to eat, and we have long outpaced the passive irrigation systems of slow food agriculture. I think part of the tragedy is that people first settled areas based on where the richest farmland was located. This tended to be in river basins that flooded annually, bringing up nutrient-rich silt. Now these areas along the coasts and rivers have been filled over with concrete and managed with engineered systems to prevent flooding. We have lost the most naturally fertile lands to residential and business developments. This necessitates tapping into the deep underground waterways, and using irrigation. As Nate Berg notes, water is really going to be the limiting resource for the future growth of food.
19. January 2010 22:24
I am taking several interesting classes this semester. One is on food systems, but so far- the planning world is focused mainly on urban agricultural systems. Community gardens are a great way to put more “eyes on the street” for safer communities which interact more often, and have a basic connection with the way food is grown. Not only that, but abandoned lots can be beautified and turned into cherished gardens, which increase real estate values and provide urban places of respite. All of this said, urban agriculture is not ever going to be a substitute for real farming. Estimates from the WWII urban agricultural push during England's victory garden period showed that community gardens could at best provide 10% of the needed food to a city. It's nothing to scoff at, but it's not much to bank on either.
The whole reason that England needed victory gardens was because as a colonial power, it had become entirely dependent on the global food production network. There are many countries in the world which are vulnerable to global food pricing, and even dependent on foreign markets. In fact, the economist has recently reported on the “neo-colonial land grab” of the middle eastern countries. Middle eastern countries import a significant portion of food, and this enables world food producers, like the US to use food blockades as bargaining chips for international policy. For this reason, many countries with money but no food are starting to buy tracks of land in Africa. Ethiopia has recently opened nearly one million hectares of virgin land to outside investors for farming. It is this international trade prospectus that interests me with planning our food systems. Not only do we have the local level clamoring for social justice food access, nutritional food, and environmentally sustainable farming techniques, but we need to overlay the broad implications for policy-based decisions on their impact for the global food markets. I think this larger picture often gets lost in the hubbub of what is right to eat and what is not. And there are certainly plenty of people weighing in on the debate- and these people do not necessarily consider both sides of the equation. A fine example is this article blasting Micheal Pollan (http://www.consumerfreedom.com/news_detail.cfm/h/4080-chef-pollans-daily-special-lousy-advice). I happen to like tofurkey and think that Americans could eat less meat. At the same time, the article points out some of the trade offs between perceived animal welfare problems and most environmentally sound use of resources.