Hard Times

08/19/2009 4:00 AM |

This is supposed to be a New York City-oriented environmental column, but of course, my attention often strays a bit further afield. Having married a Canadian, and envying (yes, ENVYING) their health care system, educational system, and numerous other aspects of their generally measured and fair society (veggie dogs widely available on the streets of Toronto, yo!), I was dismayed to hear that the Canadian government is considering discontinuing another, smaller initiative.

In what appears to be a short-sighted attempt to close a budget gap, the Canucks are looking to shut down their 100-plus-year-old prison farming program. Why, precisely, should I, or any New Yorker give a damn about the farming prospects of a bunch of Canadian convicts?

Food news abounds these days, and little of it is good. The North American diet is in freefall, quality-wise, and health problems like obesity and diabetes are ascendant. The majority of us have lost touch with where are food comes from, and industrialized agriculture is having devastating effects on the environment. From Food Inc. to Michael Pollan’s In Defense of Food, the prescription for our very survival may involve a rejection of the industrial food system, and a return to eating “real,” locally grown produce.

Urban farms have moved into the spotlight, proving their value by feeding, and educating, thousands. Will Allen, the powerhouse behind the Milwaukee-based urban farm organization Growing Power, was awarded a MacArthur genius grant last year. The movement of young people back to farming has been noted in The New York Times, and in projects like The Greenhorns. In other words, small-scale agriculture is taking its place at the table (literally, and figuratively) again.