Thursday, June 23, 2011


Resistance to foods grown in far away places and retailed by super market giants have spawned the emergence of local food movement which promotes consumption of foods grown locally. Such foods are supposed to have many advantages including significant reduction in carbon foot print, more safety from pesticide residues and assured freshness. Urban gardening, another version of local foods movement, is fast spreading in some of the inner cities in the US which were deserted by affluent people due to fast deterioration of the living conditions there. A typical case is that of Detroit city, the automobile capital of the US, where vacant plots of the fleeing population are being used to raise fresh produce through cooperative efforts of the residual citizens. 

"Open space and farms" turns out to be the answer. In fact, locally grown food has become Detroit's rallying cry for urban renewal. A recent story in the New York Times said "gardens are everywhere." You can't drive through the city without seeing them. Organizations like the Detroit Black Community Food Security Network and the Detroit Food Policy Council have made it their goal to eliminate inner-city food deserts and turn abandoned blocks, which were once home to dozens of occupied houses, into productive plots of land. Jackie Victor is co-owner of the Avalon Bakery, an unofficial meeting place for the Detroit food movement. She told the Times, "Imagine a city, rebuilt block by block, with a gorgeous riverfront, world class museums and fantastic local food. Everyone who wants one has a quarter-acre garden, and every kid lives within bike distance of a farm." San Diego has not suffered the kind of population decline that's seen in Detroit, nor has any other American city. But while Detroit is an extreme case, other places have seen similar trends. Minneapolis, my old hometown, had more than half a million people in the 1950s. Today, it has about 380,000.

In a country like India such a situation cannot even be imagined because of the unending urban migration from rural areas to big cities where land is a big constraint. The land values are sky-rocketing in all urban areas in the country and possibility of vacant sizes in adequate number is remote but in smaller towns housing plots are bought by investors, not for building houses but as an investment. If these vacant plots are to be used for gardening, some sort of legal frame work has to be provided by the government assuring protection to the owners regarding their ownership. Probably there can be bilateral agreements for cooperation between the plot owner and willing citizens interested in gardening whereby the income arising out of the produce raised and sold are divided in certain agreed proportion. Such arrangements will put the vacant land to productive use, yield dividend to both and offer fresh produce to the neighborhood at relatively low prices.  


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