OKAY, FOR OUR FIRST FORAY into urban agriculture, we wrote Backyard Farming, a blog about vegetable gardens and fruit trees. For those interested in kicking it up a notch, we brought you Backyard Chickens, a blog about raising birds right outside your house. I imagine that we're already treading on weird and wacky territory here when we start talking about food-producing animals. You may know a couple people in the neighbourhood that take care of a vegetable patch, but you probably aren't aware of anyone that's providing a happy home for chickens and turkeys, ducks and geese. So I don't actually expect anyone out there to take me up on what I'm going to talk about next. But in the event that you've already aced Homesteading 101 and you're past the intermediate class, then we've got to give you something to shoot for: an entire menagerie of livestock, fauna of the land, sea, and air!
I HAVEN'T HEAR OF A SINGLE incident of city slickers building barns in their backyards and raising cows. But cows are not the only mammals that produce milk for human consumption, only the most common. Of the all animals I could have in my backyard, personally, I would prefer to split the rent with a couple of goats. Nigerian dwarf goats can get by on a small lot, and you can handle them without needing someone else's help. Few things make me happier than starting off the morning with some pita and labane, with a little bit of olive oil and za'atar... mmm... I could easily get used to a couple slices of goat cheese on a foccacia with roasted red peppers and eggplant later in the day... Think I'm kidding? Here is a short film shot by Time Magazine about a woman who raises several goats -- and chickens, and rabbits, and pigs! -- in her own backyard, not four short blocks away from my former home in inner-city Oakland, California! I am seriously jealous!
NOW WE TAKE IT TO the next level: aquatic animals. Who would have imagined that you could turn your aquarium into an actual fishing pond? Indoor fishbowls are too small to produce anything substantial, and most freshwater fish will die off very quickly in stagnant still waters. But as a number of innovative urban fish farmers have found out, some species like perch and tilapia will still thrive even when confined to tiny tanks, as long as aquaculture plants are grown in conjunction with the fish. The plants feed off of the nutrient-rich poop that the fish produce, and the fish benefit from the water filtration services that the plants provide. True, for them to survive in cold Canadian winters, you would have to build a small greenhouse on top of the pond to maintain a temperate climate under the bubble. But our neighbours to the west in Milwaukee, Wisconsin experience winters that are harsher than ours, and they harvest 10,000 pounds of fish food in the middle of the city! Watch this clip to find out how they do it:
AND NOW WHAT MAY BE the most radical form of urban farming: beekeeping! Yes, apery is still practiced in downtown Toronto, as it has been for at least a century; the Toronto District Beekeepers' Association was founded in 1911, and it's still going strong. Bees are so important to the entire food chain, because they pollinate all of the other plants that you grow in your outdoor garden. And the honey that you could produce by maintaining a healthy hive that feeds off the flowers in your own backyard would be better for you than any other honey, because it would naturally inoculate you from any allergic reaction to local hay fevers. The biggest challenge that beekeepers face in the urban areas is reassuring their neighbours that homegrown hives don't pose a threat to them or their children. It's no easy task to overcome those phobias. But as the video clip below makes plain, even an area as urban as New York City can boast of its busy beekeepers. And as the song goes: If they can make it there, they can make it anywhere!
IN THE FIRST GREEN APPLE PIE trilogy on urban agriculture, we laid out the problem in detail: the population of the planet is growing exponentially, and even factory farms can't keep up with the rising demand for more food. The solutions being touted by agrobusiness corporations are either catastrophic for our planetary support systems or else they are scientifically impossible. The population of the planet will eventually decrease to a fraction of its current figure -- it has to, at some point, we are only experiencing a temporary unsustainable overshoot that will rectify itself in a matter of decades. The only question that remains is whether that descent into a world of far fewer humans will be a slow, measured one, or a rapid, frantic one? Will the transition to the food distribution systems of the future be marked by consensual belt-tightening and right-sizing, or will it be fraught with nightmarish sectarianism and ruthless class war?
I REALIZE THAT THESE WORDS may evoke hostility and even anger in some readers of the blog. Yes, it is absolutely frightening to come face-to-face with the realization that our exceedingly comfortable way of life, based on the hyper-exploitation of finite natural resources and socio-economic pyramid schemes, is drawing to a close. But please, please, do not shoot the messenger. We cannot avert our eyes and stick our heads in the sand until the very moment that the tsunami washes away everything that we care for. But there is good news. The good news is that humans have lived on Planet Earth for literally millions of years, quite comfortably, giving as good as they got. The corkscrew roller-coaster ride of population-boom-and-bust is merely an anomalous spike in course of human history, and it certainly does not prove that humans are incorrigibly cannibalistic -- only that the prevailing culture of reactionary capitalism categorically is.
SO WHERE DO WE GO from here? Well, the good thing about local food solutions is that they are all win-win solutions. Yes, they use less precious resources. Yes, they are healthier for you, your family, and for the watershed that quenches our collective thirst. Yes, they ensure our political and physical security in a world in which there are no more guarantees. Yes, they tear us away from the A.D.D.-infecting Sega systems that alienate us from our own friends and families, and bring us back to real life, back into our beautiful bodies. Yes, they make everyday activities like eating much more romantic. And heck, yeah: local food just tastes better. Period. Rome wasn't built in a day, and it sure isn't going to fall in one day, either. But we've got to start sometime, and the sooner the better. For every step that we take towards the Earth, the Earth will take two steps towards us. And she's going to feel so good to come home to.