Friday, November 18, 2011

Urban Roots

Last night, I had the pleasure of watching the documentary Urban Roots at a Community Potluck and Film Screening hosted by The New Haven Bioregional Group and co-sponsored by a number of organizations including CT NOFA
The documentary was a wonderful testament to the power of gardens and farms in urban areas.  Detroit is a powerful symbol of our society's assumptions that industry can support an economy, that an economy can grow forever and that a booming economy can replace a well-planned infrastructure and society.  In the documentary, Detroit residents complain that they live in a food desert - where they must travel at least twice the distance to a grocery store with "real" food as they would travel to a convenience store or fast food restaurant.
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Residents started growing food in their yards, and then expanded to abandoned land around the city (there is plenty of it).  They have no real right to the land - but with a city that has lost over half it's population since the middle of the 20th century - there isn't much competition for land.  Some people are putting chickens and bees in abandoned housing, or taking over multiple plots on their block to create urban farms.  The soil is tested and if it is contaminated, farmers must create soil by farming non-edible crops for a couple years and building up the soil with compost collected from near-by restaurants, breweries and homes.  Community gardens give people who are unemployed or under-employed, a job to do in their free time, and access to the food that they would like to harvest. The city government seems to be hesitant about encouraging this guerrilla gardening, since they might want to encourage housing developments (thought this seems unlikely given all of the abandoned, already standing houses), but farmers and gardeners are going ahead filling this food desert with urban farms producing healthy foods for Detroit residents. 

So if one of the most depressed run-down cities in the country can do it . . . why can't we do it in New England cities and suburbs?  Even if you don't live in a food desert - wouldn't it be better to live in the equivalent to a food rainforest? Where there is food growing everywhere, on every block, incredible biodiversity and high access, for anyone, to the food they need to eat to be healthy and happy?

One of the main themes in the movie was of self-determination.  The right to self-determination is a very powerful concept in international human rights law. According to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights: All peoples have the right of self-determination. By virtue of that right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development.  Many people interviewed in the movie, reasoned that one of the best ways of self-determination, was to rely on themselves for food and for neighborhoods and communities to have food independence.  It's pretty empowering - no matter what happens in your life, you can still provide, the only thing you really need to live - food.  

This film clearly gets you thinking - I highly recommend it.

Have a great weekend,

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