City Farmland

by Bill Duesing

First broadcast on WSHU/WSUF-FM, April 30, 1999

Mayor Rudolph Giuliani believes there is no need for community gardens in New York City because you can buy carrots in the supermarket. He says these gardens are relics of a failed economic system and the land they're using should be auctioned off to the highest bidder. One hundred and twelve neighborhood garden sites are scheduled to be sold on May 12th.

Mary, a listener from Trumbull, sent a newspaper article and a letter asking for help in stopping the sale of what she calls "these places of beauty and community pride." The article from The Christian Science Monitor featured a Harlem elementary-school garden created nine years ago by teacher Tom Goodridge with the help of community organizations and a local church. Last November, a bulldozer arrived at the garden, pushed through the wood-framed fence and over trees and garden beds in order to clear the lot. Another fence was put up to keep people out of what soon became, once again, a brick-strewn wasteland accumulating garbage. What message does that shout out to the children and the community?

This garden is one of 44 community garden sites that have already been bulldozed in New York City. Although some lots may become needed housing, Giuliani's "free-market economy" approach will convert many of these gardens into parking lots or commercial spaces. Some may even stay vacant while existing housing remains boarded up. High profits for developers and more taxes for the city are the goals.

The increase in community gardens and urban agriculture in the last few decades makes so much sense, it is hard to believe that the mayor and his advisors don't understand it. Small, hand-tended plots can be much more productive per acre than large areas farmed with huge equipment. They're certainly more environmentally sound. The flavor and freshness of vegetables from the neighborhood make a big difference to those at the end of a very long food chain. Many of the world's most crowded cities produce significant amounts of fresh, nutritious food.

These gardens build and strengthen communities, encourage pride in creation and ownership, as well as provide beauty and wholesome food. Many are also living laboratories for schoolchildren. Even a small plot of land can provide critical lessons and important connections to nature's essential processes. Gardens are a source of healthy exercise. It's hard to believe that a "quality of life" mayor would bulldoze such flowerings of the human spirit in order to bring in a few extra dollars.

Mary asks for letters in support of the gardens, especially from friends who live in New York. Unfortunately, the Mayor's not alone in his ignorance of the real values of the gardens and farms which sustain us. In suburban Cheshire, Connecticut, it was just assumed that the town could turn a community garden site there into a parking lot for the swimming pool. However, it took lots of hard work by citizens and town employees to arrange for a replacement garden site. New Haven's now-vibrant community garden program has struggled for years against seizure and development of its garden lots.

More traditional farmland is not much different. It is open, often flat or scenic and easy to transform into industrial parks or housing subdivisions. The US loses over one million acres of farmland every year. Connecticut and New York State each lost about 20 percent of their farmland over a recent ten-year period.

All of the real food we eat comes directly or indirectly from the soil (except for energy-intensive hydroponic vegetables and the declining bounty of the seas). Unless we want to eat the products of a chemical factory, we need land for gardens and farms in order to grow our food.

Since the Earth isn't getting any bigger, as the population rises, the available land per person shrinks. Now there is only about one-half of an acre per person left for food production. This makes all arable land valuable. Urban land is especially valuable because in addition to fresh vegetables and fruits, it also grows knowledge and community.

Spread the word before all the land is developed and everybody believes that carrots really do come from the supermarket.

This is Bill Duesing, Living on the Earth

This page and its contents are copyright © 1999 by WSHU-FM, Fairfield, CT, and by Bill Duesing.