Talking about farming on an Urban Design and Planning blog seems a little out of order. I’m not a farmer myself, unless you consider the veggie patch and fruit trees in our large backyard. However, the type of farming I’m talking about is not the large, wholesale endless fields of corn or wheat that we imagine as the staple of any country; rather the small, opportunistic backyard or guerilla garden, or even the small scale farm found on the outskirts of cities.
Considering the current reliance on large scale farming, which is heavily dependent on oil, fertilizers, and mass irrigation, none of which are sustainable; another model of food production needs to be developed in North America.
Niche farming is a concept that intends to find a place, animal or crop that can be developed to meet the local climate and needs. For some areas, a niche crop may be a locally available fruit or vegetable, in others it could be a unique crop imported for it’s high yield or soil enhancing properties.
Rather than focusing on the profitability of a crop, the sustainability of the ecosystem is critical in niche farming. This is dealt with in terms of Permaculture and building biodiversity in gardens and farms.
Local Produce and Food Miles
If you can’t grow it yourself, support local produce, whether its from the house down the road or the farm across the valley. Without local farming and food production, food scarcity is a real danger in many areas. With the potential for the cost of transportation to increase massively, we are unlikely to continue seeing bananas at 59 cents a pound in Canada in the middle of winter. The further your food has to come from source to table, the more points of conflict it will have in getting to you in a timely manner, eventually food from California and Mexico will not be transported to Canada, simply because it won’t make it there on time to be fresh still.
This is a huge issue in BC at the moment. I wrote briefly on it in September, but it deserves more coverage. BC meat regulations insist that any meat sold must be processed in a regulation abattoir, of which there are very few in the province. In fact, many meat production facilities have gone out of business, as have small scale cattle farms. This regulation is so counter intuitive, like many other broad sweeping policies it fails to look at the future viability of keeping the system in place through economic downturns, energy and gas crises, and by sending these small farmers out of business the ability to reinvigorate the industry when it is needed will be difficult, or perhaps impossible as the land may have been sold for residential development by then.
Seed Banks and Canning
Preserving foods and saving seeds are skills that are falling aside in this age of Safeway and McDonalds fast food, however, these are lifesaving skills worth cultivating now. Canning ranges from pretty simple for most fruits to more difficult for some veggies and meats. Last summer we embarked on a canning adventure and now in the middle of winter we are greatly enjoying the fruits of our labour, pears, apple sauce, plums and carrots all sitting ready to eat in our cold room.
Seed banks are groups of dedicated gardeners or farmers that understand the necessity to retain heirloom varieties of plants, particularly those that have a successful heritage in a particular region. Likewise, seed banks are an affordable method of ensuring a reliable supply of seeds for local food production, and organizing a seed swap can be a pretty easy thing to accomplish in conjunction with a spring gardening show or other community activity.
I value locally produced food above all other foods. Although mangoes and bananas rate as my favourite fruits, there is nothing like eating a fresh apple off a tree in your backyard, or carrots fresh from a local farm. Organic is not such a big deal to me, rather I know that in the future it will be impossible to continue fertilizing as much as is currently practiced, therefore I will support those farmers that are looking at a sustainable model of production, one that respects the land they are growing on.