Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Argument for the urban homestead

In exchange for a bit of chalk art, Abe and I have enjoyed a CSA membership through the farm-to-table restaurant where I work. The vegetables are wonderful (best carrots ever!), and I can identify the farms they come from.

Even better are the vegetables we've been harvesting from our greenhouse - I know when they were planted, whether the seeds were heirloom or genetically modified, and what kinds of fertilizers were used.  I've likely even seen the same bugs that nibbled on their leaves.

To me, this is a rich life, but I've been struggling to articulate why.  Then I stumbled across this wonderful article, and decided to let Harvey Usery do it for me.

1.  There are serious problems with our conventional food system.  Some of the issues include:
  • Concerns about food safety.  CDC data shows that more than 25% of the U.S. population suffers from food-borne illness each year.
  • Concerns about food quality. We sacrifice flavor and nutritional value by consuming processed food. 
  • Lack of ingredient choices. From the abundance of different products on the supermarket shelf, if might appear that a trademark of the American food system is choice.  But the FDA decides what we need to know about the contents of the packages we buy at the supermarket, and many of the different products are just new combinations of the same highly processed ingredients.
  • Ignoring the hidden costs of our "cheap" food.  U.S. supermarket prices don't take into account the actual cost of our food system - the pollution, the reduced effectiveness of antibiotics because of their overuse in commercial meat farming, erosion/topsoil loss, and the toll on our health.
  • The price we pay for convenience: Ignorance.  We don't understand our food, where it comes from, or what it took to get it to our plate.  There's an opportunity cost here, in that we miss out on the satisfaction of wholesome, clean, fair food.
2.  There are signficant benefits (economic, social, physical, environmental, financial) to having a garden:
  • Safe food. Growing our own lets us opt out of a "totally anonymous system based on minimum-wage, exploited, often uneducated workers."
  • High quality food. There's no food fresher than what we harvest from our own backyards.  Not only that, but when you choose produce over packaged, convenience food, you get a more nutritious diet.
  • True food choice. Growing our own food allows us to decide if we want organic or not, are we for or against GMO's, and do we support the use of added antibiotics and hormones.
  • Food security. Even a brief look at our current food system reveals it is anything but sustainable.  Knowing how to produce food means knowing how to "sustain" yourself. 

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