“New Normal” Politics

Jim Brewster at the Chickens of Mass Destruction blog makes some offers some insights about our government and politics.

He makes several observations: left and right can agree about some important issues, big government and big industry work together to block local solutions to big problems, and elected officials need to hear reasoned thinking from constiuents, not angry rants.

Link: Chickens of Mass Destruction: Möbius Politics

…if you wander far enough from the political center, either to the right or to the left, the ends of the spectrum meet in interesting and unexpected ways. It's not a new idea to me, and I wouldn't expect it to be original, but manifestations of this dark side of the political moon have been popping up recently like mushrooms in a cow pasture after a 2-day rainstorm.

Case in point: the Local Food movement. What ties together this motley assortment of foodies and farmers, vegans and beef-eaters, libertarians and progressives, devoutly religious and steadfastly secular? A desire for good food. A sustainable food system. And good old American distrust.

There is a common belief that the dominant food system has failed us. That centralized commodified food processing and distribution is bad for consumers, bad for farmers, bad for the earth, bad for crop diversity, bad for the animals. That the agencies that are supposed to protect our health and support the future of agriculture instead set up roadblocks to anything that doesn't feed into that system.

Some methods toward a solution can be agreed upon. If you buy local farm products, you support local agriculture. If you grow organic heirloom vegetables instead of grass in your yard, you feed yourself and enhance the soil. If you save and exchange seeds you preserve crop diversity. But none of these things are likely to be enough to keep the FDA from cracking down on raw milk, or keep conventional farms from depleting topsoil and releasing toxins, nutrients, and patented genes into the environment.

On the right, it is common to speak in terms of overarching global conspiracies. On the left, we're more likely to ascribe the problems to simple greed, corruption, and layers of historical development. There may well be conspiracies afoot, but I suspect they exist within the boardrooms of Monsanto, ADM, and other corporate players rather than the halls of the UN. But hey, I could be wrong.

In either case, I think it is vital to be informed. And it is vital to speak up and give representative democracy a whirl. Knowing what I know about the diverse politics in the movement, I make no assumptions about my elected officials, what they know about the issue or where they stand. If they don't hear from me, who will they hear from? They'll certainly hear from Monsanto and friends. And if all they hear from the local food movement is inflammatory rhetoric like this, how can they take us seriously?

Converting Lawns into Mini-Farms

Kelly Spors at the Wall Street Journal describes how suburban mini-farms are providing fresh produce and supplemental income for enterprising residents.

Link: Green Acres II: When Neighbors Become Farmers – WSJ.com.

Farmers don’t necessarily live in the country anymore. They might just be your next-door neighbor, hoping to turn a dollar satisfying the blooming demand for organic, locally grown foods.

Unlike traditional home gardeners who devote a corner of the yard to a few rows of vegetables, a new crop of minifarmers is tearing up the whole yard and planting foods such as arugula and kohlrabi that restaurants might want to buy. The locally grown food movement has also created a new market for front-yard farmers.

"Agriculture is becoming more and more suburban," says Roxanne Christensen, publisher of Spin-Farming LLC, a Philadelphia company started in 2005 that sells guides and holds seminars teaching a small-scale farming technique that involves selecting high-profit vegetables like kale, carrots and tomatoes to grow, and then quickly replacing crops to reap the most from plots smaller than an acre. "Land is very expensive in the country, so people are saying, ‘why not just start growing in the backyard?’ "

Environmentalists embrace the practice because it cuts the distance — and the carbon dioxide — needed to get food from farm to consumer. It also means less grass to water and fertilize and fewer purely ornamental plants. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that nearly a third of all residential water use goes to landscaping. Why not use it to grow food instead?

But for the neighbors, the new face of farming can have a decidedly ugly side. The sight of vegetable gardens — and the occasional whiffs of manure from front-yard minifarms — is not their idea of proper suburban living. Many homeowners associations ban growing food in the yard, believing it damages a neighborhood’s appearance and may ding property values.

Susan and Greg VanHecke planted a small, 6-foot-by-20-foot vegetable garden in the back of their house in Norfolk, Va., two years ago to help teach their two children to grow and eat more vegetables. Reaping a bumper crop last year, Mr. VanHecke asked the owner of a local restaurant called Stove for whom he once worked as a sous-chef, to buy vegetables. Soon, Mr. VanHecke was making weekly deliveries to the restaurant, averaging about $100 in sales per week. The VanHeckes have added another restaurant customer this year and are tearing up all their backyard flower beds to grow more vegetables.

They’re also trying to figure out how to more easily fit farming into their otherwise busy schedules. Even minifarms take a lot of time, and suburbanites with full-time jobs find themselves a little stretched.