Two stories, one from the NY Times magazine yesterday on an amazing urban farmer in Milwaukee, Wis., named Will Allen, and the other, one of the top stories in today’s NY Times, on how unprecedented oil price volatility is hampering economic recovery, illustrate the challenges we face. However, in the urban farming piece we also catch a glimpse of the potential for one positive-change model for our food system, and I think it’s hopeful knowing there are projects with elements of Allen’s work in cities and towns throughout Oklahoma.
The piece on oil price volatility illustrates once again the need for grass-roots localization and making our communities more resilient and less vulnerable to oil prices, supply and demand.
By Jad Mouawad
The extreme volatility that has gripped oil markets for the last 18 months has shown no signs of slowing down, with oil prices more than doubling since the beginning of the year despite an exceptionally weak economy.
· “To call this extreme volatility might be an understatement,” said Laura Wright, the chief financial officer at Southwest Airlines, a company that has sought to insure itself against volatile prices by buying long-term oil contracts. “Over the past 15 to 18 months, this has been unprecedented. I don’t think it can be easily rationalized.”
· But to Jeroen van der Veer, who retired as chief executive officer of Royal Dutch Shell last week, prices are increasingly dictated by long-term assessments of supply and demand, rather than current market fundamentals. He advised taking a long-term view of the market.
· “Oil has never been very stable,” Mr. van der Veer said. “If you look at history, you have to expect more volatility.”
Complete article here.
By Elizabeth Royte
Will Allen, a farmer of Bunyonesque proportions, ascended a berm of wood chips and brewer’s mash and gently probed it with a pitchfork. “Look at this,” he said, pleased with the treasure he unearthed. A writhing mass of red worms dangled from his tines. He bent over, raked another section with his fingers and palmed a few beauties.
And a few highlights:
· With seeds planted at quadruple density and nearly every inch of space maximized to generate exceptional bounty, Growing Power is an agricultural Mumbai, a supercity of upward-thrusting tendrils and duct-taped infrastructure.
· If inside the greenhouse was Eden, outdoors was, as Allen explained on a drive through the neighborhood, “a food desert.” Scanning the liquor stores in the strip malls, he noted: “From the housing project, it’s more than three miles to the Pick’n Save. That’s a long way to go for groceries if you don’t have a car or can’t carry stuff. And the quality of the produce can be poor.” Fast-food joints and convenience stores selling highly processed, high-calorie foods, on the other hand, were locally abundant. “It’s a form of redlining,” Allen said. “We’ve got to change the system so everyone has safe, equitable access to healthy food.”
· Allen, too, has achieved a certain momentum for his efforts to bring the good-food movement to the inner city. In the last several years, he has become a darling of the foundation world. In 2005, he received a $100,000 Ford Foundation leadership grant. In 2008, the MacArthur Foundation honored Allen with a $500,000 “genius” award. And in May, the Kellogg Foundation gave Allen $400,000 to create jobs in urban agriculture.
· “We need 50 million more people growing food,” Allen told them, “on porches, in pots, in side yards.” The reasons are simple: as oil prices rise, cities expand and housing developments replace farmland, the ability to grow more food in less space becomes ever more important. As Allen can’t help reminding us, with a mischievous smile, “Chicago has 77,000 vacant lots.” (NOTE: This made me wonder many how vacate lots Oklahoma City, Tulsa, Edmond, Norman, Stillwater, Shawnee, Broken Arrow, Bartlesville, Tahlequah, Woodward, Clinton, etc. might have?)
· “Not everyone can grow food,” Allen acknowledged. But he offers other ways of engaging with the soil: “You bring 30 people out here, bring the kids and give them good food,” he said, “and picking up those rocks is a community event.”
· This nondogmatic approach may be one of Allen’s most appealing qualities. His essential view is that people do the best they can: if they don’t have any better food choices than KFC, well, O.K. But let’s work on changing that. If they don’t know what to do with okra, Growing Power stands ready to help.
· If there’s no place in the food movement for low- and middle-income people of all races, says Tom Philpott, food editor of Grist.org and co-founder of the North Carolina-based Maverick Farms, “we’ve got big problems, because the critics will be proven right — that this is a consumption club for people who’ve traveled to Europe and tasted fine food.”
· … Growing Power isn’t self-sufficient. But neither is industrial agriculture, which relies on price supports and government subsidies. Moreover, industrial farming incurs costs that are paid by society as a whole: the health costs of eating highly processed foods, for example, or water pollution. Nor can Growing Power be compared to other small farms, because it provides so many intangible social benefits to those it reaches. “It’s not operated as a farm,” said Ian Marvy, executive director of Brooklyn’s Added Value farm, which shares many of Growing Power’s core values but produces less food. “It has a social, ecological and economic bottom line.” That said, Marvy says that anyone can replicate Allen’s technical systems — the worm composting and aquaponics — for relatively little money.
· Allen predicts that because of high unemployment and the recent food scares, 10 million people will plant gardens for the first time this year. But two million of them will eventually drop out, he said, when the potato bugs arrive or the rain doesn’t cooperate. Still, he was sanguine. “The experience will introduce those folks to what a tomato really tastes like, so next time they’ll buy one at their greenmarket. And when we talk about farm-worker rights, we’ll have more advocates for them.”
Complete article here.