The Future Is Uncertain, Grow Food

Ron Finley’s TED Talk about growing food in the public median in Los Angeles, and all the ruckus and legal ails that resulted from growing vegetables and fruits in a giant food desert in impoverished neighborhoods of Los Angeles talked a lot about a separation that has occurred among the people in this country and the ground beneath their feet. Always, in America, there is a mudsill, and a community of people upon that mudsill. The hardest work (and the agricultural work is some of the work) is done by the people who are on that mudsill. The people who are one step above the people on the mudsill would do anything to avoid any signifiers or placement alongside the humans whom society has placed upon the level of the mudsill. Right now, our poor communities in urban areas do not grow enough food. Our rich communities don’t, either. We have all this land as lawns, as concrete pavement and weedy lawns, as lawns and ornamental scapes and lawns. I don’t eat grass. I bet you don’t, either.

Anyway, this is a documentary that expands upon Ron Finley’s TED Talk, prominently featuring him and others who share his values from all walks of life in their gardens. It’s called URBAN FRUIT and it touches tangentially upon a lot of the issues around growing food, including selling excess produce, and balancing economic needs with human needs, which are not the same. Cities are a reflection of ideologies. The big, sprawling city is a reflection of a way of life that is far removed from human reality, and it will either change us to better reflect a sprawling city life, or (what is more likely) the sprawling city will collapse into compartmentalized neigborhoods that become whole worlds, collapsing again into smaller neighborhoods and again until the seas rise up, the buildings crumble, and the wild things return to dance like sparrows on the crumbling gravel.

The further the civilization develops, though, the less it questions the validity of the basic ideas themselves, and the urban environment is a critical factor in making this happen. By limiting, as far as possible, the experiences available to influential members of society to those that fit the established architecture of thought, urban living makes it much easier to confuse mental models with the universe those models claim to describe, and that confusion is essential if enough effort, enthusiasm, and passion are to be directed toward the process of elaborating those models to their furthest possible extent. –

Urban Fruit looks to be both a necessary transition into sustainable living, and a snapshot of what growers in one of the most developed cities in the world (Los Angeles) are doing and how they are doing it. It is an accumulation of ideas and theories about public and private space, eloquently presented by charismatic gardeners. It also looks like the beginning of the end of these huge, sprawling cities, where the ideas of the city’s foundation are being pushed out by people taking necessary steps to reclaim lost agricultural land and heritage in a city that has mostly abandoned the citrus fields and cow pastures of yore. Climate change is coming, and already huge amounts of people simply don’t know where food comes from, if not the store, and simply don’t know the first thing about what makes it good or bad, and why. Look upon the buildings and houses in the background of the film, and wonder where food will come from for them. Soon, the gardens will expand, and green roofs will expand, and every city will collapse into an accumulation of neighborhoods, growing food and independent of the globalization that flows around them like an invisible highway. Poor communities, already trapped by globalization, will become islands in the city, more self-sufficient, and more green.

Growing your own food is like printing your own money, after all. It separates you from the system of high finance and commodity crops that do a lot of harm even as they are trying to do some good.

The documentary, itself, is less revolutionary than I am giving it credit for being, but I am lost in the context of the documentary, and the place and time where these things are all happening all around us, and the cities, as we knew them, were never sustainable, never a good idea without great changes that will come to the forgotten neighborhoods, and the communities of color that city services all too often will forget.

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