Thursday, April 07, 2005

The Way Forward

This post marks the debut of "The Way Forward," an occasional feature focusing on small-scale sustainable-food efforts that challenge the dominance of industrial and industrial-organic agriculture. Readers are urged to e-mail me--tom@maverickfarms.com--with ideas for this feature.

Gardening in the Motor City
My friend the excellent Detroit funk/R&B musician Jonah Nadir Omowale (known universally as Nadir; check this guy's music out) alerts me to a new community-gardening initiative in the Motor City.

Even though I abandoned Brooklyn for the Appalachians, I'm no sentimental pastoralist. I'm a long-term disciple of the great urban theorist (and champion of cities) Jane Jacobs. Human history since the dawn of agriculture 10,000 years ago has been the history of cities. Cities are the future; as David Owen's superb article "Green Manhattan" (in the Oct. 18, 2004, New Yorker, unavailable for free online; get thee to the library) shows, they may be our only hope. The trick is to create agricultural systems within and just outside of cities, minimizing the ruinous effects of long-haul freight transit, maximizing availability of fresh delicious food, and boosting local and even neighborhood economies.

Farmers' markets have been the most visible effort at creating sustainable urban food networks. Equally if not more important, although virtually invisible to well-heeled urban foodies who laudably support farmers' markets, inner-city gardening projects represent a vanguard in the effort to overthrow industrial food and reintroduce sustainably grown, delicious food to populations that were knocked off the land a generation or two ago.

Nadir e-mailed me the following notice about just such a project budding in Detroit. There is much to be learned from it.

Shamba Organic Garden Collective Informational Meeting Set for April 9th at Black Star Communtiy Bookstore

Nsoroma Institute’s Shamba Organic Garden Collective will kick off its 2005 growing season with an informational meeting on Saturday, April 9th at 4:00 p.m. at Black Star Community Bookstore. Influenced by the Toronto-based Afri-Can Food Basket, the Collective was organized in 2002 to: promote African self-reliance through urban organic gardening; develop within the members of our community an appreciation for the interdependence of humans and our environment; promote collective work and cooperative economics; promote health and good nutrition. Shamba is a Kiswahili word that means garden or farm. Based at Nsoroma Institute, an African-centered K-8 school in Oak Park, the collective consists of students, parents and staff of Nsoroma Institute as well as community members interested in organic gardening. The collective maintains a network of organic vegetable gardens throughout the Detroit area..

Organic gardening can be simply defined as growing fruits, vegetables and herbs without the use of genetically modified seeds, chemical pesticides or fertilizers. Organic gardening is a proactive way to insure that we have greater access to high-quality life-sustaining foods. When done in an organized manner, it can also result in a visible reduction in our food bills and can become a source of revenue.

An abundance of information is available about the detrimental effects of the typical meat-based, highly-processed American diet. Heart disease, cancers and various other killers continue to impact America’s Black communities at astounding rates. In many of our homes, “fast-food” in Styrofoam containers has replaced meals lovingly prepared from real foods in our own kitchens. Surely, a people desiring to be free and independent must take control of both what they eat and the source of that food.


The April 9th informational meeting is open to those who have never gardened, but are interested in learning, as well as those who are experienced gardeners. Information will be shared on recommended crops for beginning gardeners, creating a garden plan, basic tools, composting, and 2005 spring planting dates. Additionally, organic seed and Shamba t-shirts will be available for sale.

The Shamba Organic Garden Collective’s promotion of organic gardening is essentially an effort to move our people toward sanity, wholeness and healing. It helps us to break our dependence on the multi-national agribusinesses that control food production and distribution for much of the planet’s population. It embraces an important part of our heritage that helped sustain our bodies and spirits for millennia. For more information on the Nsoroma Institute Shamba Organic Garden Collective call Donna Mayes or Malik Yakini at (248) 541-2548.


If Bitter Greens Journal ruled the world, the main task of city bureaucrats and politicians would be to identify and financially support grassroots programs like this one. But as Jane Jacobs demonstrated more than 40 years ago, they typically take aim at the projects that are actually working on the street, and focus instead on grandiose schemes to boost their supporters in the construction and real-estate trades. Example: the vicious, mostly unsuccessful attack by Rudolph Guiliani--that venerable thug and possible next president--on New York's robust and essential community-garden movement. The great "hero" denounced community gardens as a form of communism--even as he championed spending billions in public cash to rip out several west-side neighborhoods and build a pro football stadium.

At any rate, a salute to our fellow gardeners in Detroit from Maverick Farms.

The case of Cuba
Addiction to cheap, subsidized energy. Reliance on chemical fertilizers and insecticides. A fetish for high-tech "solutions" and huge, expensive, gas-guzzling machines. Dull, institutional food that requires enrichment to meet nutritional needs. Where will it all end? How can it be transformed into something that makes sense? One answer is economic calamity, as Bill McKibben's excellent article in the latest (April) Harper's shows. The article won't be available online until the next issue comes out; but it's there for the reading in most libraries.

20 Comments:

Blogger Mitch Mills said...

Hey Tom,
I keep meaning to send you an e-mail, and I will, soon. But I wanted to add, as a complement to your green guerillas link, a link to Just Food.

Here's a description from the website:

Just Food initiatives link and pursue economic, environmental, and social justice through food systems.

Just Food began in autumn 1994 as the all-volunteer effort of a number of New York City and Northeast food-system leaders to promote a holistic approach to food, hunger and agriculture issues.

Just Food envisions a strong regional food system -- incorporating a diversity of rural farms and a robust urban farming component -- that preserves ecosystems, reduces pollution, promotes social justice, provides education about the environment, and invigorates rural and urban economies.

By using food as the common element linking diverse organizations and individuals, Just Food works to improve the quality of life in New York City and the region.

4/25/2005 12:12:00 AM  
Blogger Mitch Mills said...

The Cuba article still is not online, and while I heartily recommend a subscription to Harper's if one can afford it, and a library card regardless, here are some selections from the article in case neither of those options are feasible for some reason.

Also, there's a somewhat related article out recently in The New Farm: Ag futures await oil outcome
.

Also of interest in The New Farm (of course pretty much everything they print is interesting) is this article: Way Beyond Organic. Here's the blurb:

California maverick Jim Cochran became the first strawberry farmer, and the first organic farmer, to sign a contract with United Farm Workers. And his management innovations haven't stopped there.

By the way, Tom, good work on the new links you've added. Does blogger support a "Recent Comments" function that shows links to, say, the last 10 commenters? If so, might I humbly request that if you can get around to it? I find that feature tends to help encourage more conversation on a blog as readers don't have to scroll down through every post to see if there are new comments.

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