Necessity is the mother of invention

The Guardian has a great article of an example of this premise titled

‘Money is worth nothing now’: how Lebanon is finding a future in farming

With food in short supply and prices rocketing, a wave of new farmers are growing produce on roofs, balconies and beyond.

From the article:

Initiatives promoting farming have multiplied. Food banks offer seedlings, volunteers teach sustainable farming and social media groups share advice. Groups of friends or neighbours have taken to farming. All across Lebanon, municipalities hand out seeds and encourage people to plant abandoned land.

Rami Zurayk, a professor of ecosystem management at the American University of Beirut, says developing a relationship with soil has positive effects on people’s wellbeing. “We are waking up now to see that what we thought we had is no longer here. People have money in the bank that they cannot use. Going back to the primordial – land, seeds, food – is cathartic.”

But small initiatives will do little to solve food security, he says.

“Someone planting pots with herbs is not going to make any difference in nutrition. We need to change the nature of the system, to treat food as a human right, not a commodity.”

Lebanon is not alone in facing a food crisis. The World Food Programme warned that Covid-19 could almost double the number of people facing hunger, from 130 million to 265 million. Agriculture has been disrupted all over the world, seasonal workers stuck behind closed borders. Lebanon, home to more refugees per capita than any other country, does not face that issue – the main agricultural workforce here is Syrian refugees.

In Baanoub, the Zahars spent more time than ever this year in the fields. Yasmina carries seedlings to plant near the olives. The trees are not straight, she says, but planted in irregular lines.

“Our generation doesn’t operate along straight lines either. Not like previous generations. For us it is natural to shift focus and start farming in the middle of life.”

Read the full article here:

Sowing Seeds of Happiness

The Princeton Environmental Institute has published an interesting and timely article about home gardening which comes to a conclusion many gardening enthusiasts can confirm: Growing your own food at home is a meaningful, highly rewarding and emotionally enriching activity.

The article is entitled:

Sowing seeds of happiness: Emotional well-being while home gardening similar to other popular activities, study finds

This comes from a study published in Landscape and Urban Planning Volume 198, June 2020, 103776, entitled:

Is gardening associated with greater happiness of urban residents? A multi-activity, dynamic assessment in the Twin-Cities region, USA

The researchers found that home gardening was among the top five activities in terms of how meaningful an activity felt to people while engaging in it. Below is a brief synopsis including quotes from the two sources.

“It is noteworthy that gardening is consistently among the top five activities associated with high average net affect, average happiness, and average meaningfulness scores as well as the frequency in experiencing peak meaningfulness.”

And not all home gardening achieved the same results. Food production specifically excelled” “In addition, whether people gardened alone or with others made no difference, and people who kept vegetable gardens reported a higher level of average emotional well-being than people who worked in ornamental gardens.”

“The high levels of meaningfulness that respondents reported while gardening might be associated with producing one’s own food,” Ambrose said. “The boost to emotional well-being is comparable to other leisure activities that currently get the lion’s share of infrastructure investment. These findings suggest that, when choosing future well-being projects to fund, we should pay just as much attention to household gardening.”

“This study thus suggests that cities consider investments supporting household gardening as they consider other ways to enhance urban livability.”

“These results raise interesting equity questions on which activities to invest for creating more livable and equitable cities, because our findings indicate that household gardening was the only activity that disproportionately benefited women and low-income participants.”

“Therefore, household vegetable gardening should be considered amongst other livability investments, such as biking and walking infrastructure, in cities. Additionally, backyard gardening alone may provide EWB benefits similar to the purported EWB benefits of community gardens, thus both should be considered as cities address livability investments.”

“The results suggest that household gardens could be key to providing food security in urban areas and making cities more sustainable and livable.”

According to the Milan Urban Food Policy Pact, which some 209 cities worldwide have now joined, “Increasing the amount of urban agriculture is listed as one among several key strategies that can contribute to food security, livelihoods and livability in urban areas.”

In these uncertain times, addressing the issues of food sovereignty and food security, while improving the daily lives of our cities’ inhabitants, particularly the poor and disadvantaged/discriminated sectors of society, is a goal we should put more focus, effort, and resources into.

Let’s get gardening! Let us know in the comments what foods you are growing at home, in your community garden, or, if you are lucky enough to have a nearby plot of land like we do, on your own little farm.

We’d love to have your feedback. Together we can build the community we envision.


Food Sovereignty and Security in times of Global Crisis

Food sovereignty and security are topics often relegated to those with lofty ideals and spare time. As the global pandemic ravages and fragments the entire planet, we see that this topic actually effects all of us right now. As the internationally run global food distribution network slowly grinds to a halt in some countries, even people in large cities with supermarkets all around them are no longer able to buy all the items they are typically accustomed to. Even foods that can and are grown locally become rare or costly when the local means to harvest and distribute them is reliant on externalities such as imported labor coupled to unrealistically low wages.

Local and regional food production and distribution often remain underdeveloped, underfunded, and underappreciated. Production systems have been reduced to a question of price above all other considerations, forced to focus on quantity over quality, and convenience over intentional participation. And this is despite the fact that local alternatives can often provide both quantity and quality at a fair price if enough people stop throwing their money at large corporations and instead invest it in their regional food sources and distribution networks, simply by buying local and participating in locally oriented programs. This change in habit may only require a similar amount of effort and time as that spent searching for a free parking spot at the local chain supermarket, or standing in a long line at the local big box checkout.

The fallacies of the dominant decision making paradigm are easy enough to see when one takes the time to dissect the current return on investment from a consumer perspective.

Industry pressure to lower food prices, while indirectly benefiting the consumer in some cases, are more often than not purely profit driven, at the cost of all other factors. They result in lower quality, higher environmental damage, increased chemical usage and harmful mono-culture practice, and the largely ignored waste production dilemma. They are sustained by higher hidden transport costs and a reliance on a global transport network that is both environmentally devastating and very susceptible to breaking down in times of crisis, leaving even the most profitable large supermarket chains with empty shelves.

Sacrificing quality for quantity has led to foods being produced that have little resemblance to their more natural and healthy counterparts. Tomatoes with no flavor whatsoever, vegetables that can sit in the refrigerator for a month without rotting, but never taste like they used to or still can when one buys an organic or local version that isn’t subject to the same requirements of needing to be shipped or stored for weeks before reaching the consumer.

The cost driven focus results in local farmers being edged out of the market and local consumers losing all control and say in how and where their food is produced, and under what circumstances. Quality is somehow relegated to the status of being a bonus in this larger, profit driven equation.

When a concentrated number of large corporations dominate the market, we are left with both an increasingly poor population facing hunger despite record profits, and an epidemic of obesity and declining health as a direct result of the quality and quantity of foods we are presented with, and lack of participation in those systems at the local level. When a minimum amount of local labor and involvement is required to provide high volumes of food to the population, the potential wealth is simply being vacuumed out of the area entirely rather than reinvested at its most direct point of interaction.

If enough people invested their shopping money in local systems, not only would the local producers be able to grow quality foods at a decent price, but they would have the resources and demand to develop robust yet simple production and distribution methods at much smaller cost to the environment, while also being more resilient to global calamities like those we currently face.

Practically every community or region has the capacity and means to provide a substantial portion of basic food necessities for their immediate populations. Shifting our support to such systems provides economic benefits to the local economy by providing jobs and potentially easier and more secure access to our daily food needs and provides further incentive to invest in and strengthen our commitment to our local communities.  A full circle at the local level is created: A system that works for people. Most localities already have at least some rag-tag framework of systems in place, be it community supported agriculture, food cooperatives, or community gardens.

They could all use our help via increased consumer involvement or even direct assistance and participation. Being involved in such a crucial part of meeting our everyday basic needs can be rewarding and enriching, it builds and strengthens local networks and solidifies community resilience. It empowers people to reclaim the decision making processes currently relegated to profit driven corporations and retool the system to reflect people’s values and needs.

Reach out to those in your community and see of there’s something you can do to bring some sovereignty and stability to your local or regional food chain. If nothing else simply paying attention to where your food comes from and choosing local sources where possible goes a long way.

It really can be that simple to make a big difference, not just for ourselves, but our entire planet. Think globally, act locally!