I grew up on a small rural farm. We had a large garden that as a child I would tend to every day during the summers. Fresh corn, green peas, asparagus, lettuce, green onions, spinach, jalapeno peppers, carrots, strawberries, squash, zucchini, tomatoes, raspberries… The list goes on, and I vividly remember tending to them all. I can picture what each and every plant looks like from the time it sprouts to its eventual annual death. We also have a small apple orchard as well as a “tree farm” with 5,000 pine trees, which for the first two years after planting I would nourish with water day after day, row after row. Nearly 13 years later, the pine saplings have grown from 6 inches to be 10-15 feet or higher. In addition to several hundred acres of wheat and barley, we also raise cattle, which are fed with hay and grains grown and cut on the farm. And last but not least, there are chickens. Lots of chickens. While sometimes loud and messy, the chickens produced the most beautiful brown eggs, which I would gather every morning. The chickens, the cows, the vegetable garden – all produced enough meat, poultry and produce to nourish our family throughout the year. The reason I have such a vivid memory of these activities is because tending to the garden and the animals took an incredible amount of my time.
Many people living in urban environments have not been exposed to the process of farming (I’m talking about actively participating in the process of growing something, not just driving by and “seeing” a farm). What many urban dwellers don’t realize is that farming takes an incredible amount of effort and dedication. Without that effort and dedication, produce doesn’t grow, and animals don’t thrive. When it comes to introducing agriculture into urban environments, I am a strong advocate not only for the benefits of healthy, locally produced meat and vegetables, but also for the chance to educate those who view fresh foods as a product that “comes” from the grocery store. Nothing “comes” from the grocery store. Every fruit, vegetable, meat and egg comes from a living plant or animal; a plant or animal that was tended to and cared for by an individual who dedicated their time and effort to the food-production process. While I surely complained a lot as a child about having too many chores, I am so very grateful for my rural upbringing and for my understanding of how food is cultivated and produced. Unfortunately, this education is something that many urban dwellers lack and Urban Agriculture is a way to provide that education. If people want to live healthier, more sustainable lives, then food choices and education is probably the most powerful way to make a statement. Does that fruit or vegetable grow on a vine, a bush, a tree, or in the ground? What part of the animal does that cut of meat come from? How long does it take for that fruit or vegetable to grow (usually MONTHS!)? How are bananas still green after traveling from Equator? Everyone today wants to eat healthy foods and support agricultural practices that support a healthy, sustainable ecosystem. However, healthy food choices can only be made with an educated mind. And urban agriculture just might be the best educational tool for that job.