Local Gardens – Organic Food

“Food and Hunger: Eating in America” was the topic of a panel discussion presented by the Black Mountain Institute last week at UNLV. The panel included celebrated chef and author Alice Waters, writer and organic farmer David Mas Masumoto and noted food scholar Raj Patel. The conversation was meaningful, thought-provoking, and at times, witty and humorous. The hall was overflowing and it was great to see so much interest in a topic that included organic produce, local production, carbon footprint, social equity, sustainability and recognizing the true value and economy of wholesome, fresh food.

If you missed the discussion you can check out the News & Events Archive at blackmountaininstitute.org to listen or watch online. There is good reason to recommend listening to a discussion about food. Our food choices have far-reaching ramifications, from our individual health and well-being to the very future of society and the full spectrum of biodiversity to which we belong. A sustainable, localized food system contributes to the long-term value of our homes and security for our families.

It may be hard to imagine now, but our future success lies in the transition to self-sufficiency, including the local production of deliciously fresh, organic food. In fact, last evening’s panel pointed to the audience as they only half-jokingly described the farmers of the future. In a society where many of our children have no idea where food actually comes from, this is a welcome idea. There are ample reasons why the integration of food production into our modern urban and suburban environments can help build resilience, value and an improved sense of community.

Even in the dry Mojave, I believe we can achieve this. We already use about 70% of our water on irrigation. We’re just not irrigating edible plants. Education about the value of local food can help us shift our appreciation from simple ornamental gardens to those that are truly life sustaining. It can improve our local economy and hedge against the effects of peak oil while helping to address the issue of climate change.

Of the following two scenarios, where would you rather live?

One choice is to live in a city that is completely dependent on cheap fossil fuels for all its food, plus most of its energy and water. Its residents are reliant on food that loses nutrients and freshness each and every mile, traveling in diesel-burning trucks along a thin lifeline of concrete for hundreds or thousands of miles. Not surprisingly, inevitable oil shortages and energy price spikes are cause for constant concern and disruptions.

The other choice is to live in a place where its citizens have chosen to transition toward the creation of sustainable community. Attractive but functional gardens produce local food using water-conserving techniques and nutrient recycling that builds and maintains rich soil. Through shared common goals, residents experience a greater sense of community and accomplishment. Healthier food reduces obesity and illness, resulting in lower health care costs and better care for those who need it. More money stays and circulates in a stronger local economy. Oil shortages have little or no effect on the food supply and most of the community’s energy needs are met using abundant renewable resources.

It’s a tough choice (wink), but I think I’ll go with option two. By responsibly addressing our lack of local food production, we simultaneously inure ourselves against the double threat of peak oil and climate change. This can strengthen our local economy, create jobs and increase our property values. In fact, I think people would beat a path to your door if you had a home for sale in such a place!

It doesn’t mean we wrap ourselves in a bubble and say goodbye to the rest of the world, but it does mean that we put ourselves, our community and our future first. It’s simply a matter of priorities – definitely some food for thought.

Green Living column for Thursday, October 22, 2009, published in the Las Vegas Review Journal: “Family gardens may hold answer to world’s well-being”