Stephen Rees's blog

Thoughts about the relationships between transport and the urban area it serves

Posts Tagged ‘food policy

“Radical Homemakers”?

with 3 comments

The Globe and Mail

Wency Leung seems to think that people “who are choosing to give up the rat race in favour of looking after their families and communities” are something new and different. I know it was an old UK sitcom but “The Good Life” was based, to some extent, on the real experiences of people who wanted to do more than just have an allotment at weekends.  (You cannot, of course, watch it here on your computer, as they can in the UK ,thanks to digital rights management.) Did it not make it here on PBS or KNOW?

Mind you, 5 acres in Duncan is a bit different to a large backyard in Surbiton. The title, by the way comes from Shannon Hayes, U.S. author of the new book Radical Homemakers: Reclaiming Domesticity from a Consumer Culture.

Possibly a bit of departure for me? Not really. If I were forty years younger … well at the time of “The Good Life” I did have an allotment, and I dug up the backyard too. So did lots of other people, encouraged by the BBC  – “Mr Smith’s Gardening Programme” was my favourite – and other media. Not that I gave up my job, or that we became self sufficient. And people now are also turning to growing their own here – and there – in a big way. Some are even persuading their neighbours to let them dig up the lawn and plant veggies in return for a share of the crop. Partly this is a reaction to the inadequacies of what is offered commercially – stuff that is almost devoid of taste. And also the practices that depend on long distance transportation – and the use of irrigation in the great Sonoran desert – which are not at all sustainable. People are dubious about labels like “organic”  and reluctant to shell out for the premium prices demanded. But they want to know that their food is indeed grown without harmful pesticides or GM seeds and so on.

There has also been an issue in this region for a long time about the use of land designated under the Agricultural Land Reserve which is not actually used for agriculture  as it is claimed that many of the lots are “too small” to be farmed  economically. Which, obviously, the “radical homemakers” would dispute since their concept of viability is different from agribusiness. But even at agricultural prices, 5 acre lots are not going to be within the financial reach of most, and it is unlikely that enough cash could be generated from veggies to support a mortgage. But there are, it seems, still plenty of people who want to buy up a big plot in the ALR and build a huge house and have a gigantic “yard”. Such “estate homes” are a bit of headache since they benefit from the designation but don’t produce much at all.

If we had sensible policies to the use of recreational psychoactive plants – instead of following the very obviously failed policies of our neighbours to the south – we could have a very useful, legal cash crop that might solve many of these issues. But I cannot see that happening any time soon. And the land use pattern of this region currently is of such a low density that alternatives to single occupant cars are difficult to provide. If we see many places which convert currently  productive land to small holdings, we will have even worse traffic problems,.

But I would like to see more land in the ALR used for growing food that would be available locally for those of us who have little room to grow more than a a few pots of herbs and a tomato plant. And there are plenty of places where the land is neglected, used only for parking wrecks of old cars and trucks, or illegal tipping and other activities. Many have said they would like to see at least part of the Garden City Lands – recently acquired by the City of Richmond – used for food production. But that would be community gardens not places were people could live on their own plots. And the best allotment sites have quite a lot of space devoted to internal roadways and parking, for if they don’t they will not get used.  Possibly if we had a different designation for small lots like “horticulture” we could prevent the nibbling away at potentially food producing land for other, less important uses.

Anyway it is time for the discussion to be about land use first – with a nod towards accessibility of course. Land that can be use for growing food is scarce – and we are losing far too much of it to stupid, anachronistic policies like The Gateway, that is taking the best land and using it for storing empty containers. We do need now, and will increasingly need in future, food that is grown close to where it will be consumed. And the use of techniques like composting and permaculture mean that old models of production that rely on mechanization and heavy use of chemicals can be supplanted. “Radical Homemakers” will be part of the solution, no doubt, but in an urban region we are going to need solutions that will work for those who are less radical but who still want to see change.

Written by Stephen Rees

March 16, 2010 at 12:14 pm

Another view of the 100 mile diet

with 4 comments

This neat little animation was passed along to me by Des Bliek, one of the newer readers of this blog.

The similarities of this place and Japan are actually very close. We too live in a mountainous area, with little land suitable for farming, much of which is in the hands of people who no longer wish to farm. We also have a very unhealthy diet that needs lots of fossil fuels to produce and ship here.

The Japanese Government at least seems to be aware of the issues, and also expects the people to change their behaviour. To that extent BC and Japan seem to have a lot in common. It worries me that one reference suggests it is not only what the consumer wants but what is in the interests of the food industry. But then maybe something gets lost in translation.

So far as I can tell, we do not seem to be doing very much to protect our agricultural land. We also seem to want to encourage more imports – why else would port and highway expansion be so high on the agenda? Certainly I do not see very much evidence of our government trying to make our province more self sufficient. As long as we can find someone to take our raw logs and our dwindling mineral resources we will keep on with business as usual.

As James Howard Kunstler points out on his blog

I mean how we are going to grow the food we eat without massive quantities of diesel fuel and petroleum-based “inputs” and also how we are going to make any of the useful products we need in an energy scarcer time.

Written by Stephen Rees

November 20, 2008 at 11:06 am

Posted in Transportation

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