Urban Gardening: New York, Cuba, and Beekeepers

After the recent post Everybody Here With Us Chickens - The Urban Chicken Coop comes news from Civil Eats of urban beekeepers. Although bees are kept legally in cities like Chicago and San Francisco, in NYC beekeepers theoretically not only have to brave the occasional sting, but fear a law enforcement sting operation (apparently the NYPD tends to concentrate on the other more pressing violations being committed in the city). So that the bee enthusiasts can bring honey, flowers, and other good things to the city legally, sign the Just Food petition to legalize beekeeping in New York.

What's next? Raising humane livestock within the city confines? Just how much nature can a city tolerate, anyway? As a former New Yorker, I find it ironic that there is such a strong movement for gardening, chicken coops, and other agricultural activities within the city, because it runs counter to the movement to make New York as homogeneous as possible by packing in as many identical housing units as people are willing to pay for. If you look back at the history of New York, even a hundred years ago the five boroughs were teeming with all sorts of food production and processing activities. See photos and a history of the Meatpacking District from the Forgotten NY blog.

Whatever you think of meat, the loss of food industry in NYC has meant loss of jobs and also vulnerability during an emergency. I was in New York for the September 11 attacks, various transit interruptions, and the great New York Blackout of 2003. These experiences showed me how vulnerable the huge city really is: for one thing, it depends upon food and other necessary supplies which are trucked in from outside. Urban areas that are well-marbled with gardens and other food-producing spaces are more self-sufficient should anything interrupt the city's communication with the outside world.

Perhaps New York could learn from Cuba, and that country's switch to more local, organic food in the absence of the fuel that used to be used to truck supplies around:

“Puestos” as Cubans call the produce section of their rationed grocery stores displayed only empty bins as agriculture ground to a halt. Chemical pesticides and fertilizers vanished. Tractors became relics of a former time. Oxen pulled the plows that furrowed the fields... Organic agriculture “made its appearance at that moment as a necessity and that necessity helped us to advance, to consolidate and expand more or less uniformly in all 169 municipalities,” says Adolfo Rodriguez. At 62, he is Cuba’s top urban agrarian, with 43 years experience in agriculture. He says there are now 300,000 people employed directly in urban agriculture without counting those who are raising organic produce in their backyards as part of a State-encouraged grassroots movement.

Restoring a little bit of Big Apple's diversity means reducing the carbon footprint of all the food trucked in to feed New York's millions. This can only improve the city's traffic problems and air quality. So hats off to Just Food and other sustainable food movements within the New York area.

Tags: Carbon, Cuba, Farm, Industry, New york, Urban

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