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Posts Tagged ‘monocultures’

Sure, we have reservations about turning vacant urban lots into vegetable gardens designed purely for the benefit of humans. But, as with all things, the real story lies in the nuance.

That’s why we admire people who take it upon themselves to replace human-designed but blighted urban landscapes (think: ivy-covered front yards and scuffed, litter-strewn sod) with spaces that offer both humans and native animals food — not to mention homes for said animals and a fair smattering of native plants.

Take orchards. The right selection of varietals set in an unmown native grass meadow can offer delicious food to people, birds, bees and other creatures and living space for plenty of native birds and insects, too. Plus it will look nice. If you are watering anyway, why not go that route?

That logic has Oakland social worker Diane Williams filling her front yard with fruit trees. Faced with the bare yards of her neighbors’ public housing development across the street, she went and offered to do the same for them. She now gardens 10 plots in her neighborhood and provides free fruit for anyone who cares to pick it.

While the San Francisco Chronicle calls her a guerrilla gardener, we’re not sure William’s qualifies — she does after all, ask permission.  She more like a fairy-godmother gardener.

Another article in the same edition of the Chronicle features more typical guerrilla gardeners — the kind that go plant in unused lots without permission. Interestingly, it sounds like landlords only get really upset when it’s food that’s planted on their lots.

While there’s something thrillingly paradoxical about the very notion of guerrilla gardening — which perhaps helps explain why it’s suddenly so hip — Williams’ model looks like the one to emulate for those of us looking to help cities achieve the urban landscaping triple whammy of increased food independence, wildlife protection and aesthetic improvement.

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Yesterday we wrote about ‘super-micro farming’ as a trend emerging in response to possible threats to our food supplies.

There’s further evidence of the trend in the San Fransisco Chronicle’s most recent ‘Home and Garden’ section. In a multi-page cover feature, the paper does a nice job of surveying current efforts in the city to turn vacant urban spaces into ‘organic-food producing’ gardens. And it makes the point that this is one way for a ‘metropolis that can feed itself.’ Of over 1,000 vacant lots in the city, at least 600 are farmable, landscaper Kevin Bayuk tells the Chronicle.

It also ties in nicely to invocations by the likes of Michael Pollan, Alisa Smith and James MacKinnon to eat (mostly) locally-sourced plants, (mostly) in season.

While it’s perhaps unrealistic to think urban gardens could ever feed an entire city’s population (the main complaint made by people commenting on the articles), they can reduce the need for food to be shipped in from elsewhere. And they can provide city dwellers with a direct (and, for many, uplifting) connection with the food that sustains them.

But in times when much of the rural landscape is turned over to monocultures enforced by the heavy use of pesticides and fertilzers, let’s spare a thought for some of the weeds, bugs and larger plants and animals that would otherwise occupy these vacant lots. Sure, rats and mosquitoes don’t have many fans, but many formerly common native birds, reptiles, pollinating insects and small mammals are losing space to development and intensive agriculture.

If we’re to reclaim abandoned lots for ourselves, perhaps we could be sure to put a good number of them aside as sanctuaries for the plants and animals we’ve managed to threaten so harshly elsewhere.

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