In his book “UnCivilization: Urban Geopolitics in a Time of Chaos” (see sidebar for the link), Sir Gregory Copley maintains that if urban areas are going to survive, they will have to make friends with the rural areas close by. But this essay in The Federalist explores an alternative, i.e., bringing the country to the city:
We are used to a “country versus city” dichotomy. It’s not just typical to American society—the polarity has created a lot of class, cultural, and political differences throughout the world. There are a variety of disparate mores usually cultivated in the two separate communities: one is usually more liberal, the other more conservative, one more focused on the individual and careerism, the other more focused on the family. Urban folk and agrarians are often at odds with each other, representing different camps in larger political and ideological debates.
But what happens when people bring the country to the city?
Urban entrepreneurs are introducing vertical, rooftop, and indoor farming, as well as “urban homesteading,” to American cities. Each of these ideas, in its own unique way, builds agriculture within a city and turns barren concrete landscapes into something productive and beautiful. But on a more abstract, philosophical level, urban farming could have conservative implications and outworkings—and we should encourage these endeavors as much as possible, in our efforts to bring traditional principles back to urban environments.
Urban Farming Opportunities
First, urban farming presents an interesting opportunity for innovation and creativity amongst American entrepreneurs. Some aspiring urban farmers have built vertical farms and are using methods like hydroponics or aeroponics to cultivate produce with marked efficiency. Rooftop farms are also becoming very successful, and can yield as much as 20 times the produce of a traditional farm. Gotham Greens, a rooftop farm in Brooklyn, uses a computer control system—with sensors, lights, fans, shade curtains, heat blankets, and irrigation pumps—to grow vegetables year-round. Some may find these things strange and foreign, unseemly compared to more traditional forms of farming. But as long as they’re meant to supplement and not replace traditional modes of agrarianism, such efforts present opportunities for people to learn more about food production, and to harness new knowledge in an effort that benefits communities and fosters ingenuity.
Jaunita Ewell’s Cherry Hill Farm…
Urban farming can also have a philanthropic bent: one community farm in Baltimore specifically tries to fight the city’s rampant “food desert” problem. Food deserts are urban areas where supermarkets are more than one-quarter mile away, the median household income is at or below 185 percent of the Federal Poverty Level, 40 percent of households don’t own a vehicle, and the Healthy Food Availability Index score for surrounding stores is low. Large pockets of Baltimore qualify as food deserts under this definition.
Jaunita Ewell’s Cherry Hill farm sprung up from a 1.5-acre, garbage-filled field. She now grows food for the community, selling it at a neighborhood stand and local farmers market. Conservatives often talk about fighting poverty via innovation and entrepreneurship: urban farming could be one method for providing alternative food methods for the needy, while also supplementing jobs in needy urban areas.
But urban farming extends beyond communal plots and vertical wonders. It’s also been widely adopted by an entrepreneurial group of “urban homesteaders” who are starting their own mini farms in various American cities. Not only do these people own chickens or tend gardens, some use sheep or goats to mow lawns, create their own compost, and can, dry, or ferment their own produce. Such methods (while they may seem eccentric and hipsterish to some) present a much more affordable way to eat and tend one’s property. Even a modest vegetable garden can replace a sizeable portion of a family’s grocery bill, and if produce is well-preserved, can become a yearlong resource. If chickens are well cared for, they can produce a remarkable amount of eggs—both beneficial for personal use and easy to sell.
This idea has been proposed for wastelands like Detroit, too. It is seen as a means of helping the government-dependent welfare recipients both to reduce their dependency and to work together and as a partial solution to the hundreds of abandoned neighborhoods.
It’s a fascinating idea, but there’s a sea of red tape to wallow through before this dream could begin to happen. Scaling down to urban land for farming takes vision and a willingness to risk… and no, I’m not going to quote any truisms about tiny seeds…
Here at City Farming, they talk about the obstacles to selling produce you’ve raised in the back yard. In Vancouver, of all places. It’s the socialist regulations for your own good, of course. The rising tide of home gardening will eventually swamp these obstacles. However, look for the Big Agra companies to lean on the legislators if this gets big enough. It will be a right good while, though, till a large swath of the population returns to doing what their ancestors did: growing their own food.
I recommend the rest of the essay, above, by Gracy Olmstead. “Why Conservatives Should Care about Urban Farming” could as easily be called “Why Young Anarchists…” or “Why Libertarian Populists Should Care”…etc. Or perhaps “Why Political Orphans Should Care”? I know a number of those folks — from all three categories. This is the kind of labor that could bring them together.
Hat tip: The Transom