Edible Estates: Local Food Activists Generate Solutions to our Food Crisis
On my inaugural voyage into Brooklyn’s newest park this early spring, the most grandiose sight wasn’t the Statue of Liberty holding guard in the distance, nor was it the Brooklyn Bridge or the painfully famous bald spot in downtown Manhattan’s skyline. It was the lawn. The blades were such a fairy-tale green that for a second I thought perhaps a particularly impatient spring-enthusiast arrived in the night and painted the hilly terrain. I couldn’t help but follow this thought with a grimmer one: Brooklyn Bridge Park is situated directly on top of the East River and whatever is keeping this grass startlingly green before any other flora has awoken from winter, be it paint or some other chemical, will find its way into the water.
Thursday night, WNYC’s Leonard Lopate hosted a talk featuring four local food warriors: urban farmers and educators Will Allen and Annie Novak, Manhattan borough President and local food advocate Scott Stringer, and artist and radical gardener (front lawn attacker) Fritz Haeg. If any of them had a hand in remaking Brooklyn Bridge Park, it is safe to say the pristine lawn would quickly be replaced with something delicious.
(The entire conversation can be viewed here —it is well worth the 87 minutes.)
About 10 million people became first time gardeners last year after Michelle Obama planted produce at the White House. Leonard Lopate, citing this year’s spike in seed sales as more evidence, compared the current local food movement to the victory gardens of the during the World Wars. The reason then was obvious: a practical response to a food shortage. Now, when supermarkets stock enough products to make room for a dumpster diving movement, the problem is less apparent. It is not, however, any less significant. Will Allen and Fritz Haeg listed childhood obesity, food deserts, and an increase in food borne diseases as some of the devastating repercussions of the food crisis. “Our crisis is the same as a war, but much slower paced,” said Haeg. Allen brought up a depressingly simple example: If more food was grown in Haiti, more people would have survived after the quake. “Industrial agriculture had its chance.”
The conversation was very hopeful, centering around the panelists’ inspiring growing projects as a jumping off point for discussing the importance of community inclusivity in food production; the need for more action, not just talk; the global impacts of the food revolution; pollution; and the challenges of urban farming. All four seemed confident that their line of work will change the world: the sign of true revolutionaries. The house was full, Annie Novak’s freshly picked spinach spread out on the coffee table in front of the panelists, and following the talk, the guests were treated to locally made beer, cheese, bread, pickles and kombucha.
The Brooklyn Bridge Park is a lovely new addition to the borough I call home. More green, public space is a beautiful start. Will Allen said we should get a hold of any land we can get, and put it away into a land time bank. Perhaps we can see the city’s parks as part of that bank, and maybe, when the time ripens, they can even be used for the one thing every community shares: food.
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