As Land & Climate Degrade, Urban Farms Take Root

The journal Soil Use and Management has just published a study that measures the scope and severity of land degradation across the globe. The study concludes that 24% of our earthly land area – land that had been productive — is now degraded.

Degradation means a marked decline in soil, water and vegetation – the capacity to support life. The study concludes that the decline is driven downward primarily by defective land management and the onslaught of natural catastrophe.

This blunt, ugly fact – one-quarter of our land degraded in the last 30 years — directly impacts our ability to produce food and to enjoy the security and upliftment of a healthy planet.

Wilkins ice shelf collapse

Wilkins ice shelf collapse

Meanwhile, hundreds of square kilometers of the Wilkins ice shelf in Antarctica disintegrated on Saturday, April 4. Scientists are stunned. Nine other shelves have receded or collapsed around the Antarctic Peninsula in the past 50 years, the arctic ice is thinner than ever, and worldwide glaciers are melting more speedily than scientists anticipated.

U.S. Secretary Ken Salazar put it plainly in a statement from the Department of the Interior: “The rapid retreat of glaciers demonstrates once again the profound effects our planet is already experiencing — more rapidly than previously known — as a consequence of climate change.”

Our land massively degraded, our poles wobbling and disintegrating from climate change, and our national and global economies in the midst of immense metamorphosis. These are catastrophic cries from the land.

In measured response to the context of our environment and our economy, thousands of urban and suburban community gardens and farms have taken root in North America over the last 15-20 years.

An urban farm

An urban farm

Community farms and gardens – located in cities, suburbs and countryside – have established pathways that can lead to a healthy, sustainable foundation for our transition and our future. These farms and gardens are keystone models that – if widely emulated – can help us address step by steady step our crises of land and climate degradation, as well as a host of economic and dietary imperatives.

The existing and emerging agrarian models are oases of environmental health and stability. They bear potential to radiate out widely across the land as they are emulated, improved upon, and refined into networks.

Stories about these keystone agrarian models continue to appear in US and Canadian media, as well as internationally. These are not just good ideas and projects, they are essential.

Here are some notes and links on urban agrarian endeavors recently in the news. More models and resources are available on the Links page of this blog.

One encouraging possibility for urban food production is being established in Detroit, Michigan, where Hantz Farms has set a goal of becoming the world’s largest organic, urban farm. Last week John Hantz unveiled an urban-development concept that would convert hundreds, even thousands, of vacant parcels of the city into urban agriculture.

In collaboration with Michigan State University and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, the Hantz proposal envisions what would be the first large-scale, sustainable farming operation in a major American metropolis. Hantz advocates that the farm can increase the tax base, create jobs, and improve the quality of life in an area that has experienced a severe decline in population.

Detroit is already home to hundreds of smaller community gardens. One significant non-profit group, Urban Farming, has been cultivating land in Detroit since 2005. Their mission is to create an abundance of food for people in need by planting gardens on unused land. They started out in 2005 with three gardens, but now have established about 600. Those gardens provide fresh, clean produce for about 50,000 people.

Phoenix, Arizona — the fifth largest city in America, a place of shimmering heat and parched land –- seems an unlikely domain to attempt living off the land. But with organic gardening and permaculture, Greg Peterson has transformed his patch of Phoenix into a productive Urban Farm – a source of clean, healthy land and food.

Just ¾ of an acre, Peterson’s Urban Farm is both a laboratory and classroom—what works there can be replicated by other desert gardeners, His goal is to make edible yards a standard for urban and suburban Phoenicians, and attendance at his courses is exploding.

Urban gardening and farming is building momentum because, in a time of stunning environmental and economic tremors, agrarian logic is undeniable.

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