City Gardens Abound In Cuba, Where 70% Of Vegetables And Herbs Are Local And Organic

HAVANA, June 4, 2008

(CBS/ Reinaldo Gil)

(CBS) This story was written by CBS News producer Portia Siegelbaum in Havana.
“Buy local. Eat seasonal. Eat organic.” All now commonplace admonitions in the United States.

But while none of these slogans are household words in Cuba, 70 percent of the vegetables and herbs grown on the island today are organic and the urban gardens where they are raised are usually within walking distance of those who will consume them. So in one blow Cuba reduced the use of fossil fuels in the production and transportation of food. And they began doing this nearly 20 years ago.

The island nation’s move to organic and sustainable farming did not arise from its environmental consciousness, although there was an element of that also. The main reason was the beginning of the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989, Cuba’s only source of petroleum and main trading partner at that time.

Overnight long lines formed at gas stations that all too often ran out before all their customers could fill up. Traffic was virtually non-existent. Chinese “Flying Pigeon” bicycles replaced both private and public transportation.

“Puestos” as Cubans call the produce section of their rationed grocery stores displayed only empty bins as agriculture ground to a halt. Chemical pesticides and fertilizers vanished. Tractors became relics of a former time. Oxen pulled the plows that furrowed the fields.

Finding food for the dinner table became a day-long drudge. Cubans visibly lost weight. The communist youth daily, Juventud Rebelde, ran articles on edible weeds. Daily caloric intake dropped to about 1600 calories.

Organic agriculture “made its appearance at that moment as a necessity and that necessity helped us to advance, to consolidate and expand more or less uniformly in all 169 municipalities,” says Adolfo Rodriguez. At 62, he is Cuba’s top urban agrarian, with 43 years experience in agriculture.

He says there are now 300,000 people employed directly in urban agriculture without counting those who are raising organic produce in their backyards as part of a State-encouraged grassroots movement. In all, Rodriguez claims nearly a million people are getting their hands dirty organically.

With 76 percent of Cuba’s population of just under 11 million living in cities, the importance of this form of farming cannot be over emphasized, says Rodriguez.

I think that Cuba’s urban agriculture has come to stay.
Adolfo Rodriguez, urban agrarian
The urban gardens have been dubbed “organoponicos.” Those located in never-developed empty lots primarily consist of raised beds. More complicated are those created in the space left by a collapsed building, not uncommon in cities like Havana where much of the housing is in a very deteriorated state and where all it takes is a heavy tropical rainfall followed by relentless sunshine to bring down a structure.

“We have to truck in the soil,” before anything can be planted, explains Rodriguez. “The basic issue is restoring fertility, the importance of producing compost, organic fertilizers, humus created by worms,” he says.

In a majority of cases the fruits and vegetables are freshly picked every morning and go on sale just with a few feet of where they grew. Only in exceptional cases, such as the densely population municipality of Old Havana (as the colonial section of the capital is named) do the organic fruits and vegetables travel a kilometer or so by a tricycle or horse drawn cart to reach consumers.

Havana residents line up at the organoponico at 44th Street and Fifth Avenue, which grows a wide variety of vegetables, fruits and herbs. (CBS/Manuel Muniz)

Lucky are the Havana residents who live near the organoponico at 44th Street and Fifth Avenue. Occupying nearly an entire city block, it grows a wide variety of vegetables, fruits and herbs, as well as ornamental plants. It will even sell fresh basil shoots for customers to plant in their own herb garden. On a recent day, customers were offered the following fresh produce at reasonable prices: mangos, plantains, basil, parsley, lettuce, garlic, celery, scallions, collard greens, black beans, watermelon, tomatoes, malanga, spinach and sweet potatoes.

Luckily for Cubans in general, organic here is not equivalent to expensive. Overhead costs are low. The produce is sold from simple aluminum kiosks, signs listing the day’s offer and prices are handmade, electricity is used only for irrigation, and no transportation other than walking from the raised beds to the kiosks is involved. The result? Everything is fresh, local and available.

Convincing Cubans to buy this produce, especially the less familiar vegetables, so as to prepare earth friendly meals, presented a hurdle. The ideal meal on the island includes roast pork, rice and beans and yucca. A lettuce and tomato salad was popular. But the idea of vegetable side dishes or an all vegetarian meal was inconceivable to most.

“We’re cultivating some 40-plus species but you have to know who your customers are,” says Rodriguez. “We can’t plant a lot of broccoli right now because its not going to sell but we’re making progress.” For example, he notes, in the beginning practically no one bought spinach. Now, all the spinach planted is sold. Persuading people to eat carrots, according to Rodriguez, was an uphill battle. “We had to begin supplying them to the daycare centers,” so as to develop a taste for this most common of root vegetables.

The “queen” of the winter crop is lettuce. The spring/summer “queen” is the Chinese string bean. Cuba’s blazing summer sun doesn’t allow for growing produce out of its season, even under cover, except in rare circumstances.

The saving of heritage fruits, vegetables and even animals has also gotten a boost from the urban agrarian movement. The chayote, a fleshy, pear-shaped single-seeded fruit, had virtually disappeared from the market. Now, Rodriguez says, 130 of Cuba’s 169 municipalities are growing the fruit that many remember from their grandmother’s kitchen repertoire in which it was treated as a vegetable, often stuffed and baked.

“We are working to rescue fruit orchards that are in danger of extinction,” stresses Rodriguez. “We’ve planted fields with fruit species that many of today’s children have never even seen, such as the sapote. To save these species we’ve created specialized provincial botanical gardens,” he explains.

Similarly, the urban agrarian movement is rescuing native animal species such as the Creole goat and the cubalaya chicken, the only native Cuban poultry species.

Currently spiraling global food prices are hitting the island hard. Cuba has been importing just over 80 percent of the food consumed domestically. The government is making more land and supplies available to farmers and this may well include chemical fertilizers and pesticides in an attempt to greatly reduce this foreign dependency.

Adolfo Rodriguez, Cuba’s top urban agrarian (CBS/Reinaldo Gil)

Rodriguez does not believe this push to quickly increase agricultural output will negatively impact on the urban organic movement. Even during the 1990s, known in Cuba as the “Special Period,” he says, the potato crop continued to receive chemical pesticides and fertilizers. And even today, the 30 percent of the non-organic produce includes, for example, large-scale plantings of tomatoes for industrial processing.

“I think that Cuba’s urban agriculture has come to stay,” concludes Rodriguez. “That there is a little increase in the application of fertilizers and pesticides for specific crops is normal but that’s not to say that the country is going to shift away from organic farming, to turn our organic gardens into non-organic ones.”

Seattle, known as the emerald city to some, has urban agriculture popping up all over the place.  I’m actually going there in the fall to work with Seattle Youth Garden Works as one of their AmeriCorps garden coordinators.  I’m so excited!  I can’t wait to be part of this awesome community.  Here’s an article that was recently in the PI about urban gardening and food security in Seattle.  Below that are a ton of links to urban gardening stuff in Seattle.  Enjoy!

Gordon, a lead gardener at Seattle Youth Garden Works, holds up the bucket of compost he’s been speading. 

 

Written by Jennifer Langston

for the Seattle Post Intelligencer (June 3, 2008)

Instead of fighting hunger with grocery-store handouts, some see part of the solution in gardens, apartment balconies and front yards.

Over the past five years, the amount of fruit and vegetables grown or harvested in Seattle neighborhoods for food banks and meal programs has doubled to more than 44,000 pounds.

Though just a fraction of what fuels the emergency food pipeline, it will help meet unprecedented needs this summer, given rising prices and lines of low-income people that have ballooned since the holidays.

“It’s really key to our success,” said Rick Jump, executive director of the White Center Food Bank, which has seen its weekly demand increase by nearly 40 percent in the past several months. “We’re all out there striving to find resources.”

Soon, the food bank will start getting apples and plums from West Seattle yards — part of a neighborhood fruit tree harvest program pioneered four years ago by Solid Ground, a social service organization.

There will also be fresh vegetables from gardens worked by Community Harvest of Southwest Seattle, a new volunteer group also offering canning, gardening and tree-care classes at senior centers and local grocery stores.

“We’re trying to increase access to local fresh fruits and vegetables, not only by providing them, but also by teaching people how to grow and preserve their own,” said founder and West Seattle resident Aviva Furman.

At City Hall, conversations are under way to figure out how to expand programs enabling low-income gardeners to sell produce directly to urban consumers.

Generally, it’s illegal to sell from city P-patches, except for a small-market garden program allowing immigrant farmers in public housing developments to sell weekly bags of greens and produce.

Even foodies are struggling to shed some of the movement’s preciousness — peopled by those with the time to debate local vs. organic, or make handmade truffle pasta from scratch — and become more egalitarian.

“Unfortunately, people can get really snotty about where their food comes from,” said Willi Galloway, a Seattle Tilth board member who has worked to spread organic gardening to lower-income communities.

 

graphic

 

“It’s something that’s fun that everyone can do, and I hope our city becomes a place where everyone has a place to grow their food, regardless of income.”

At a recent container-gardening class at the White Center Food Bank, Regina Bash scooped dirt from the bed of a pickup truck with a yogurt cup and poured it into a bucket.

She planted a sturdy tomato plant in one pot, with salad greens, carrots and radishes sharing another. There were discussions on the best way to pick sweet peas (often) and protect roots (carefully). Experts answered questions on the science of propagation and the art of watering.

At the end, Bash carefully loaded one pot in a backpack, stuffed the other in a rolling duffel bag and headed toward the bus stop.

“I’ve always wanted cherry tomatoes because I love them,” said Bash, who lives in an apartment with no yard. “But I have a balcony … so my little patio is waiting for me when I get home.”

A few blocks away, at newly renovated White Center Heights Park, 17 virgin garden plots will be tended by local residents and food bank clients this summer.

Katie Rains, a former Rat City Rollergirl, has volunteered to grow vegetables and herbs specifically for the food bank.

“They get a lot of produce donations,” said the 25-year-old Evergreen State College student. “But the things they’re not getting are more of the cultural foods — bok choy, Chinese cabbage, cilantro, peppers, eggplant.”

Immigrant farmers at Seattle Housing Authority developments such as New Holly and High Point have been selling produce out of community gardens there for the last decade.

Now, the city neighborhoods department that oversees P-patches and community gardens is considering how to widen the program to include other low-income gardeners.

That could involve making more land available, or creating farm stands or other means to distribute local produce. But a major expansion would likely require partners from the private sector, said Rich MacDonald, the P-patch program manager.

One complication is a state ban on allowing people to profit from public resources. That’s why some have entertained creating market gardens or urban agriculture training programs on private land owned by churches, individuals or other community organizations.

“It’s a nice stable little program, but it’s little,” MacDonald said of the market garden program. “And it’s hard to imagine without a lot of resources that it would get much bigger.”

Paul Haas, development director for Solid Ground, has just that kind of ambitious goal: Acquire 100 acres over the next 10 years for food bank, low-income and immigrant farmers.

“The thing that’s been lacking in this is a great tangible vision, like the Kennedy space program,” he said. “It starts with ‘here’s two acres, we have this site, let’s do it.’ ”

Last week, Emiko Keller stopped by West Seattle’s High Point Market Garden on the first day of the season, picking up a bag of parsley, spinach, tah tsoi greens, radishes, bok choy and salad fixings.

High Point Market Garden

Her family splits a half “share” — which costs $310 for roughly four months — with a neighbor down the street.

“I like the feeling of this kind of community,” she said, after giving gardener Hien Vinh Nguyen a warm hug. “And I like the fact that I get … things I don’t normally see at the store.”

The garden’s proceeds will be split among five families this year, including Nguyen’s. A former South Vietnamese army officer, he spent 13 years in a Hanoi prison where he grew beans, rice, potatoes and vegetables on the prison farm.

In 1994, he immigrated to Seattle and helped build two community gardens at High Point.

“It’s extra money for the low-income people … and the customers are so happy,” he said. “It’s good for all the residents.”

 

Related Articles:

Urban Farming Sprouts in Seattle: Overlooked nooks and crannies colonized to grow food

 

Urban Agriculture in Seattle:

Longfellow Creek Garden

Growing Washington

Seattle Youth Garden Works

P-Patch Community Gardens

Seattle Tilth

WA Food System Wiki

Veg Seattle

Pick Your Own

Marra Farm

Community Harvest of Southwest Seattle

High Point Market Garden

Seattle Green Map Project

Seattle Farmers Markets

Seattle Urban Farm Company

Urban Garden Residence

Ballard Farmer’s Markets

Common Ground

Laughing Crow Farm

Farmhouse Organics

Eat Local Now!

100 Mile Diet- Sustainable Ballard

Sustainable Communities All Over Puget Sound (SCALLOPS)

Puget Sound School Gardens Collective

Lettuce Link

Growing Food, Growing Community

Seattle Dirt

Seattle Green Schools

Abundant Yards

Community Fruit Tree Harvest

Northwest Harvest

Cultivating Youth

Green Seattle Guide

“The Green Book”

Sustainable West Seattle

Portlandroof.jpg

Photo by Kym Pokorny from her blog “Dig in with Kym”.

 

“If you look around and see all the flat roofs, you can start to imagine a food-sustainable city,” says Marc Boucher-Colbert, one of the partners who contracts with Rocket restaurant to design and maintain the garden. “We’ve taken away all this space, but we can reclaim it.”

 

Click here to read the article at City Farmer News

 

From Innovations Report
14.05.2008

In 1996, 180 nations—including Canada—met in Rome for the World Food Summit (WFS) to discuss ways to end hunger. Nations pledged to eradicate hunger and committed themselves to a basic target: reducing the number of undernourished people by half by 2015. Five years later, they reaffirmed their commitment to meeting the goals set out in the Rome Declaration on World Food Security and the World Food Summit Plan of Action.

In the Rome Declaration, nations committed themselves to ensuring an enabling environment and implementing policies to eradicate poverty and guarantee access to sufficient, safe food to all. They also agreed to promote a fair world trade system, and to work to prevent natural disasters and other emergencies that threaten food security. They further agreed to promote the use of public and private investments in ways that foster human resources and sustainable development.

IDRC’s programs and the research it funds contribute to meeting these commitments. IDRC believes that poverty alleviation, food security, and environmental sustainability go hand in hand. It also believes that effectively addressing these interlinked challenges requires working actively with the main actors, from farmers to researchers to government officials. While this is the thrust of all of IDRC’s programs, two contribute most directly to increasing food supplies—Rural Poverty and Environment (RPE) and Urban Poverty and Environment (UPE). 

A multidisciplinary approach

In rural areas, IDRC supports research that focuses on the needs of the poor who live in fragile or degraded ecosystems. This can take many forms, from promoting participatory plant breeding of staple crops as a means to conserve biodiversity and recognize farmers’ knowledge (read more: Seeds that give – link below), to supporting collaborative management of natural resources such as watersheds and community forests. Research also seeks to support land tenure reforms and improve access to natural resources and focuses on how the poor can improve their livelihoods while better managing natural resources in a context of market liberalization and integration.

Efforts to ensure that research is relevant to the need of farmers have met with success in many areas. For example:

* In Viet Nam, IDRC-supported research has demonstrated that community-based natural resource management (CBNRM) concepts and processes, such as “farmer to farmer” methods, can be successful in reducing poverty at the commune level. The overall goal has been to develop and support processes that will reach and build sustainable livelihoods for a greater number of the poorest in upland communities (read more: Improving Natural Resource Management in Viet Nam’s Hong Ha Commune).

* In the harsh conditions of Jordan and Syria, farmer-selected lines of barley have fared as well or better than those emanating from research centres. What’s more, these varieties yield better forage and are more palatable to sheep and goats, the main sources of meat and milk products in the region (read more: CASE STUDY: North Africa and Middle East Breeding Better Barley — Together – link below). 

* In China, bridging the gap between scientists and farmers has led to the adaptation of varieties of maize to local conditions and the improvement of a number of others, contributing to both food supplies and livelihoods (read more: Bridging the Gap Between Scientists and Farmers in China). 

Growing food in the cities

In the booming urban areas of developing countries, access to land, food, and basic environmental services such as water, sanitation, and waste collection is limited, leading to increased poverty and environmental burdens. One of the goals of IDRC’s UPE program is to support research on urban agriculture (UA) as a means to increase household food security and to generate income (read more: Feeding the Sustainable City)

Thanks largely to the pioneering work of IDRC-supported researchers over the past two decades, some municipalities have now recognized the value of urban agriculture in boosting food security and reducing unemployment among the urban poor. For example:

* City councillors in Kampala, Uganda have created ordinances to better integrate farming activities into urban planning and management (read more)

* In Rosario, Argentina municipal authorities, working farmers’ groups, shantytown dwellers, and civil society organizations devised a scheme for granting tenure to unused municipal lands. As a result, more than 700 community market gardens were established, a vegetable processing agroindustry was created, and plant and craft fairs were held. This has led to sustainable food supplies and livelihoods for poor residents (read more). 

Given the challenges, IDRC and its partners are encouraging governments to team up with stakeholders to develop strategies to meet the MDGs. In answering the need for more secure land tenure for city farmers, governments at all levels could reduce poverty and help improve the lives of slum dwellers. By actively supporting urban agriculture activities, they can reduce hunger and malnutrition while promoting employment among disadvantaged groups such as women.

Innovative approaches

Because hunger and poverty are intimately linked to economic and social policies at the macro and sectoral levels, IDRC also supports research to understand these links and target policies effectively. A first step is mapping poverty and its components. Another is to link changes in these to various combinations of policies. IDRC has been doing this in over 20 developing countries since 1990 (read more: Micro Impacts of Macroeconomic and Adjustment Policies [MIMAP]). An essential component of IDRC’s work in this area is the community-based poverty monitoring system developed in 1996. First implemented in the Philippines, the Department of the Interior and Local Government has since directed all local government units to adopt the system’s 13 core indicators for measuring poverty (read more: Development Takes on a Face and an Address in the Philippines). The CBMS is now being tested, with IDRC support, in 12 countries in Asia and Africa (read more: Poverty and Economic Policy (PEP) Research Network).

IDRC also tackles poverty issues through such innovative means as the use of information and communication technologies (ICTs). Many Centre-supported projects demonstrate that communities with greater access to ICTs are able to generate and sustain economic growth (read more: An overview of ICTs at IDRC ). For example:

* In Kenya, a project is experimenting with ways of using the Internet to provide financial, marketing, and information services to small farmers so that they can better market their produce and boost their incomes (read more: Kenyan Farmers Discover the Internet). 

* In Senegal, farmers in remote areas can obtain up-to-the-minute market prices for their crops through portable telephones provided through an IDRC-supported project. This has directly increased participating farmers’ incomes by 30% and generated new employment for women (read more: Acacia Partner Garners Two Major ICT Prizes). 

* In India, rural knowledge centres in seven villages provide information on the price of agricultural inputs, market prices, government programs, and much more. The positive impact on villagers livelihoods has led to a movement to bring the benefits of ICTs to 600 000 villages by mid-2007 (read more: Making Waves; Mission 2007—National Alliance Every Village a Knowledge Centre).

Vivien Chiam | Quelle: ResearchSEA 
Weitere Informationen: www.idrc.ca

Published on 17 May 2008 by Energy Bulletin. Archived on 17 May 2008.by Shepherd Bliss

Petroleum supplies slowly dwindle as demand rapidly soars. So the prices of gasoline and oil that supply modern societies with their industrial production of food will go up, up, and away. A radically different future than the oil-energized twentieth century is dawning.

Let’s face it: our world has become increasingly maddening. Bad news mounts each day: unending wars, financial crises, earthquakes, hurricanes and cyclones killing thousands, chaotic climate change, vanishing pollinating bees and polar bears, rising oceans, thinning forests and a host of human-created or –worsened threats. We live in uncertain times with an even more uncertain future. We face unprecedented, unpredictable converging threats. What can one do to remain somewhat sane? The ostrich approach of denial by burying one’s head in the sand will not be effective or life-enhancing.

It is a good time for an increasing number of people to return to the multiple benefits and pleasures of growing at least part of their own food by gardening and farming. In addition to satisfying the need to eat and drink, farming can also help deal with depression, passivity, and other forms of psychological suffering. It can help treat both the body and the soul. 

One of the many good things that farms based on nature’s patterns can do is help balance people. Much psychological suffering and even mental illnesses have to do with imbalances, which characterize modern society. Before turning to drugs, one can at least trying visiting farms and perhaps volunteering to work there. Or one can connect with farms in collaboration with another treatment program.

Farming can be done in ways that preserve the Earth and put humans in direct contact with it. “Small farms are the most productive on earth,” according to the May 11 “New York Times” article “Change We Can Stomach” by farmer and chef Dan Barber. “A four-acre farm in the United States nets, on average, $1,400 per acre; a 1,364-acre farm nets $39 an acre,” he writes. “Farming has the potential to go through the greatest upheaval since the Green Revolution, bringing harvests that are more meaningful, sustainable, and, yes, even more flavorful,” Barber contends.

Since growing one’s own food is not possible for everyone, it is also a good time to establish direct relationships with local farmers and shop more at farmers’ markets, farm stands, and by subscribing to Community Supported Agriculture (CSAs). Urban agriculture, farms on the urban fringe, and rooftop gardening are becoming increasingly popular. The large city of Havana, Cuba, grows 70% of its own food. Necessity will change how people get their food in the near future.

Many Americans take their food sources for granted, assuming that super-markets will be able to always supply them with what they need. Having lived in Hawai’i when delivery disruptions and the lack of transportation across the ocean left bare shelves in food stores, I know the panic this can cause.

The “Silent Tsunami,” “Misery Index,” and Mud Cakes

A “silent tsunami” of hunger sweeps the globe, reports the head of the United Nation’s World Food Program, Josette Sheeran, speaking in late April at a food summit in London. The heightened hunger threat endangers 20 million of the world’s poorest children and is pushing 100 million people into poverty. 

“This is the new face of hunger—the millions of people who were not in the urgent hunger category six months ago but now are,” Sheeran reports. “The world’s misery index is rising.”

During 2008 food riots broke out in the Caribbean, Africa, and Asia. “You are seeing the return of the food riot, one of the oldest forms of collective action,” commented Raj Patel in an April 25San Francisco Chronicle article. The University of California at Berkeley scholar wrote the new book “Stuffed and Starved: Power and the Hidden Battle for the World Food System.”

The World Bank estimates that food prices have risen 83% in three years; other estimates are in the 60 and 70 percent range. Even in the wealthy United States we have recently seen rationing of rice and other staples by food giants such as Costco and Wal-Mart’s Sam’s Clubs, the two biggest warehouse retail chains. Such trends are likely to continue and are creating stockpiling and hoarding.

“In the poorest districts (of Haiti), there is now a brisk trade in mud cakes,” writes Patel in an article titled “The Troubles with Food,”. “Mothers feed the biscuits, made with water, salt, margarine and clay, to their children. The cake puts a dampener on hunger, at least for a couple of hours, but leaves your mouth dry and bitter for several hours more,” he continues. 

Industrial agriculture will be one of the many aspects of human life on the planet hit by the dwindle/demand oil trend and the related peaks of other fossil fuels, such as natural gas. Industrial agriculture depends upon petroleum in many ways—to run tractors and other machines, to make chemical pesticides and fertilizers, and to fuel the trucks that transport food an average of 1500 miles from field to fork. Oil is the most important ingredient in most of conventional food. As the dwindle/demand rate intensifies, food will be less available and more expensive. Famine is likely.

Survival will require that more people return to an earlier energy supply— muscle power. As someone who made a transition in the early 1990’s (while in my late 40s) from a livelihood based on college teaching and related intellectual activities to one based on farming, I can report that there are many advantages to such a change. I feel better as a result of living on the land, growing some of my own food, and sharing that organic food and the farm itself with others. 

I have found my local place. In 2003 I accepted a great job offer in Hawai’i, but after a couple of wonderful years, I felt so homesick that I returned to my farm.

So this will be a report from the farm front, which will focus on some of the psychological benefits of farming.

The multiple consequences of a diminishing supply of humanity’s major energy source at this point in history will include hardships, stress, and suffering. There are many ways of dealing psychologically with such matters, including with family, friends and professional counselors. This article will explore what I have come to describe as agropsychology and agrotherapy.

I was trained to be a counselor. Quite frankly, I was not good at delivering individual therapy. I got too emotional and involved. I did not adequately develop the necessary professional armor and shield. I did not take enough distance from the people I was working with or have enough “impulse control.” So I shifted more to teaching, group work, and writing. In the time since my more conventional psychological training some forty years ago, self-disclosure and emotional men have become more acceptable as sex roles and professional codes have evolved.

Ecopsychology and Ecotherapy

Sierra Club Books published “Ecopsychology: Restoring the Earth, Healing the Mind” in l996. The term refers to the emerging synthesis of the psychological and the ecological. The book’s editor, Theodore Roszak, writes that “ecology needs psychology, psychology needs ecology.” Roszak reports on a l990 conference entitled “Psychology as if the Whole Earth Mattered.”

The Sierra Club plans to publish the book’s sequel “Ecotherapy: Healing with Nature in Mind” in March of 2009. My chapter “Farming, Sweet Darkness, Poetry, and Healing” is scheduled to be part of that book. After finishing my contribution I began to realize that what I was writing about could be called agrotherapy, which is the practice of agropsychology, which are sub-sets of ecopsychology and ecotherapy. Farms have historically been healing places, for both those who live and work there and those who visit. Farm tours and even overnight farm stays are becoming increasingly popular as examples of ecotourism. The Small Farm Program at the University of California at Davis, Sonoma County Farm Trails, and Daily Acts are among the many groups that promote such tours.

Simply put, by living on a farm and working the land on a regular basis, I have become a healthier person—physically and mentally. In recent years I have been hosting an increasing number of farm tours at Kokopelli Farm in the Sebastopol countryside, Sonoma County, Northern California. Community, school, and religious groups, as well as families and friends, come to the farm, which grows mainly organic berries and fruit and cares for chickens. 

My visitors tend to feel better from their time on this traditional farm; something positive usually happens to them. Being outside in nature can benefit people. People typically loose sight of chronological time. They can fall into berry time or chicken time, which tend to be slower than the human-made clock, and often more fun and stress-reducing. They sometimes lose their restraint and order, wanting to sprint ahead, or go off the path, as if they were animals, which they are.

Chicken Wisdom and Agrotherapy

This year I returned to teaching psychology, part-time, at Sonoma State University. I sometimes take chickens as Teaching Assistants (TAs). For example, I took two sweet silkies on Valentine’s Day; they modeled being love birds as they cooed and cuddled, one even feeling safe enough to lay an egg.

Chickens can teach many things, such as surrender to what is, joy at the dawn, transformation of throwaways into jewels, and love of the Earth within which chickens take their dust baths to help them get rid of parasites. Chickens offer incredible eggs, humor, joy, and beauty. That other two-legged can teach chicken wisdom, that of a prey, to humans, who are predators. It includes, but is not limited to, the following: delight in simple things (like worms), keep dancing, recycle, snuggle into the earth, slow down, combine vulnerability and hardiness. 

Agrotherapy is not therapy-as-usual. It happens mainly in the open, outside an office, a building, a city and without a defined time limit. The freedom to wonder and to meander characterize being outside. One does not enter the same human-made setting each time; farms are seasonal, as humans are, and are constantly changing. The therapists-of-the-outdoors include trees, berries, birds, bees, chickens, the moon and stars, the clouds, crow congresses and others who can help relieve stress, anxiety, suffering, and even sickness.

Tears sometimes come to the eyes of city folk when they sit on the ground beneath the giant redwoods or sprawling oaks at my farm. Something from their personal or collective memory seems to get activated. We listen to the wind and hear various sounds within it. Within just a few minutes I can usually feel a change in my guests. This is not a “talking cure.” It is non-talking, opening to the other senses. There is not therapeutic couch or chair; the forest provides a comforting bed upon which one can relax and reduce their stress.

My presence on such tours is more as a guide who can point things out, including patterns in nature and persons, and pose strategic questions, than as an expert to make book-based diagnoses and human-devised treatments. Farming—like therapy or personal growth–is a process with no clear beginning or end. There are products along the way, but the topsoil, for example, takes thousands of years to make. Perennial trees and berries planted by one family member can endure far beyond his or her lifetime into that of descendents, continuing to provide beauty and healing.

An email I sent to a local online listserve about agropsychology generated the following response from Jennifer York, the owner of the Bamboo Sorcery outside my hometown of Sebastopol:

“I can vouch for what you call “agropsychology.’ It saved me as a youth in my recovery from a traumatic childhood, and now in middle age. I am once again finding great healing, joy, and contentment in growing my own garden and raising my own farm animals (chickens, rabbits, and someday dairy goats, I hope!) for food, fun and deep connection with the cycles of life and death. For me it is a spiritual, as well as a practical avocation. I recommend it. Besides, it may come in very handy someday.

“In the meantime I am having fun, and feel good about sharing the experience with my 6-year-old daughter. I believe it is creating a sound foundation in her for the future. I have great gratitude to my deceased parents who were Back-to-Landers in the late 60’s and 70’s, and who exposed me to this rich and life affirming way of life.

“My husband says he can tell how happy I am by how much dirt is under my finger nails…and it’s true.”

In his book “Peak Everything: Waking Up to the Century of Declines” Peak Oil theorist Richard Heinberg includes a chapter titled “The Psychology of Peak Oil and Climate Change.” He writes, “The next few decades will be traumatic.” One resource that Heinberg refers to is the work of eco-philosopher Joanna Macy with respect to workshops on “despair and empowerment.” In them people are encouraged to deal with their grief, and thus feel their connection to the Earth.

Ecopsychology and ecotherapy can take many forms, including agropsychology and agrotherapy. These recently conceptualized fields can make a contribution to the larger fields of psychology and psychotherapy and thus to the healing of people and of the nature of which we are an integral part. Humans often seem to battle nature, whereas participation and collaboration with it seem more healthy, which these developing forms can support.

(Dr. Shepherd Bliss, sbliss@hawaii.edu, teaches at Sonoma State University in Northern California and has operated the organic Kokopelli Farm since the early 1990s. He is a member of the Veterans Writing Group (www.vowvop.org), has contributed to two dozen books, and is currently writing “In Praise of Sweet Darkness.”)

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Editorial Notes ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Shepherd Bliss is an Energy Bulletin contributor.

This is an excerpt from the Agriburbia™ website…

The Agriburbia™ Concept   

http://www.agriburbia.com/  

 

Agriburbia™ is an innovative and growing design movement that integrates aspects of agrarianism with land development.  Agriburbia™ includes characteristics of New Urbanism, modernism and historic preservation, and other environmentally sustainable principles of real estate development.

Agriburbia™ combines the positive social, cultural, physical and financial characteristics from both the urban and rural lifestyles to create an entirely new landuse concept.  Agriburbia™ integrates food production as an integral element in the community design, social network, and financial viability of the neighborhood.

Agriburbia™ promotes and supports the following policies and principles in each mixed-use community:

  • Agricultural Production:  No loss of agricultural value or revenue (“Green Fields” development), or production of 30% of dietary requirements of the project or equivalent cash from sales crops, or combination thereof.

  • Locally Grown Food:  Production of a significant portion (30 to 50%) of dietary requirements grown within or in the immediate surrounding area of the community

  • Conserves and Promotes Natural Resources:  Appropriate and efficient use of natural resources to provide housing, transportation, recreation and fresh food through creative, harmonious land planning and landscape architecture for the community.  This includes use of alternative energy sources as well as land and water.

  • Self Sufficiency:  Provide a commercially viable opportunity for enhanced self- sufficiency for community residents, tenants, and guests.

  • Sustainable Energy Practices :  Integrate solar and geothermal technology to provide sustainable energy sources for the community.
  • Financing:  Incorporate established entities (Metropolitan Districts, HOAs) to finance both traditional infrastructure (streets, water, sewer) and environmentally friendly agricultural infrastructure (drip irrigation)

 

Example Agriburbia Design Project An example of the Agriburbia™ land planning design is this 640-acre parcel in Southern Weld County, Colorado.  It includes for 980 homes, including multi-family town homes to two (2) acre permaculture home sites.     

Each Agriburbia™ mixed-use campus is centered on an agrarian concept where traditional suburban landscaping and open space is replaced with orchards, vineyards, and other perennial crops for the benefit of the neighborhood and surrounding communities. A limited amount of active recreation area is provided. The balance of the open space is designed as productive organic agricultural landscape. These lands will be owned and actively managed by the Home Owner’s Association (HOA) or Metropolitan Districts. Private farm contracts will be awarded for these prime, organic agricultural parcels. It is anticipated thatAgriburbia™ will provide agricultural opportunities within and outside the community.

In addition to this shared resource, each mixed-use campus is designed to have a significant number of home sites capable of useful agricultural production. Infrastructure such as non-potable water will be provided for these privates home sites. The home owner will have the option to participate in the community agriculture production. The positive and productive results of and Agriburbia™ mixed-use campus will be the combination of public and private production of agricultural products for the community and neighboring communities.

 

 

So what do you think about Agriburbia™?

Is this a good thing?  The next step to getting local agriculture to suburban neighborhoods or is this just a good ol’ American quick fix?  I mean, its even two words glued together- American dream style. My instinct tells me anything that’s trademarked probably is corporate, money grabbing, and something I want to stay away from, but I’m interested in this concept.  

I got the Agriburbia™ idea from the awesome community food listserve. Rob Jones, of Loudoun County, VA, responded to the email raising questions about the proposed project.  Is this concept truly trademark-able considering the many, many times that gardens have been planned into communities in the past? What about the water supply for this new community and its farms and gardens.  Would water rights need to be bought?  If so, the community can certainly not be called self-sufficient.  He also wondered about wastewater and the effects of disturbing the native soils, all valid concerns.  Finally, He maintain “A major component in all of this is a government with a balanced, progressive vision, as all of us have surely experienced on some level.”  Bravo Rob, I agree with you entirely.

As for me, I have to wonder about the whole thing.  Agriburbia™ is just a concept to bring agriculture to suburbia, it is a temporary solution. I think that it could have to potential to contribute to suburban sprawl. Suburban neighborhoods are often defined by low population density and a few pedestrian routes.  Wikipedia actually has a pretty good site about suburban sprawla.

I think the main problem is that we Americans are caught up in the idea of suburbia, just as were are in love with the idea of the lawn which I talk about in my article about Fritz Haeg.  What we need is to get away from suburbia and from lawns. We need to stop sprawl, consolidate and use all of the spaces in the urban centers before we continue to grow outward.  One way to do this is to plan urban growth boundaries into cities.  

An urban growth boundary is a regional boundary, set in an attempt to control urbanization by designating the area inside the boundary for higher density urban development and the area outside for lower density rural development. Right now Oregon, Washington, and Tennessee require that their cities create urban growth boundaries.  Thats not very many cities.  Also, Boulder, CO; Twin Cities, MN; Virginia Beach, VA; Lexington, KT; and San Francisco Bay area, CA have urban growth boundaries of one sort or another.

People living in cities have a smaller carbon footprint than those living in the country- they often do no have or use vehicles regularly, their houses are smaller, meaning less heat and electricity per space, and they live in much more tightly packed spaces.  Also, if people were concentrated in urban centers than food distribution (hopefully local) could be more efficient.

Of course, its easy for me to say that people should live in more tightly packed communities, I was privileged enough to grow up on a farm in rural Maryland.  How can I, who grew up with 6 fields, orchards, and a creek, judge people who just want to get out of the city and have a front yard for their children?  Where do we draw the line between happiness and sacrifice for the environment (and our future generations)?  How about healthier and better planned cities!

Check out this PDF about urban growth boundaries in California.

Here’s the website for Greenbelt Alliance of the San Francisco Bay area.

Click here to learn more about the urban growth boundary around Portland, OR.

Portland, OR is pretty amazing in terms of city planning.  I’ve talked with an alum of my school who is an urban planner out there.  She worked on the Diggable City, a planning project that plans urban agriculture into urban communities.  Check it out- its amazing!  It deserves a post of its own when I find out more about it.

Here’s the final report on the Diggable City Project.

 

And here’s some more links about cities, urban planning, carbon footprints, and all the rest.

Cyurbia, an urban planning community.

Urban and Ecological Footprints.

Carbon Footprints.

Ecological Footprint 2.0

 

 

From the LA Times Emerald City blog

      April 22, 2008

HeartIf $3 a lb. for heirloom tomatoes at the farmers market is more than you can afford, why not make it your Earth Day resolution to grow your own veggies? In the latest New York Times Magazine, author of “An Omnivore’s Dilemma” Michael Pollan waxes lyrical about growing your own edible garden:

It’s one of the most powerful things an individual can do — to reduce your carbon footprint, sure, but more important, to reduce your sense of dependence and dividedness: to change the cheap-energy mind.

Feel daunted by the prospect of creating your own edible estate? Then give the girls atHeart Beet Gardening a call. Run by three Marlborough School alumnae — Megan Bomba, Sara Carnochan, and Kathleen Redmond — Heart Beet Gardening is a little local company that’ll help you set up your own private, organic edible landscape.

Img_4506According to Megan, the organic gardening biz is booming, especially with the popularity of the local food movement. “People are looking at where they’re getting things from,” Megan says. “A lot of people are realizing they want their kids to grow up with a home gardening experience, even if they didn’t.”

I met Megan and Sara (right) at a native-and-edible garden Heart Beet recently set up for Megan’s parents (below). This 1,000-square-foot garden was planted just a few weeks ago with mostly native, drought-resistant plants that attract hummingbirds and butterflies. Right now, the garden looks rather bare, but according to Megan and Sara, each plant will expand out about a foot, prettying up the landscape. Once the plants are set, very little water or grooming will be needed. After all, these are perennial plants that don’t require replanting.

Img_4504

In addition, the garden has an edible component. Three fruit trees — pomegranate, fig, persimmon — are each surrounded by a number of herbs and edible plants, including artichokes, lemongrass, fennel, chives, blackberries and grapes. These edible areas will of course require more water and care, but will also produce local, organic food at a very low cost.

Cost to set this up: A little under $5,000, including the recycled concrete walkway. $5 a square foot doesn’t sound too bad, considering the fact that the yard will save water while providing food for years to come.

Most of Heart Beet’s work, however, isn’t large yards but smaller vegetable gardens and edible landscapes. Want Heart Beet to help set up yours? Call them, and you could have your own garden in just a week. The cost for a 100-square-foot garden with a raised bed runs between $1,500 to $2,500 for set-up, depending on the condition of the soil, the type of irrigation system desired, and other factors particular to your garden.

Once you have the garden set up, Heart Beet can help you maintain it for $75 a month, which includes weekly visits to your garden. Of course, a vegetable garden really needs to be looked at more than once a week, and Heart Beet’s overall goal is to get more people gardening themselves. Says Megan: “It’s not rocket science.”

Heart Beet Gardening. (310) 460-9365.

Earlier: Edible Estates: Attack on the Front LawnApartment gardens and auto sprinklers

Top photo courtesy of Heart Beet Gardening; other photos by Siel