"God bless the rose that grows up through the cracks in the concrete".
I was vaguely asked to write a blog about urban gardening. And although I am a country boy with very little urban gardening experience per-sey, I have been deeply inspired by some of the rooftop agricultural efforts I've seen while traveling through major cities sowing musical seeds of my own (ie Various imaginary bastard children etc...).
I have seen a woman in Philly who had lined up 40 pound plastic bags of organic topsoil/compost, connected from end to end, lengthwise, with a perforated hose, such as dirty beads on a giant necklace. She had poked drainage holes in the backs of the bags (laying on some gravel near the drain on her roof), and in the front/top face she had cut six X's in two parallel rows. Out of those X's, the tomatoes were positively flexing their muscles like a small militia of tanning body builders in the hot summer sun. She said she made sauce. Not commercially, but for most of the people she knew. She said it cost her very little because she grew most of the ingredients right there, and she liked to know her friends were eating something she had made "from the root to the fruit."
It made me think about that horror stat I've heard so much of lately amongst my crunchy hippie friends, "On average, the cost of transportation amounts to as much as 80 percent of the overall amount that you shell out at the grocery market."
Really? wow, here I was thinking that some far away farmers were taking advantage of the emptiness in my stomach to practice a little old fashion snack-extortion, but really it's been the cost of insuring that we can all have ripe pomegranates in the middle of a northeastern winter, in the event that our wiki-recipies should call for their seeds to garnish our grotesque gourmet's. I'll be dammed!
Now I know there are people all over the non-tropical world who will simply die if they don't get their hands on a coconut water within the next 20 minutes, but I also remember how they got along without it just fine 20 years ago.
It's amazing that the worlds farmers can afford to provide us with quality calories to fuel our various fires considering how little they get paid for their hard work. The truth is, they can't, and the quality suffers badly by the time it reaches us at Whole Foods. It suffers in taste, in looks, and in subtle nutrition (to say nothing of the spiritual disconnect that people so regularly have from their hunger).
Professional farmers and gardeners should not only be responsible for the satiation of their communities (globally and locally), they should be well-informed ambassadors between nature and culture. They should be the ones caring for the fragile, ancient life in the soil. Protecting it so that it continues to be here for us. Not killing a clean slate from which to grow massive, plastic, bastard fruits.
They should be the ones learning from the plants, not altering their genetics to make them growable under essentially anti-biotic circumstances. Farmers know what their roles are meant to be, but they can not afford to do their jobs for 20 or 40 or even 50 percent of what it costs us to eat. They don't have to, and they shouldn't need to be trying.
I like coconut water. But I think people in the civilized world, including myself, could learn to rely about half as much on outsourced produce depending on the season. Eating locally grown foods is a great way of being able to understand and support the quality of your life. Cutting out the cost of transportation will immediately make it affordable for growers to employ more responsible agricultural practices, and incentivize people (who need good jobs) to grow their own foods for themselves, and for the people in their communities.
Commercial gardening does not need to be looked at as an old world, dead-end, red-necked, last-ditch vocation for hicks with no hope of escaping the boondocks. It's 2012! This is the age of corporations marketing their galloping, global greed as "green" because it's worth it to their bottom dollars. There are almost no remaining boondocks so remote that they cannot be reached by the same information and culture that reaches us in NYC via YouTube and Wikipedia. commercial gardening and farming needs to be seen as something sexy, edgy, lucrative, modern, and yes, knowing what we do now... urban.