Thursday, June 30, 2011

Reflections on Urban Farming

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Yesterday, Oakland animal control officials confiscated twenty one malnourished rabbits from an apartment building near Lake Merritt. The rabbits were apparently living in filthy overcrowded conditions. The rabbits had been fed nothing but white rice, and were covered with urine burns. These rabbits were apparently on their way to the dinner table.

I have very conflicted feelings about all of this.

I have to say that I've become rather uncomfortable with the orthodoxy of the urban farming movement. I've long had an interest in raising my own food, and have done so whenever I had access to some land. So you would think that I would be delighted by my fellow urban gardeners.

In truth, I've become uncomfortable with what I read about the urban farming movement. Those folks seem so damn sanctimonious, as if they singlehandedly invented agriculture. I tire of articles about urban hipsters, giving their vegetable gardens ironic farm-names, and patting themselves on the back because they are killing animals in their own back yards.

So, in an effort to better understand my feeling on all of this, I recently joined the East Bay Urban Agriculture Alliance. I figured I needed to meet the people I'd been reading about, and draw my conclusions from actual experience, not hearsay.

I really want to like my fellow gardeners, but somehow some of these folks (or the articles written about some of these folks) just rub me the wrong way. There's a subset of urban gardening blogs where the writers are so intent on proving their own hipness that I just have to laugh. "Look at me," the blogs shout. "I'm a total badass. I have an Ivy League education, but I'm authentic, because I live in the ghe-tto. I'm planting motherfarkin' potatoes in the motherfarkin' dirt. I'm going to kill and eat a small animal. I'm so farking rad."

Uh huh.

Tell that to an actual farmer.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to clear my head. I'll be out back, weeding my little vegetable garden.

9 comments:

Christine said...

Yeah, I was pretty annoyed by the fact that someone would write a book from that point of view and then never mention once that they were getting a degree in journalism AND being advised by Michael Pollen. Although, if it gets someone to plant tomatoes in their backyard then that's a great thing.

. . . Lisa and Robb . . . said...

I agree!

More planting. Less posturing.

JGH said...

I have to confess that I'm a little obsessed with reading these memoirs of people who have sold out their corporate jobs to farm, or go a year eating local food, or turn their city block into communtiy garden. I used to read fiction, bestsellers - now this is all I want to read! But I know what you mean- you'd think that some of them invented tomatoes!

Curbstone Valley Farm said...

I agree with you Lisa. I'm relieved that we're not 'urban' LOL. I have no patience for cultish urban farming zealots. They're boorish, and some are bordering on downright scary.

The way this story was reported it suggested these rabbit raisers were 'urban farming', but from what I can tell, they weren't, and most would resent the comparison. It seems to me this was more a case of animal hoarding, willful neglect, and abuse. But then again, I have a difficult time trusting the accuracy of any news these days. The media's comparison of the two seemed, in my opinion, a knee-jerk, unfair parallel, and was decidedly inflammatory. That said, I've seen a couple of scary urban farms, and there is a need for better regulation, especially of meat producing animals within the city, both for public health, and animal welfare.

. . . Lisa and Robb . . . said...

It's true, Clare. There's no way of knowing how accurate the article on the rabbits was or was not.

I do wonder about the slaughter of animals at some of these urban farms. Is it hygienic? Is it reasonably quick and painless?

Nataline said...

A-MEN!!!! I recently moved from CA to NYC and have been a little put off by some of the posturing surrounding the "farm to table" and "locavore" movements here. Growing my own herbs, fruit, and vegetables was always a given. I didn't realize I had to Tweet about it or get fancy gardening clothes in order to become legit. :-)

Curbstone Valley Farm said...

It can be, but in some cases I think it's neither hygienic, quick, or painless, but it wholly depends on who is doing it, and how educated people are about slaughtering and butchering practices. Honestly, I'd like to see regulations change. At the moment you can do almost anything in your back yard, providing it's for your own consumption. In Britain, even back yard reared meat animals MUST be taken to an approved local humane slaughtering facility. I'd love to see that happen here. I've seen small farms here go under because they're rearing grass fed stock, but can't hardly get into a USDA approved facility for slaughter, or butchering, because they're not big enough to compete with large producers. The facilities don't want their business. There is a growing demand for small, locally operated inspection stations, which would be in the best interests of both the animals and the producers, but our broken food system only caters to corporate farms, not local small producers, so they're very few and far between. At some point the USDA needs to wake up, recognize the need, and risks associated with back yard production, and improve both regulations, and facilities. I'm not going to hold my breath though...

Stefaneener said...

: )

We need to talk.

Marg said...

Oh! I read this and thought poor bunnies!

I like the "More planting, Less posturing!"

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