Monday, October 24, 2011

Occupy the Food System

"In the Food Movement we re-learn and re-invent ways of farming, cooking and eating. In doing so, we put back in the social, economic and cultural values robbed by the industrial food system."

The recent Occupy Wallstreet and its subsequent solidarity movements have garnered media, political, and household attention. Occupy has naturally occupied the minds of people from all walks of life as you expect a movement representing 99% of the US population would. My Oma and Opa recently visited our house for dinner and occupy became the subject of one dinnertime discussion. As I sat over the meal my mother and father had lovingly planned and prepared with local and organic ingredients, it struck me that my parents and grandparents, though not physically occupying anything but a table with a tasty meal, felt a kind of kinship with the occupiers because they fought, and still fight, to build better lives for themselves and their families. As immigrants and first generation college students, these two generations have experienced improved quality of life very differently. My grandparents often associated improved quality of life with a better income, better health, and more social capital. My parents, while also citing higher income, talked about more freedom. Freedom from debt, freedom to work in their chosen fields, freedom to be intellectually and artistically creative, and free time.

Like my family, activists from everywhere are thinking about what occupy means to them. For advocates of alternative food systems, occupy means food sovereignty through policy change. A recent article, Occupy the Food System! by Eric Holt Gimenez (Executive Director, Food First/Institute for Food and Development Policy) very nicely outlines why, as Americans, occupying our food system is necessary to "build a better society," occupy's only stated mission. He asks the question: if community garden and school lunch reform work so well, why isn't everyone gardening for the future? Well, quite honestly, because money and politics control the extent to which our communities can be autonomous and self-sustaining. So many organizations with programs aimed at improving the food system are dependent on government funding streams. Many times, these organizations tweak their missions to maintain funding, drifting further from the "alternative" in alternative food system. Gimenez believes that the strength of the occupy movement lies in "unifying and amplifying popular voices around a shared vision." This, he says, is much more effective than the many, spread out, lone voices of community food organizations all over the country.

Tom Philpott of Mother Jones really puts the importance of a unified front in perspective with his rundown of the American food system, tagline: "Because Big Food makes Big Finance look like amateurs." The overarching message to take away from this article is, less than 10 companies have America's proverbial balls in a vice and they just keep tightening their grip. Philpott lists four reasons to make food policy part of the occupy agenda:
  1. The food industry is a big fat monopoly.
  2. The food industry screws farmers, its own employees, and the environment.
  3. Wall Street's greed leaves millions to starve—literally.
  4. Our politicians are in bed with agribusiness
The global food market is just as subject to speculation as real estate or stock exchanges. Market prices are often "guesstamated" using a special bank-made financial instrument called the Goldman Sachs Commodity Index. Many people placed their bets and, just like the housing bubble, wall-street engineered a "food bubble" and then burst it, leaving clients pennies poorer and thousands starving while banks like Goldman Sachs and AIG counted their winnings. Corruption never tasted so sweet.

So, what does this have to do with apartment gardening? I am a proponent of self-sufficiency and I feel that gardening, especially for those of us with little money and land, can offer small amounts of that. Similarly, home gardeners are often affected by local policies that prevent us from growing food, especially when we are renters or apartment dwellers. These are the policies Gimenez spoke of that are designed to make us dependent on a flawed food system. For those of you interested in occupy the food system, there are several places to go for information:
3. I also suggest taking your concerns to your local occupy General Assembly.

In Tampa, try visiting the Food Day Soiree on 10/30, join the Bird House Buying Club or Tampa Urban Food Forum, or get involved with the The Seminole Heights Community Garden, Sweetwater Farm, Create a Healthier Sulphur Springs for Kids, or Moses House Youth Garden to meet like minded people.

If you know of any more groups, please post them in the comments section.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

The Amateur's Dilemma: Edibles and Idioms

My friend Jenn (pictured left on a joyride) recently wagged her virtual finger at me for failing to update more often. I can't help but agree. I've neglected this sweet little blog for far to long. Unfortunately, in my world this is par for the course. I have a nasty habit of starting projects with the best intentions and then not prioritizing them properly. For now, I will blame graduate school and a failed garden for my lack of updating. While I always wanted to document the successes and failures of apartment gardening, when the failures outpaced the successes it became to depressing to document.

However, that was last season and this is this season. Slowly but surely, I am getting my fall planting underway. Little bits at a time I've started some pole beans and peas, tomato plants, and squash. Just a note, gardening in Florida follows a different pattern than the rest of the country so my planting schedule may be unlike your own. Every thing (knock on wood) seems to be growing really well! I suppose the proof of the pudding is in the eating or the proof of the pole bean is in the eating (proof of the pole bean pictured left)? The point is, I will know how well I've done in just a month or two.

Squash and tomato seedlings

Blueberry Bush

I am really excited about my blueberries this season. Some varieties are Florida natives and they do well in our sandy soil. So, interested in the apartment applications of the blueberry, I've have started an experiment: I've planted one blueberry plant in the ground, and one in a container. One is in potting soil and the other is in the clay-like soil of my apartment complex. I treated both soils similarly with an organic sulphur mixture because blueberries like acidic soil. Both will be mulched shortly and fertilized similarly. I'll be keeping track of how both plants progress. For Florida gardeners, this really is a good resource (taken from the Gardening in Central Florida blog). There is also a nice guide to acidifying soil by the Oregon State University Extension Service. It explains what soil acidity and pH actually is. That concludes the first of regular updates to come!