Food has always been a pillar of the village. The production and enjoyment of food brings the families of the village together and connects the present generations to those of the past and future, in companionship and celebration, around the table or in the field or public square. So, in our efforts to transform our troubled urban landscape into one that more closely resembles thousands of urban villages, revitalizing the village based food system will be a vital and rewarding undertaking!
This fall, several of the houses in our neighborhood collaborated to create a new model for urban food security and “Community Supported Agriculture.” The notion of Community Supported Agriculture has really exploded in the past decade, creating exciting new opportunities for young families to make a living from the small-scale production of organic annual vegetables. By now, the model has now become quite familiar – a community of consumers make a commitment to support a farm for one year by paying cash in advance for the purchase of a periodically delivered box of fresh farm produce. In cultivating this direct relationship between farmer and consumer, it is hoped that the consuming public will develop a palate for fresh local produce, and a more refined sense for where their food comes from, the difficulties and skillful labor required to grow it, what foods are in season when, and how seasonal particularities from one year to the next affect the food that is available to us locally.
However while all of these are exciting aspects about the proliferation of this model, many of us who have been involved on the production side of this model have also begun to consider its limitations. For starters, the conventional CSA model places a whole lotta work on the farmer – it is still up to her or him to produce enough food for everyone in the community and when you are talking about annual vegetables, this is nothing short of a herculean task. Secondly,many CSA consumers find it challenging to let go of their grocery-store expectations of the perfect tomato, year-round strawberries, and excessive quantities of available food. These expectations place even more pressure on local producers. All of this adds up to not enough “C” in the CSA. In other words, because the agricultural model that we have come to know as “Community Supported” upholds the foundational conception of food as a commodity good to be bought and sold for monetary value, it also retains a separation between the production and consumption of food, and hence fundamentally separates the community from the agriculture that it is supporting.
So, with this in mind, we set out this fall to create a new model for village sustenance by establishing a Neighborhood Garlic Co-operative. One neighbor a few houses down donated his front yard for the project, and the other households came together to purchase seed, turn-up the sod, shape the beds, plant the bulbs and mulch. Every member of the co-op will assist in all stages of production from seed to stomach. Not only did this prove to be a wonderful educational experience for all involved, but it was also a WHOLE LOTTA FUN! As it turns out, if the whole community depends on one family to produce all of its food, that ends up being a whole lotta work for the farmer and hard on the land itself. But if the whole community gets together to grow its food co-operatively, things seem to turn into a whole lotta fun!
Later this year, we would like to expand the co-op to include other patches of other staple crops on other underutilized plots of land in the neighborhood. For instance, we would like to create potato, winter squash, bean, and leek co-ops. These crops seem to be good candidates for co-operative urban agriculture, because they are low maintenance crops, so it makes sense to have them a little bit further away from our house but still in the neighbourhood (what permaculturalists might refer to as Zone 3), especially given the limited gardening space in our front and back yards. Further, these are good crops for helping to feed our community through the winter months when local food is generally less available.
In the years to come, we can imagine more and more crops added to this list, and more and more families and households joining our co-operative endeavors. As the co-op grows and more front and backyard spaces are donated for use by the Neighborhood Co-operatives, one can imagine the crops rotating from one backyard to the next from year to year.