I must confess here a crime I just committed: I stole food this morning. As I was riding my bike down Valencia Street, I stopped to admire an urban garden grown by a school right along their sidewalk. They have arugula, basil, oregano and…mustard greens! These are my favorite greens, and they were growing plentiful. I thought to myself: if I gather three leaves I’ll be able to make myself a salad and it won’t make a difference. So I went ahead and ripped off the leaves from the plants, and, sure enough, when I was done and about to hop back on my bike, a cop was smiling at me. My face got red – guilty as I was – and I wondered if I had been caught. But no, he was just a smiley cop. What I did was bad if you think on terms of “what if everybody did the same thing I’ve done? No greens left for the school who grew it.”
But that’s human nature: you see something you want, and you try to get it. And that’s probably how we evolved. Don’t ask me how we got to a point where we have to wait for a truck to drive several miles to bring food grown on industrial scale far away from us.
But things are changing, and urban farming is growing. This week it has been two years since Mayor Lee signed legislation that allowed for “urban agriculture” throughout the city, including the sale of produce from gardens. And as we see an urban farm say goodbye from its site, we actually celebrate the same farm turning into 49 farms and multiplying the abundance that can happen when a group of like minded people decide they can change the world one square mile at a time. Hayes Valley Farm organizers have a new project new project called “49 Farms”, and the goal is to have a farm in each square mile of San Francisco. Folks can get involved at www.49farms.org.
Urban farming is not just about growing food; according to 49 Farms, “The philosophy behind Urban Permaculture is one of working with, rather than against, nature; of protracted and thoughtful observation rather than protracted and thoughtless action; of looking at systems in all their functions, rather than asking only one yield of them; and allowing systems to demonstrate their own evolutions.
As the basis of Urban Permaculture is beneficial design, it can be added to all other ethical training and skills, and has the potential of taking a place in all human endeavors. With such a broad landscape, however, Urban Permaculture concentrates on already-settled areas and the supporting agricultural lands of the bio-region. Almost all of these need drastic rehabilitation and re-thinking. One certain result of using our skills to integrate food supply and settlement, to catch water from our roof areas, pavement, and other impermeable surfaces, and to place nearby a zone of urban food forest which receives wastes and supplies energy, will be to free most of the area of the globe for the rehabilitation of natural systems. These need never be looked upon as “of use to people”, except in the very broad sense of global health.”
And maybe one day all of us will be able to ride our bikes around town and gather salad for lunch…without worrying about the smile in the cops face.
Judith Sakhri writes and teaches yoga in San Francisco. She gives away her recipes at thatbraziliangirl.com and has just finished her first novel, “Catching Red Herring.”