Is Radical Homemaking the New Feminism?

  • Author Shannon Hayes says raising chickens and growing veggies is a new route for women who consider themselves feminists. (Photo courtesy of Nathan & Jenny CC-2.0)

Women who consider themselves feminists might be shocked to hear what some are calling the new wave of feminism: women heading back to the kitchen – and the garden. Julie Grant reports:

Transcript

Women who consider themselves feminists might be shocked to hear what some are calling the new wave of feminism: women heading back to the kitchen – and the garden. Julie Grant reports:

When Shannon Hayes was finishing her PhD, she made a list of all the female professors she’d ever had. There wasn’t one who had tenure who was also married with children. Hayes wanted a husband and family, and realized that if she wanted a big university job…

“I was not going to have these things. And they were as important to me as having a career. In fact, in truth they were more important to me.”

So, much to the dismay of her PhD committee members, she headed back to the northern foothills of the Appalachian mountains near the family farm where she grew up. She bought a teeny house with her husband. People whispered. What had gone wrong?

Once there, Hayes couldn’t even get a job interview. To make things worse, her husband lost his job two weeks after buying the house. So, they fell back on their domestic skills.

“Well, if something broke, we fixed it. If something ripped, we mended it. I was very good at canning, so any food we didn’t grow on the farm or didn’t grow in our gardens I wold go to the local farmers when it was in peak season and I would can it, freeze it, lacto-ferment it.”

Hayes says her idea of success changed. Spending time with her parents and children, cooking family meals – those are her successes.

And she’s found that more people are realizing the power of homemaking.

Hayes has now written a book called Radical Homemakers – which profiles twenty families that are saying “no” to regular jobs, and are instead raising chickens and growing veggies.

Hayes says homemaking is a new route for women who consider themselves feminists.

“I think that a lot of feminists are realizing that the family home life is extremely important. I do think that this is part of the next wave of feminism.”

One feminist blogger asked with disgust:
Are you telling women to get back in the kitchen?

Traditional feminists don’t like the sound of this one bit.

Brittany Shoot is another feminist blogger. She’s concerned with calling homemaking feminism. Shoot writes about eco-feminist issues for Bitch Media and The Women’s International Perspective. She says just because some women are doing it, does NOT make it feminism. She says Hayes’ message could be considered a step backward for women.

“I can’t imagine saying to my grandmother, ‘I’m going to stay home and just hang out.'”

Shoot says her grandmother struggled to attend university, and didn’t have nearly the choices Brittany has for a career. She would want Brittany to make the most of her opportunities.

“We’ve come so far. Why would you make this decision when you have the ability to have a career that may not only be lucrative, but fulfilling.”

But Shannon Hayes says we’ve been conditioned to want the money and status of a big job and that’s proving to be as empty for many women as it is for many men.

Hayes says being a housewife in the ‘50s and 60s was limiting. Back then, when Betty Friedan wrote The Feminine Mystique, women were depressed by their role as homemakers. Women were losing their own identities to serve their husbands and children. But Hayes says women today are losing their identities to the workplace. She also says corporations have largely taken over in the home.
She says when women left the kitchen to join the workforce, that’s when everyone started eating processed, unhealthy foods.

“I think everybody should get back in the kitchen, not just women. But that’s because I don’t think you should be buying processed foods, and I don’t think you should be supporting industrial agriculture, and don’t think that you should be supporting food traveling thousands of miles.”

Hayes says becoming a homemaker isn’t abandoning feminism, it’s redefining it on her own terms. She’s sharing homemaking with her husband… and both are finding more balance between home life and work.

For The Environment Report, I’m Julie Grant.

Related Links

Sustainable Prisons Project, Part Two

  • This is the entrance to The Hub. Prisoners who’ve been cleared on good behavior get to work here. This is where the prison’s beekeeping operation, recycling center and gardens are. (Photo by Sadie Babits)

Prisons probably aren’t the first
place you’d expect to find organic
gardens or beekeeping. But in some
prisons in western Washington, inmates
are being taught new skills and getting
involved in conservation work. As Sadie
Babits found out, inmates say they’re
restoring their own lives by helping save
native prairies and growing veggies:

Transcript

Prisons probably aren’t the first
place you’d expect to find organic
gardens or beekeeping. But in some
prisons in western Washington, inmates
are being taught new skills and getting
involved in conservation work. As Sadie
Babits found out, inmates say they’re
restoring their own lives by helping save
native prairies and growing veggies:

Stafford Creek Prison would feel like a college campus if it weren’t for the series of
heavy metal gates and the barbed wire.

(sound of mechanical gates opening)

2,000 prisoners are held at this medium security facility. A select group of them
who’ve been cleared on good behavior get to work in what’s called the Hub. It
doesn’t sound too exciting – until you spot the greenhouses.

(sound of door opening and fans)

Inside the largest greenhouse, there are hundreds of yellow plastic tubes. Three
inmates are filling these tubes with dirt. They are planting seeds to help restore
native grasses.

Toby Erheart is one of these prisoners.

“I don’t know if what we’re doing will make a huge impact on the world, but I know
it’s making a huge impact on this project. It will change the face of the prairies in
western Washington.”

This is the project’s first year. The goal is to grow 200,000 plants for the prairies.

It’s getting hot and muggy inside the greenhouse. So Inmate Jeff Harrigan heads
outside. He leans against the greenhouse as he talks about what it’s like to grow
these plants.

“It’s been a learning experience for me cause I’ve never done nothing like this on the
streets.”

Harrigan has been in and out of prison six different times.

“I’ve just learned doing other things than stealing and doing drugs makes you feel
better about yourself. I feel like I’m putting something back, something that is
saving something, ‘cause it’s saving the butterflies from what they told us.”

Harrigan says he’s never planted anything before until coming to Stafford Creek.

“And actually, it’s kind of cool cause since coming here I asked my girlfriend
something I never asked her before, what her favorite flowers were, just cause I had
started planting flowers. (laughs)”

Turns out marigolds and hens and chicks are her favorites. Two plants, Harrigan
says, that can be found around the prison. When he’s not planting native grasses,
Harrigan works in the prison’s vegetable garden.

“Right here, this is stuff that we’ve planted. There’s onions, radishes, beans.”

So far, he’s helped harvest peas, garlic and 200 pounds of zucchini. The kitchen staff
took that squash and turned into zucchini bread for the inmates.

Harrigan talks about how hard it was for him keep a job when he was outside
prison. Drugs always got in the way. Now he says he feels like he’s doing something
that matters and he hopes this experience in prison will help him when he gets out.

“Actually, it’s teaching me better work ethics too, cause I’ve never really had them
out there. I never really kept a job probably because I didn’t like it, you know.”

Harrigan says he does like gardening. He says he now knows how to germinate
seeds and how to get plants to take off – skills he says could help him get a job once
he’s back in society.

“For a person like me, who still wants to feel human and still got good parts in me,
this stuff brings you back to reality.”

He’s got another year and half to go before he’s free. Harrigan says he’s already told
his girlfriend, when he does get out, they have to plant a garden – something he
hopes will keep him from coming back to Stafford Creek.

For The Environment Report, I’m Sadie Babits.

Related Links

Sustainable Prisons Project, Part One

  • Inmates at Stafford Creek who’ve been cleared on good behavior can work in the prison’s recycling center. (Photo by Sadie Babits)

Some industries and businesses have
been greening up their operations to
save money. Now, another big industry
is getting into the act – American prisons.
California has announced 16 new green
energy projects at prisons that they
say will save millions. And prisons
in Indiana, Virginia, and Nevada are
installing solar panels and wind turbines.
But, as Sadie Babits reports, the state
of Washington is taking their green
program a few steps further:

Transcript

Some industries and businesses have
been greening up their operations to
save money. Now, another big industry
is getting into the act – American prisons.
California has announced 16 new green
energy projects at prisons that they
say will save millions. And prisons
in Indiana, Virginia, and Nevada are
installing solar panels and wind turbines.
But, as Sadie Babits reports, the state
of Washington is taking their green
program a few steps further:

(sound of cutting an onion)

Jason Chandler has already spent four years behind bars for a crime he won’t talk
about. He recently was hired to work here in this organic garden at Stafford Creek
Prison. Before this, Chandler says, he was working here as a janitor.

Babits: “What are you doing?”

Chandler: “Cutting the onions off to prepare for the kitchen. Just cutting the roots
and the stock off. Least the winds going my eyes ain’t watering.”

The Stafford Creek prison in western Washington has this garden, a recycling center,
greenhouses, and a beekeeping operation. Chandler says working these jobs beats
mopping floors and cleaning toilets.

“I had to ask my counselor to put me on the list. There are quite a few people on a
waiting list to get positions like this and they got by an application basis and, if
you’re willing to work, it’s a good job to have.”

It’s a job made possible through the Sustainable Prisons Project – a partnership
between Evergreen State College and the Washington Department of Corrections.
The grant-funded project has been running formally for more than a year. While it’s
clear prisoners like these jobs, officials say it’s too early to tell whether beekeeping
or growing vegetables will reduce recidivism rates.

But prison officials say that wasn’t the project’s main goal.

“My early motivation was money, surely money.”

Dan Pocholke is the Deputy Director of Prisons. It costs more than $30,000 a year to
house just one prisoner in Washington state. The Department of Corrections was
ordered several years ago to save money by doing things like conserving water and
energy.

To do this, Polcholke says they got help from Evergreen State College to “green”
Cedar Creek – a minimum security facility in Washington. He says they got prisoners
involved in cutting back their water use.

“And we started studying our use rates and our consumption rates and, low and
behold, a year later we had brought our water use rates down by an astonishing
level.”

Pocholke says the partnership with the college has another benefit. Prisoners are
learning new skills. And Evergreen State College says one of their goals is being
fulfilled too – to spread environmental science to unlikely places – like prisons.

Some inmates in this program get to do research on everything from raising frogs to
growing native prairie grasses. There’s already been a few success stories. One
inmate has gone on to co-author a scientific paper and is now working on a
doctorate degree.

(sound of recycling)

And, while some prisoners are learning new skills, the goal of saving money is also
being met. Stafford Creek prison has cut the amount of garbage they send to
landfills by more than half by recycling.

Inmate Kevin Madigan says he’d like to keep even more out of the landfill.

“The more self sustaining you can become, the less burden you are on the people out
there. And that in itself is a good thing.”

Madigan rips open a clear plastic bag and dumps the garbage onto this conveyer
belt. He gets paid 42-cents an hour to work here, but for him it goes beyond just a
job.

Madigan says it’s one way for him to make amends for all the trouble he caused
outside these prison walls.

For The Environment Report, I’m Sadie Babits.

Related Links

A Hidden Danger in the Garden

  • Reporter Karen Kelly and her daughter, Hannah, gather soil from their garden to be tested for toxins. (Photo by Karen Kelly)

All over the country, first-time
gardeners are harvesting their ripe
tomatoes and leafy greens. Gardening –
especially in cities – is thriving.
But Karen Kelly reports on a hidden
danger that isn’t always easy to detect:

Transcript

All over the country, first-time
gardeners are harvesting their ripe
tomatoes and leafy greens. Gardening –
especially in cities – is thriving.
But Karen Kelly reports on a hidden
danger that isn’t always easy to detect:

(sound of little girl in garden)

It’s our first vegetable garden and my daughter and I are looking for some ripe veggies to have for dinner.

It was the highlight of our summer – planting the cucumbers and the eggplant and watching the tomato vines grow higher and higher until we couldn’t even reach the top.

Then I read a story that they had discovered lead in the White House vegetable garden. Exposure to too much lead can cause brain damage, especially in children. And as I read the description of the type of yard that would likely contain lead, I realized that our garden met all of the criteria.

We live in a house more than 50 years old. It’s in an older neighborhood that would have been exposed to residue from leaded gasoline. And we live in a fairly large city -Ottawa, Canada – near a busy road.

So I decided to get our soil tested for lead.

(sound of phone call)

I started by calling the city and other government agencies– no luck. I tried looking for labs in the yellow pages. Those didn’t work out. I moved on to garden centers, a local university, and a local research farm. No one could talk to me.

Finally, I got in touch with a lead expert in Indianapolis, Indiana. He asked me to send him some samples in plastic lunch bags.

“Okay, I just scraped off a place with no wood chips. Okay, so we tested the eggplant, the tomatoes, the lettuce and the cucumbers. Well, we need to do the peppers too, because the peppers are way over here.”

I sent the bags to Gabriel Fillipelli at Indiana University-Purdue University – and waited impatiently. Ripe tomatoes and cucumbers were piling up.

Finally, he got back to us.

“What I found with the samples you took from your soil was relatively high lead values. I was a little bit surprised. Some of them were actually above the EPA levels for playground soils, which is 400 parts per million.”

Great. I figure there’s no chance we could eat these vegetables. But Fillipelli says that’s not the case.

“The other vegetables, like the cucumbers, the eggplants, and peppers – they have very resistant outer skin so as long as you wash them well, very little lead can absorb inside those. The biggest risk you find with vegetables is not lead being sucked up by the roots and poisoning you, it’s actually the soil particles that cling on to the some of these vegetables, meaning beets or carrots or potatoes or, strangely enough, lettuce.”

In terms of children, Fillipelli says the real problem is letting them play in the bare dirt. He actually says covering it with grass or mulch would be safer.

But that doesn’t mean you can’t grow vegetables in a city. You can use containers, or build raised beds with clean soil, and use mulch in between.

It’s still a cheap source of healthy food, and a great way to teach kids about nature, biology and, unfortunately, pollution.

For The Environment Report, I’m Karen Kelly.

Related Links

Tomato Blight Spreading

  • The blight hitting tomatoes is actually the same blight responsible for the Irish potato famine in the mid-19 century. (Photo by T. A. Zitter, courtesy of Cornell University)

If you’ve been waiting all season
for that quintessential taste of
summer – a juicy, ripe tomato from
the garden – you might be disappointed.
This year a tomato blight has swept
across the Northeast and is moving
into Midwestern gardens and farms.
Julie Grant reports:

Transcript

If you’ve been waiting all season
for that quintessential taste of
summer – a juicy, ripe tomato from
the garden – you might be disappointed.
This year a tomato blight has swept
across the Northeast and is moving
into Midwestern gardens and farms.
Julie Grant reports:

Walk around this outdoor farm market in Cleveland and just say the words ‘tomato blight’ – nearly anyone in earshot has a story to tell.

Susan Myers says her home garden has given over to what she thinks is late blight.

“But it’s pretty serious. I mean, it’s like wiping out everything. I have lots of tomatoes and all the leaves are dropping. I’ve never, ever had that before.”

It doesn’t look like the farmers here are having trouble with tomato blight. Most tables are piled high with bright reds and yellows.

Skip Conant has a beautiful display of heirloom tomatoes – but he’s not sure how many more weeks he’ll have fruit to offer.

Conant: “We definitely have tomato blight. It’s been a cool, wet spring, so, yeah. There’s a fair amount tomato blight.”

Grant: “What does it look like?”

Conant: “You’ll see a yellowing and curling on the leaves and then the stem will turn brown. The plant will become a very brown. Die from basically the inside out or the bottom up.”

It’s hard to tell yet if these Midwestern growers are starting to see the same blight that decimated the northeast tomatoes.

Bill Fry is a plant pathologist at Cornell University. He’s studied late blight for 35 years. Fry says it looks like irregular shaped black spots, and can appear on the leaves or the fruit. It can destroy an entire crop in just a few days.

This is the same blight responsible for the Irish potato famine in the mid-19 century. Growers have seen late blight since then. But Fry says, not at these epidemic proportions.

“The fact that it’s just everywhere is, I think, is the major difference from previous years.”

This wasn’t the first cool, wet spring on record. So, why has the blight so bad this year?

It’s kind of ironic. Fry and his colleagues have been studying the problem and think it’s probably because so many people are gardening. Millions more than just last year. And lots of those people bought tomato plants at stores like Home Depot, Kmart, Lowe’s and Wal-Mart.

“Infected plants were sold throughout the northeast in the box stores. They were transplanted to home gardens and from there the pathogen disbursed to other home gardens, to conventional and organic farms.”

Fry says you might not even notice at the supermarket. Commercial tomato growers spray lots of fungicide to keep away the blight. But organic tomatoes are getting harder to find.

But chefs and tomato lovers who’ve waited all season for those locally-grown heirloom – and especially organic – tomatoes aren’t finding what they want in markets in the northeast.

Back at the Cleveland market, chef and restaurant owner Karen Small has been waiting for tomato season – and it finally hit. She depends on this market for her produce and stops at just about every stand.

But as Small hears farmer after farmer describe what they think is late blight – she’s worried about the weeks to come.

“We’re accustomed to having tomatoes well into September, and maybe that’s not going to happen this year.”

Small plans to go home and rip out the tomato plants in her home garden – after hearing late blight described so many times, she’s pretty sure her tomatoes are infected.

For The Environment Report, I’m Julie Grant.

Related Links

Greening the Capital City’s Rooftops

  • This high-rise green roof in Washington DC required a large crane to lift the soil and gravel onto three floors. (Photo courtesy of DC Greenworks)

Green roofs are increasing in popularity across the US, especially in cities, where
there’s not a lot of space for gardens. Sabri Ben Achour explores the trend in
Washington, DC, where the city government is promoting the practice for it’s
environmental benefits:

Transcript

Green roofs are increasing in popularity across the US, especially in cities, where
there’s not a lot of space for gardens. Sabri Ben Achour explores the trend in
Washington, DC, where the city government is promoting the practice for it’s
environmental benefits:

In Washington, you can see flowers and vegetables growing on top of homes,
businesses, even government buildings throughout the city. DC officials say
Washington has nearly 70,000 square feet of rooftop greenery. Only Chicago has
more.

One big fan of these so called green roofs is a popular small hotel, Tabard Inn, just a
few blocks from the White House.

“There’s about 10 varieties of sedum on this roof.”

Sarah Murphy is giving a tour. She’s a horticulturalist.

“This is a very pungent oregano here on the corner, it looks heavily used.”

The city of Washington pays building owners about one-fourth of the cost of
incorporating greenery on rooftops. One big reason? Rainwater runoff.

Sarah Loveland works for an environmental consulting non-profit called DC
Greenworks.

She says Washington has what’s called a combined sewer system. The sewer
system doesn’t just take in what’s flushed down the drain, but also all the rain
running off roofs and streets.

“If you imagine that our sewage treatment plant has a dam, and the sewage system
combines with the storm water system before the treatment plant.”

So, when there’s a heavy rain, that dam at the sewage treatment plant overflows.

“You have both raw sewage and runoff from the streets going directly into the river
untreated.”

Three billion gallons of it a year, at one point.

The EPA sued the District of Columbia.

The city had to spend $150 million to address the problem. Part of that money goes
to green roof grants.

The green roofs slow down rain water – give it some place to soak instead of just
running off straight down the gutter. The city says roofs in the city prevent a million
gallons of storm water runoff from entering the Potomac River.

The roofs also insulate buildings – especially during the summer. Some studies
show they reduce energy costs by 20-30%. And they reduce the heat island effect in
the city, since they don’t get blisteringly hot like traditional roofs.

Green Roofs even offer some habitat for creatures, like bees.

Sarah Loveland with Greenworks, the consultant agency, says rooftop gardens are
also increasingly popular for growing food.

“Veggies are really popular, herbs are really popular – this is a trend that’s taking off
in the restaurant industry. There’s a lot of buzz around it.”

Blueberries and herbs abound in the rooftop gardens of the Tabard Inn, where Paul
Pell is executive chef.

(sound of celery chopping)

“Yeah, we go up and get whatever we want, so it’s fresh. We just climb out the
window when we need it. Chocolate basil goes with ice cream, nasturtiums go with
soups and salads.”

Washington has an advantage over some larger cities in its promotion of rooftop
gardens because federal law prohibits skyscrapers in the nation’s capital, so most
buildings don’t cast shadows over their neighbors.

As a result, most rooftops are sunny – all they need is greenery to soak up the rays.

For The Environment Report, I’m Sabri Ben-Achour.

Related Links

Shape-Shifting Fruits and Veggies

  • van der Knaap's team tests tomato starts for the SUN gene - the gene they isolated. SUN is responsible for tomato length. (Photo by Julie Grant)

Vegetables can be really odd shapes.
But what if you could alter fruits
and vegetables into just about any
shape you wanted? Some avid gardeners
come up with strange looking hybrids,
but Julie Grant talked with a researcher
who’s taking the shape of produce to
a whole new level:

Transcript

It’s time to start planting your garden this year. But maybe you’re tired of long, thin
carrots, huge watermelons, and round tomatoes. Julie Grant spoke with one researcher
who’s trying to give us some more options in the shape of fruits and veggies:

Ester van der Knaap steps gingerly around the greenhouse.

We’re at the Ohio State Agricultural Research and Development Center in Wooster.
The plants here are as tall as we are.

Van Der Knaap points out short, round tomatoes – and some odd-looking long, thin
ones.

“That’s one gene. One gene can make that difference.”

Van der Knaap’s team discovered that gene and isolated it. They call it the SUN gene.
And they’ve been able to clone it in tomatoes.

“You see this one is pretty round. It does not have the SUN gene. And that first one
makes a very elongated fruit, and it does have the SUN gene.”

Van der Knaap’s research could lead to square-shapes – something she thinks the
tomato industry might like. Square tomatoes fit better into packages. And, overall,
square tomatoes might be easier to work with than the common round tomatoes.

“They are mechanically harvested. So if you have a very round tomato, it would roll off
conveyor belts, it’s not very handy.”

So far money for her research has come from the National Science Foundation – not big
ag.

Van Der Knaap is quick to note – her tomatoes are not genetically modified.

You might remember the Calgene tomato which was made firmer by manipulating the
tomato genes with a gene from chickens. Van der Knapp’s just isolating the genes that affect the
shape of the tomatoes. Turning them on or off alters the shape.

Designer fruit shapes are gaining popularity. Check out any seed catalog, and there’s
a huge variety – some large and segmented, some pear-shaped, some oval, some
resembling chili peppers.

People have been cross-breeding tomatoes to make the shapes they want for a long
time. But this is not the same thing.

“It’s just funny, ‘cause my brother was working with some genetic things with tomatoes in
our attic.”

Dick Alford is a chef and professor of hospitality management at the University of Akron.

The difference between what his brother – and lots of other folks have been doing – and
what van der Knaap is doing is the difference between cross-breeding and locating a
specific gene that affects the shape of tomatoes.

The only other gene like this that’s been found so far was discovered by van der Knaap’s
advisor at Cornell University.

[sound of a kitchen and cutting veggies]

Chef Alford watches students as they cut yellow crookneck squash and carrots.

They’re trying to make uniform, symmetrical shapes out of curvy and pointed vegetables.
There’s a lot of waste. Chef Alford hates to see so much get thrown away. So he’s got
a request of Dr. van der Knaap.

“If we could get square carrots, it would be great. If you could get a nice long, a tomato
as long as a cucumber, where you could get 20 or 30 slices out of it, it would be great.”

In a country that loves hamburgers, Van der Knaap has heard that request before. But
the long, thin tomato hasn’t worked out just yet. She says there’s more genetics to be
studied.

Once we know all the genes responsible for making different shapes in tomatoes, Van
der Knaap says we’ll have a better idea of what controls the shape of other crops, such
peppers, cucumbers, and gourds.

And maybe then we’ll get those square carrots.

For The Environment Report, I’m Julie Grant.

Related Links

Gardens Going Mobile

  • Wilson City Farm is part of Chicago's Resource Center, and Tim Wilson is the garden manager. The 1.25 acre plot produces eighty varieties of eleven crops. (Photo by Shawn Allee)

Urban farming is supposed to be a solution to getting fresh, locally-produced food to city folk.
The movement’s taking off because a lot of cities have empty, vacant lots to plant on, but there’s a problem: city governments or developers won’t let growers stay on those lots forever.
Shawn Allee met one urban farmer who’s not worried about losing the farm:

Transcript

Urban farming is supposed to be a solution to getting fresh, locally-produced food to city folk.
The movement’s taking off because a lot of cities have empty, vacant lots to plant on, but there’s a problem: city governments or developers won’t let growers stay on those lots forever.
Shawn Allee met one urban farmer who’s not worried about losing the farm:

Ken Dunn’s City Farm looks less like a traditional farm than a construction site.

There’s fence around an acre or so of soil. There are two small sheds.
And there’s a greenhouse – but it’s not glass or anything – its plastic strung over a bunch of metal tubes.

These are available commercially for about 1,500 dollars and will last for many years. This is the third year this one’s been up.

Dunn makes no apology for the make-shift feel.

“This is a mobile farmstead. Our fence that surrounds this property has been in three locations in the past twenty years as have the tool shed, and office trailer. So, everything here can be picked up and moved within a week or, if necessary, within a couple days.”

In fact, Dunn’s planning on it. He’s on land owned by the City of Chicago, and he has to move next year.

“Our deal with them is that we are occupying it until they sell the property. I think it will be having luxury condominiums. I think they have a price tag of 6 million dollars on this acre. As tax payers we have to take the six million.”

But Dunn’s not worried – he’s lined up another lot to plant on.
Dunn thinks more urban farmers should be just as mobile as he is by keeping their equipment light and scouting for the next available growing space.

Here’s his argument: City governments or developers might let you squat on vacant land for a while, but you can’t count on them selling it to you at an affordable price – or just giving it you.

Seems reasonable enough, but I thought I’d ask urban farming groups how they take this mobile farm idea.

“In my opinion, it should be permanent.”

This is Erika Allen.
She heads the Chicago branch of a group called Growing Power.

“It shouldn’t be something that you have access to some land for a few years and then have to move. In my mind, that’s not agriculture.”

Allen says across the country, urban farms have provided fresh food and even jobs.

She says mobile farming kind of let’s city governments off easy; if urban farms are so useful, cities should help them own farmland.

“I think once we were able to prove you can grow food in the city and it can be productive and beautiful, then it’s an issue of policy. What’s the priority? Why aren’t we relegating some of this space just for urban agriculture?”

Ken Dunn says he’s heard this criticism before. He calls his mobile farming approach a little more realistic.

Dunn says rural farmers can’t grow everything they want, however they want; they have to adjust to the landscape, soil conditions, and weather.

He says he’s just adjusting to an urban reality: real-estate markets value commercial and residential property more than farmland.

“We have to operate this sustainably. That is, working within the forces that are operating instead of hoping to always get 15 years in some hidden corner or somewhere and it might turn into less because someone comes in overnight and bulldozes your project. So, sustainability means keeping operative from year to year with no setbacks. A planned move is no set-back at all.”

With that, Dunn has to leave.
It’s planting season and he and his staff have a lot of work. They want this crop to be special, since it could be their last growing season on this vacant lot.

For The Environment Report, I’m Shawn Allee.

Related Links

Finding Green Space in the Downturn

  • Foreclosed houses are being demolished, leaving open spaces that some neighborhoods are turning into gardens. (Photo by Julie Grant)

It might be hard to think about a “silver lining” when so many people are facing foreclosure on their homes. But in some cities people are using foreclosures and the demolition of those homes to turn neighborhoods greener. Julie Grant reports that all the open space is encouraging some people to start gardening:

Transcript

It might be hard to think about a “silver lining” when so many people are facing foreclosure on their homes. But in some cities people are using foreclosures and the demolition of those homes to turn neighborhoods greener. Julie Grant reports that all the open space is encouraging some people to start gardening:

We’re watching the huge arm of a backhoe smash into the front of a house. The air is thick with dust. So many houses in this Cleveland neighborhood have wood nailed to where the windows and doors should be – it’s hard to tell which one is next for the wrecking ball.

25 year old George Hannett is NOT happy about what’s happening on his street:

“It’s not good. It’s bad for the neighborhood.”

The City of Clevelend does not want these abandoned homes left to rot or attract crime – so it plans to demolish 1,200 homes this year.

Morgan Taggart works with the Ohio State University extension office. It’s her job to help people create urban gardens.

She says tearing down so many houses is starting to leave a mark on neighborhoods in lots of cities – Pittsburgh, Detroit, Milwaukee, Cleveland.

“These spaces become very difficult for neighborhoods to manage because they are an attractive nuisance to all sorts of illicit and illegal activities that aren’t really great for the community.”

Taggart says lots of people want to start growing their own food. The economy is luring them back to gardening. Especially in neighborhoods that don’t have big supermarkets with fresh produce. These vacant lots
are giving them new places to plant. But they’re not sure how to go about planting a garden.

Vel Scott has lived in Cleveland 30 years, in a neighborhood with lots of unused land. She sees people on the bus struggling with shopping carts, carrying babies – doing whatever they have to do to get groceries home. But last year Scott realized – there’s another way to feed people. And she started her first garden since she was a kid.

“And I thought about, well, we have this land so why not go over and clear it and use it?”

It was a great idea. But, Vel Scott pretty quickly realized it was easier said than done.

“And after I got over there and it’s such a huge piece of land and I thought ‘My, God, where do I start?’ You know, I don’t know what to do. So we did a V– V for victory, V for Vel,whatever you wanted it to be.”

Scott says wants her land to be a place where they grow vegetables – and cook them right there. She teaches a cooking class so it made sense to her to show people in the neighborhood how to use the vegetables from the garden.

There are some concerns about gardening on vacant land. After all, the land usually belongs to the city. People don’t want to put lots of time and resources into cultivating the soil – if the city is going to turn around and sell to a developer at the first opportunity.

That’s why Cleveland has created a new zoning category to protect its urban gardens. Morgan Taggart with the extension service says this is a post-industrial vision for cities:

It’s an opportunity for us to reimagine our neighborhoods, our city, our county and how we can integrate more sustainable principles into the planning of our neighborhoods.”

Back at the house demolition, people watching the workers tear down the structure say it’s hard to imagine a vegetable garden where this house used to be. But Vel Scott says that in just one season of gardening, her neighbors and local children have seen what she’s done. They’ve started clearing more land and this spring they’re planting their own gardens.

For The Environment Report, I’m Julie Grant.

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Farming the White House Lawn

  • Some farmers think this spot is a perfect place for a White House organic farm. (Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

Some people think American agriculture needs a makeover. They question why we waste so much fuel moving food long distances. A growing movement is calling for farmers and everybody else to produce more locally-grown, organic food. Shawn Allee reports some people want the President to set a good example:

Transcript

Some people think American agriculture needs a makeover. They question why we waste so much fuel moving food long distances. A growing movement is calling for farmers and everybody else to produce more locally-grown, organic food. Shawn Allee reports some people want the President to set a good example:

Last October Michael Pollan published a letter to the President in the New York Times.
Pollan is a sort of agricultural policy gadfly. His open letter to the President was full of big, policy-wonkish ideas about how to encourage local food production. But Pollan also wrote one small suggestion. NPR’s Terry Gross picked up on it.

GROSS: “You would like the next president to instead of having a White House lawn to basically have a White House garden. The president would set an example for the rest of us by having this garden of locally-grown foods?” (laughs)

POLLAN: “Now why is that preposterous, Terry? I mean, that’s actually one of the more practical things I proposed.”

Pollan went into how the President could even share some of his veggies with food banks.

POLLAN:” So you have this powerful image of the White House feeding Americans. What could be better than that?”

Some people heard this interview or read Pollon’s article and thought, “right on” – there should be a White House farmer. One family from central Illinois was especially intrigued. Terra Brockman talked about it with her father and sister.

BROCKMAN: “Well, it’s a great idea, but why don’t we bring it down to earth and make it real?”

ALLEE: “So, basically you translated it into reality by creating a contest on a Web site. White House Farmer dot com, as I understand it.”

BROCKMAN: “Yeah, we figured it was a way that we could get it out nationally without much time or money and ask people all across the country, ‘who do you think would be a good White House farmer?’ and have people nominate their farmers.”

Now, Brockman built her contest Web site even though President Obama never even talked about the idea of a White House farmer. But she’s hopeful because the White House actually has an agricultural past. At one time sheep grazed on the White House lawn, and during World War II Eleanor Roosevelt grew a Victory Garden there.

BROCKMAN: “It’s not like this is so, so way out there. And really, whatever the President does is pretty symbolic and people do pay attention.”

People paid attention to White Houser Farmer dot com, anyway.
The site gathered around 57 thousand online votes in just a few days.
And exactly who is the unofficial new White House Farmer?
That would be Claire Strader, from Madison, Wisconsin.
Strader invited me to see the land she works.

STRADER: “We’re at Troy Gardens. It’s in a parcel of land in the city of Madison, on the North Side. I haven’t actually seen the farm for a few months because the snow’s been so deep.”

ALLEE: “Can we get closer to the farm area?”

STRADER: “Yeah.”

Strader is the head farmer at Troy Gardens. She trains city people to grow food here. She also makes the soil fertile through organic growing techniques.

STRADER: “You can just start to see now, the green flush over the whole field. That’s our cover crop of rye. It looks really good. I’m happy to see it.”
ALLEE: “Could you tear yourself away to go to DC and leave all this behind?”
STRADER: “It would be difficult to pick up and leave it behind, but it would be a tremendous honor and a lot of potential to spread the good word of organic agriculture and the positive impacts that would have on our country in the future. It would be hard to accept and hard to reject.”

Even with a White House Farmer chosen for him, President Obama still hasn’t said anything about the idea.
But Strader says she and some top contest vote-getters are trying to sway him – even if he’d pick someone else to run his garden.
Strader says she loves the idea of cucumbers and zucchinis growing at the White House… even if she’s not there to pick them.

For the Environment Report, I’m Shawn Allee.

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