• Getting to Green

    An administrator pushes, on a shoestring budget, to move his university and the world toward a more sustainable equilibrium.



Exceptional, at least, in the sense that it goes against the grain of most of what I've been thinking on the subject.

June 17, 2009

Exceptional, at least, in the sense that it goes against the grain of most of what I've been thinking on the subject.

Most of my musing on the town/country split is a reaction (understandably, I hope) to what has been going on in North America for the past half-century or so. Urbs and suburbs sprawling out into what was once good agricultural land, creating offices, abodes and elbow-room where once the buffalo (or at least the white-tail and cotton-tail) roamed. Like a good, yeasty bread dough that's doubled or tripled in size, my hope is that we can punch it down, put it into a traditionally-sized loaf pan, and create something with a satisfying density and a tasty crust.

But there's another pattern of change possible, rare but hardly unheard of. It means putting some seeds and berries into that dough, but who doesn't like seeds and berries?

Urban agriculture.

It's the principle of "eat local" taken to its logical conclusion for folks in cities. A hundred years ago (and again during WW II), it was the rule even if for the past 60 years it's been the exception. I saw a documentary a while back in which it described how the people of Havana (a fairly densely populated city) were able to raise about 30% of their fruits and vegetables within the city limits. (And their diet contains a lot of fruits and vegetables.)

Urban agriculture is starting to catch on here in the USA, and the education community is a key player. In Detroit, an initiative has gathered support from Wayne State U, AVI Foodsystems (WSU's dining vendor), Ford Motor Co., the city, and a bunch of non-profits. An article from YES! magazine describes how schools (at all levels) are helping students form a healthier relationship with food (often involving at least an awareness of local/urban farming); a bunch of teachers has put together a "sustainable table" multimedia curriculum for the elementary grades. University students and recent graduates are showing a renewed interest in agriculture (the average American farmer is currently almost as old as the dirt he works), perhaps based on the idea that they can bring culture and agriculture into geographic proximity, if they do it right.

As I said before, none of this (minor technical improvements aside) is particularly new. The historic record is clear. In 1864, ten acres was enough. By 1922, liberty could be achieved with only three acres, although in 1935 (perhaps due to the Depression) independence apparently required two acres more.

A number of smaller colleges (Bowdoin, Oberlin, others) have established campus gardens or food co-ops which communicate to all their students (even those with absolutely no interest in sustainability or agriculture) that urban farming is a reality, perhaps an expectation. Of course, what would really drive the message home would be for a school to convert all or part of its campus quad into a vegetable garden. Not that that could ever happen (?).


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