Closing the Urban-Rural Divide

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

6 thoughts on “Closing the Urban-Rural Divide

  1. Love urban gardens and have helped start one here several years ago. Although it is more of a suburban garden, right by the city! Unfortunately because my increasing disability in regard to walking, this has lowered the boom on my participation.

    I am now a customer of their wares and a donors to operations fund.
    Love to help them somehow. Sent over sandwiches from the nearby deli once to the workers on a Saturday and sent lemonade another time. Keeps me a “participant” in the garden. : )

    • Surely one of the hardest things to do is to give up gardening. I have been known to crawl along a row, weeding. But we live far from the public eye, so when I am able to, and it’s not too hot or raining, etc., I go out for a while. I have learned – with great difficulty – to quit when I should…

      Have you seen the waist-high gardens that permit you to plant veggies? Or flowers for that matter. Even have crop covers to keep out the bugs.

      See this page for just one of the kinds I mean:

      I dare you to just limit yourself to one page. I’m addicted…


      UPDATE: Because we live surrounded by woods, the mosquitoes this year – even venturing onto the porch – have been exceptionally wicked. Ditto for ticks; not so much for fleas. I bought bug netting “clothing” – pants and shirt with an attached hoodie. Even if my gardening is limited, at least I can sit out there :- )

  2. “Food deserts are urban areas where supermarkets are more than one-quarter mile away, … ”
    A quarter-mile? I often walk to stores that are substantially farther away, over a mile in one case, and then walk back toting bags and the occasional gallon jug. It has benefits over driving and trying to find parking.

    • I didn’t notice that.

      Here’s my 10-miles-to-school-in-a-blizzard story: When I was a kid (age eleven and older), my mother worked so I was in charge of grocery shopping and most of the cooking. I walked in the hellacious Florida heat both ways, the return trip with heavy bags. That was a total of three miles or so. My arms would tremble for hours afterward, especially if I was carrying that 10 pounds of potatoes the Irish needed at night. Ugh!

  3. I have a pair of Bantam chickens. They are pets and being the size of pigeons, don’t cause much fuss. I also have a big backyard where they wander around eating bugs and greens. I am able to have them because they are ‘grandfathered in” despite the local bylaw prohibiting keeping chickens in my city. While keeping chickens may appeal to some, they can be awefully smelly, as the larger types are kept for meat. It used to be legal to keep chickens here where I live, but that was changed. I have a feeling that someone living in a condo and hence having a small backyard filled it with chickens and was feeding many people in that house, chicken on a daily basis, leading to complaints about the odor.

  4. We have been gardening in our backyard for years. I have always felt that if I am to take care of a plant, it should also take care of me. We have fig trees (his and hers) peach trees (his and hers) orange and avocado trees and a chili plant that is well on its way to becoming a tree. We also have pear and apple trees. We are learning which plants and trees do well and which do not. Pears and apples are not as comfortable as our peach, orange, pomello and yes, In-n-Out lemon tree (pink lemon).
    We are about a quarter of a mile south of Pomona College and the bees that they raise in their garden are on a first name basis with us. Last year, while watching them pollinate the flowers on our pomello (thick-skinned grapefruit) one of the bees landed on my cheek. I stood very still and was rewarded with what I think was a kiss. The funniest experience (I wish I had filmed it) was that of a bee getting inside the house and going for our ceiling fans in an attempt to pollinate them. No, I didn’t turn on the fan either but did my best to escort the bee back out to the real flowers.

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