Monday, August 30, 2010

Public Produce

Saturday when I took Darrin Nordahl's book back to the library, I requested the Sonoma County Library to get a copy. The copy of Public Produce I'd been reading came from Napa County, and I wondered why, with all the interest in urban farming, community gardens, gleaning and so on here - well, why don't we have a copy in our system?

Nordahl's primary expertise is not in agriculture, so he is able to make the case for growing food bearing plants in public places from his perspective of planning and architecture. He takes on one by one the detractors of using fruit trees and annual food plants in landscapes. They are not necessarily messier, or harder to maintain, than many beloved ornamentals. And many food bearing plants are beautiful. Why do we have ornamental fruit trees with messy little inedible fruit, for example, when we could have fruit trees that provide three season beauty AND food.

Throughout the book he makes a case for public produce based on the needs of the poor and the land poor. You can't get more local than picking fruit off a tree as you walk through the park, and it requires no money, no search for a store that sells local fresh food in the city.

It was interesting to me that Nordahl notes in the preface that land use decisions that used to be made only after much persistence from citizens (like using urban land for community gardens), but are now being led by those in office and on local government staffs. Interesting because that is what is happening here with the advent of I Grow and the people the health department has brought together to pull it off. This book would be useful both to public servants and to food system advocates and agitators. The range of examples is helpful, too. Nordahl's experience in both Berkeley and Iowa give the book scope.

An image I'm still playing with (see my post of last week) is one of urban farms instead of golf courses. What if people could look out their town house windows on a farmscape, rather than lawns and sand traps?

This paragraph alone, from page 107, was a good reason to read Public Produce:

"If a city is truly interested in ‘going green,’ as many are, food has to be considered an integral part of sustainability. Sustainability is more than a fleet of hybrid cars, programmable thermostats and light switches, and switching from incandescent light bulbs to compact fluorescent. It is more than reducing the consumption of energy, and it is more than climate change and environmentalism. Sustainability is also about economics and social equity. Environment, economy, and equity are the three legs of sustainability, and food in public spaces provides a footing for all three."

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