Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Growing in America

Grocery stores are not what they were once upon a time. Rising costs with lower quality has made many consumers rethink where they are obtaining their fresh foods. I have noticed an increasing trend of people creating their own gardens in their homes. Sometimes homeowner's gardens are threatened by their local government and/or HOA to create their garden space elsewhere or face hefty fines. Recently I have been following two stories in Florida that have me somewhat perplexed and full of complicated questions.

There is Mr. Sean Law in Longwood, FL, you can find the first mainstream press interview with Law here. We went to visit Law and made seedballs with him and some friends in his front yard two weeks ago. It seems the city of Longwood and most specifically a few neighbors are extremely upset at the no-till, no-weeding, seedball farming that comes from the late Masanobu Fukuoka's practices in natural farming which Law is practicing in his front and back yard. Upon first glance it didn't seem odd to me; the garden is not that unkempt but its not thriving either (natural gardening takes some time to take shape) it is though dramatically different from the mowed lawns of his neighbors. Unfortunately Law is facing $130,000 in fines from the city of Longwood and is currently awaiting the Magistrate's decision to keep, drop or reduce fines. He has also filed an appeal with the Florida Supreme Court and started a petition to begin growing food forests in the city

I have also been following case of Tom Carroll and Hermine Ricketts in Miami shores. Here is a video and here an article about this case. This couple has been growing food in their front yard for 17 years! The city has made an ordinance now that specifically bans vegetables. They have been eating fresh organic food right from their front yard for 17 years and now due to the ordinance they have had to remove vegetables from their front yard due to the threat of $50 per day in fines. Carroll and Ricketts are now suing for the freedom to grow vegetables in their front yard. They are not asking for money only suing for $1; it is for the right to grow vegetables in their front yard, as they have for 17 years, where they get the best sunlight. They have had to go to the supermarket to get their organic produce now which is extremely costly after being accustomed to getting their own vegetables out of their front yard.

I personally have no idea why vegetable gardens considered unworthy of being part of the suburban American landscape while fake plastic ornaments, chemical fertilizer/herbicide, and other non-eco-friendly practices are never questioned.  Vegetable gardens are making such a fuss they are actually bothering people and governments. Now the in thing to do is to get your food from miles away with a MASSIVE carbon footprint, limited nutrients/freshness due to early picking, a HUGE distribution chain, high prices, unknown chemicals, picked by who knows who: who knows where. No matter how I think about these issues many questions arise. There are many reasons why this is happening. Somehow most Americans in densely populated areas have come to internalize the ritual of going to the supermarket and paying money as the only way to obtain their food. Food now comes from the supermarket and even there 8 out of 10 cashiers dont know the majority of vegetables I ever buy yet they know all about most boxed products. These days gardening is a civil 'problem' that residents need to be fined for. I mean does anyone see anything wrong with these pictures? I wonder when and how we were led to believe it was someones' responsibility to create our foods for us.

The way I see it I feel it is violating not only our rights but one of the fundamental premises of America and what we used to stand for. 'Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness'. In my interpretation preventing a person or persons from growing edible food which can sustain them and provide life for them, their environment and others would be preventing the right to life, dont you think? I guess it is my right to get food for money at the grocery store! Liberty is violated because in the two instances above the people own their homes and are not given the liberty to grow their own food freely, its a loose interpretation but good enough for me. Finally: it is obvious that in both cases the homeowners are doing something that makes them happy: so what to the pursuit of happiness. This is very simplistic. I just don't see how the neighbors can continue using harmful landscaping practices and you cant grow a turnip or you will be fined. Its absurd!

Is this modern America? Vegetable gardens 'BANNED' read the headlines... Self-sufficiency used to be what made us America now we just buy cheap crap from third world countries.

If more Americans adopted environmentally sound practices in their yard the cumulative effect would be incredible. If you stop and think about all the land occupied by human dwellings and all the 'maintenance' we must give it you might come to realize the carbon footprint of the 'natural' sea of green lawn look is incredibly high. We fertilize and water the grass only to come cut it back every week or two. How is that sustainable? When you take care of the land and work to conserve valuable resources you are indeed making a great effect on everything that surrounds you. Unfortunately our current view of front and back yards is quite askew and devoid of all logical reason.

I feel empathy for homeowners who go through these problems and I understand it is incredibly difficult to have ones way of life challenged because the government or the neighbors dont like it. In the cases mentioned quite costly. Our greatest effect can be made by highlighting the positive benefits that sustainable practices will have on the body, mind, spirit and the wallet. Unfortunately loving and taking are of the planet does not seem to be enough reason for many people to change what they are doing. Hopefully the future will see more and more Americans wanting to learn about and be involved in growing their own food and more voices being heard by local governments. Get involved for your health and that of your surroundings. Our population is increasing exponentially and the access to safe food and water is becoming and will continue to be challenged. It is time that we start getting real; working with our surroundings instead of against them or face the continuing destruction of nature which supports us and gives us life.

Without nature we are nothing.