Connecting to the Land

21 Jul

Urban agriculture can provide many tangible benefits to a city, many previously addressed here: jobs, secure food source, and waste management. Urban agriculture provides other intangible benefits that I think are just as valuable. Growing food in cities provides physical and visual experience of food production that few people see anymore. With less than 1 percent of the population growing food, few people know what potato plants look like or why tomatoes are so expensive. Once one grows tomatoes one understands the high price they demand. This connection is important for many reasons. For children, growing food is a great touchstone for learning lots of science and math. For adults it builds a bridge between rural and urban America. The issues of agricultural America become real when practicing the difficult task of raising food.

The story I want to tell is a type of story often told when talking about urban agriculture, but it’s worth telling nonetheless. The neighbor kids a couple doors down are around 6 or 7 years old. To them our garden is a magical place. Last year the neighbor kid picked his first carrot. What an experience! “Wow, I’ve never tasted a carrot like that. I never knew what a full carrot looked like. Can I pick more?” It seems that there is no better way to get a kid to eat veggies than to grow and pick them yourselves. This year every couple of days the doorbell rings: “Are there any raspberries to pick? What’s happening in the garden?” This year, he is joined by a 7 year old year girl who just moved to the block. I told them our raspberries are not doing good this year, but I have something for them to try. I walk out front and snip off a little fennel for them. I tell them it tastes a little like licorice. He doesn’t like it so much. Then she tries it and loves it. He demurely asks to try again, this time deciding it was good. I wasn’t so sure he meant it until the next time the doorbell rang. “Can I have more of the funnel or well…the thing that tastes like licorice?” Yes, of course.

There are many success stories of programs across the country to get kids to grow food.  The most successful are the school garden programs. The Edible Schoolyard Project was created by Alice Waters in California. The new national Food Corps is helping to build healthy food communities in areas that need it. This includes starting school and community gardens. With the school year running through the winter, indoor plantings of lettuces or seedlings in the spring would be  most feasible. Summer camps where kids could grow and cook food would be so much fun. When I was a kid the St. Paul university campus had a day camp called Farm in the City, where one task was to take care of a cow for the week.

Adults too benefit from the education and learning of watching food grow. Adults too can be introduced or reintroduced to new fruits and vegetables. Adults like fresh vegetables too. When the kale is exploding in our garden we are forced to find new delicious recipes.  But just as important as the exploding kale, is the exploding pest problem. Growing my own food and working at an urban farm has given me new insights into the difficulties of farming. I have new found respect for farmers. Too often city people find little cause in rural and farming issues. They care  little about the farm bill, water runoff, or soil conservation, and are certainly not willing to pay for any of it. This is a way for city people to understand why farmers farm they way they do.  Urban populations might understand the difficulties of organic when their own broccoli is a mess. City culture often derides farming America as stupid and backward. But when city people farm, they realize the intelligence and tenacity of farmers. This matters for the long term political health of the US.

Growing food helps remind us city folk of the difficult path that food takes to get to our plate. This visceral experience provides education and provides a common ground for an understanding of our country.

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One Response to “Connecting to the Land”

  1. Laura Hedlund July 30, 2013 at 10:01 pm #

    Hi I enjoyed your post.

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