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US urban gardeners cramped by zoning laws
American urban gardeners are falling afoul of city zoning ordinances against livestock and gardening. Their less prescient neighbours are more interested in not smelling “livestock” than they are in keeping safe, cheap food on the table.
WHILE THE US federal bureaucrats stick their fingers in a cracking economic dike, many believe that there is something seriously wrong with the nation’s economy. So serious, that they are leaving the nation, becoming expatriates, fleeing to more favourable climes.


In his recent book Bad Money, political commentator Kevin Phillips warns that an unprecedented number of citizens, fed up with failed politics and a souring economy, have already departed for other countries, with even larger numbers planning to do so soon. (7-30-08)


Many are trying to outrun what many see as a possible collapse of the economy, an event, which could possibly change the face of the nation, if not the human paradigm. A recent newswire article notes that many Americans are leaving the country, not, as in the past, for “artistic or political” reasons, but because they are tired of what is going in this country, particularly with what is happening in the economy.


US News and World Reports:


Those who remain, face a changing economic clime, with housing prices falling, banks getting shakier than a drunk coming off a three day binge, and food and fuel prices shooting off the scale. Even worse, while food prices are rising, many say our food safety mechanisms are seriously flawed or over extended.


Recall after recall has made Americans nervous. Millions of pounds of beef have been recalled this year. Vegetables and fruits have been connected with several serious cases of food borne illness.


We are accustomed to watching Third World countries deal with famine, food shortages, food borne illness and death. What we are not accustomed to is the current serial food supply catastrophes which have become routine over the past few months.


Our nation’s water supply is in trouble. Infrastructure from bridges to water plants is in need of major repairs and renovation. Water scarce Western states are battling each other for access to rivers and water supplies, as urban water vampires with exploding populations suck aquifers dry. All in all, the way of life that we have become accustomed to for so many decades is in danger of collapsing.


The food supply is seriously impaired, with recall after recall making Americans afraid of putting a fork in their mouths, or filling up a glass with tap water. Agribusinesses and hedge fund operators are now vying for control of “vertical markets” which include everything from purchasing farms, to buying food processing plants and shipping companies.


Some analysts predict that what is currently happening in the mortgage loan industry, the fraud, price manipulation, and insider graft will soon be coming to the food sector as well. Guard your wallet and watch what you put on your fork, because the worse is yet to come.


If we thought the 18th century robber barons were a millstone around the economy’s neck, wait until the food supply hedge fund investors get through with us. Pretty soon, if we are not vigilant, we’ll “owe our guts to the company store.”


As Jim Hightower colourfully put it:


Oh, this is just dandy! Hedge fund schemers and Wall Street manipulators – the very characters who brought us the Great American Housing Collapse – have a new target for their fast-buck profiteering: farming. EIEIO! (Hightower, 6-26-08)


Hightower’s analysis shows that he, at least understands the dangers of fast buck farming and profiteering, where many are clueless. Our food supply is slowly being devoured by a coven of fast buck artists who will, if not stopped, have a stranglehold on world food supplies, and will be able to create spot shortages, manipulate markets, and create vast artificial famines—oh, wait a minute: They’re already doing that.


By “owning structure,” they mean centralising control of food in the hands of financial manipulators who have only one crop in mind: Fat profits. These multi-billion-dollar funds are buying thousands of farms in the US, Brazil, Africa, Britain and elsewhere, turning farmers into corporate labourers and viewing farmland and water as disposable inputs for the huge short-term profits investors demand. (Ibid)


Now, check out this strange twist on food sufficiency. We have the possible collapse of the economy, food prices going through the roof and some of our neighbours are battling each other over the “right” to grow gardens and raise chickens in the city.


We have become so out of touch with reality, that we can’t see the forest for the trees. Some people are so worried about “farm smells” coming from the yard next door, that they don’t see how unstable our food supply chain has really become. But first, a bit of history, here.


The last wave of urban gardening, beginning in the 1970s was generated by disinvestment in food outlets in the aftermath of the urban unrest, which plagued many of the nation’s great cities. One researcher writes:


Although urban gardens had been operated with government assistance in New York during World Wars I and II and the Great Depression, the social setting for the gardens of the 1970s was different from that of earlier gardens, for it was characterised by social unrest and urban disinvestment (Kurtz 2001).


Simply put, when the local grocers were burned out, the neighborhoods had no close source of fresh produce. Hence, the rise in the urban garden movement, which began in the 70s. (Community Gardens and Politics of Scale in New York City, by Christopher M Smith and Hilda E Kurtz)


Now, a similar situation is happening, only this time price, fuel/transportation costs, and food safety, rather than availability of grocery stores is at the root of the new urban garden movement. It’s neighbour against neighbour as one side grows gardens, chickens, fowl and feeds itself, while the other protests at the “Green Acreing” of the neighbourhoods.


Much has been written about the Third World, developing countries whose populations are leaving the country and moving to the cities in droves. But the flip side of the coin, developed countries whose tottering economies are driving their citizens to extending their dollars with a move to gardening, urban livestock raising, and green living is a field that hasn’t really been greatly explored.


We know what the trends are. Farmers and country people are moving to cities all over the world.


Major population movements and changes in reproduction and mortality rates during the 20th century have dramatically transformed the way we live. Nearly half the world’s population is now urban and another 1.5 billion people will be living in cities by 2020 (Figures 1 and 2). This explosive growth of urban settlements, which is occurring in developing countries, brings with it two critical challenges: The migration of peoples towards the urban world has brought with it a migration of poverty that cities are ill-equipped to deal with; and the concern that unplanned urban growth is accompanied by environmental pollution, health risks and a decline in the quality of life. (Urban Harvest: A Challenge Programme on Urban and Peri-Urban Agriculture.


And this was before the western bank and mortgage collapse. How much will these figures change, if the world’s economy has a major heart attack?


Today, some city dwellers across the nation have taken to growing chickens and raising gardens as a way to extend their dollars, but their neighbours often don’t appreciate their efforts. In several cities, urban farmers/gardeners are running afoul of local zoning ordinances. Their less prescient neighbours are more interested in not smelling “livestock” than they are in keeping safe, cheap food on the table, and so the legal/zoning battles over “city farming” begin.


As was noted by a report on urban farming, without supporting infrastructure, the rewards and benefits of urban farming may be lost or diluted by conflicting neighbours and restrictive local ordinances. To wit:


We argue that while urban agriculture can be an important part of the solution, it can also be part of the problem when unsupported by research, extension or an institutional framework. The overall goal of this Challenge Programme therefore is to strengthen the contribution of urban and peri-urban agriculture to food and nutrition security, human and community health and poverty eradication through the safe, efficient and sustainable use of urban resources and opportunities by urban populations in the developing world.(Ibid)


The bottom line is this. Urban gardeners must band together and learn to cooperatively work from a position of strength. Working with local governments is essential, because battles over zoning, livestock raising, when/where/if you can raise your gardens or livestock will seriously impair your ability to become self-sufficient.


Surviving is much more important than playground contests with your clueless neighbours. Get organised. Get together and work from a position of strength. Your life, and your family’s survival may depend on it.


Monica Davis is an author, columnist and public speaker, having written hundreds of articles on farming, sustainability, government corruption and ethnic issues.
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