A reader writes:
Another issue that is starting to arise outside of your writing is the future of food production. I would like you to consider how your view of future urban areas would interact with increasing commodity prices for basic food stuffs. Northern to central Virgina is an interesting case in point. There is a vibrant rural community, filled with local food-growing ex-urban dwellers. In the late 90’s up to this crash, they were competing with Mc-mansions for land. Can these extended regional urban/suburban/rural areas continue? Or will the increases in prices on food commodities further separate urban and rural as the need to increase productive yield becomes the only value of rural farm land?
I asked Betsy Donald, a geographer at Queens University who has done extensive research on the creative food economy, about this.
The creative food economy has profound implications for sustainable economic development because place and providence become central to quality food making, marketing and lifestyle. Food, unlike any other commodity on the planet, is intimate: we eat it and therefore how we eat it has implications for a host of policy related issues around job creation, health, hunger, ecosystem protection, carbon footprint, labor practices, cultural awareness and diversity.
There is a huge movement toward preserving prime farmland on the urban fringes through efforts to resolarize the farm, but also a budding trend toward urban gardening. Recall during World War II that 40 percent of produce consumed in America came from private “Victory Gardens.” Now these urban gardens are making a comeback – with more attention paid to organic and diverse food production (think Michelle Obama’s White House Garden) and San Francisco’s recent veggie planting on the grounds of City Hall. In Seattle, a local program offering public gardening plots has 6,000 plots assigned and a waiting list of 700 people - an aspect of the food economy that integrates local, organic and ethnic food production.
Some of this creative food production draws on more traditional farming practices, but much of it also challenges it by calling for more sustainable forms of food production that reduces the need for both fertilizers and pesticides and cleverly used polycultures to produce large amounts of food from little more than soil, water and sunlight (as is going on in Argentina and Brazil). It calls for a more holistic vision of the food economy that views food as a prism through which we can explore the scope and complexity of many of our most pressing economic, social and ecological issues.
She’s on to something. The demand for higher-quality food – both from individual consumers and from restaurants – is already leading to a tighter, more organic, higher-quality food supply chain. Adding creativity, so to speak, to food production will increase its value; we’ll pay more for it, and that will make this kind of food production economically more viable. Who knows? Perhaps the economics will someday enable the remaking and reuse of declining ex-urbs as centers of more vital, higher-end, creative farming communities.