Typing that headline made my palms sweat, but yes, today is the official publication date of my book, Food and the City: Urban Agriculture and the New Food Revolution (Prometheus Books, 2012).
I started thinking about a book on urban agriculture back in spring 2007 after a trip to Cuba, and wrote an article called "Why don't we have gardens like this?" for Maclean's magazine, a major Canadian newsweekly. Just seeing the potential of how much and what types of food Cubans were growing on small-scale community-supported urban farms on raised beds over old parking lots was an epiphany. Then, closer to home, I began to notice food growing in front yards, on rooftops and the proliferation of community gardens in my home town. Even the sight of tomatoes or basil growing in pots on a condo balcony became an increasingly common sight. All of these small acts of producing food in cities sparked and sizzled with potential for me, an enthusiastic food gardener AND a city dweller.
Shortly after that trip to Cuba, I noticed a mainstreaming of interest in issues like local foods and community gardening in Edmonton, Alberta and pretty much everywhere else I looked. By 2008, there were several groups coming together to figure out how to create a critical mass of what was then special interest groups working in food security, nutrition, food banks, social work, and community development. They found that they had much more in common with groups looking at food literacy and community gardening that they probably had initially thought.
Then the community-engagement movment started in the urban planning arena. Suddenly, highly motivated and relatively young urbanites and church groups alike were putting pressure on their city hall to take quality of life into account when making decisions about transportation, waste management, and landuse. Access to local food and taking food production back into the hands of the everyday citizen seemed to be a catalyst for a lot of these decisions.
By 2010, I was racing to keep up with all of the energetic groups that were out there in Canada, the US and the UK. I went back to Cuba to get a better grasp on how they invented a de-industrialized food system, largely through urban agriculture. I then made a side trip to France to look at food gardens in Paris because it was the city where urban agriculture flourished in the mid-nineteenth century. (Ever wonder why it's called "French Intensive Gardening" or we still call raised beds potagers??)
In early 2011, I travelled to Chicago, Detroit and New York. It was winter, so I didn't tour any of the NYC's amazing rooftop farms, but found incredible stories in Detroit and Chicago, two entire chapters in themselves. In Detroit, there was the Hanz Farms project, what is planned to be the world's largest urban farm, right in the vacant land in downtown Detroit. In Chicago, I spent a day touring The Plant, the world's first vertical farm. Rather than a futuristic multi-million-dollor glass-and-steel skyscraper that may never make it off the drawing board, sustainable industrial developper John Edel has taken a former meat-packing plant and turned it into an open-source model for infrastructure resuse that I think is the way of the future...until we run out of all those vacant offices and manufacturing spaces. Which isn't likely to happen any time soon, given the millions of square feet of vacant and abandoned commercial space in cities across the midwest.
As I say in the acknowledgments at the end of my book:
One of the greatest pleasures I got while researching and writing this book was to meet so many passionate people in urban agriculture, food systems, and urban food gardening. I will always treasure the new friends I met along the way who gave their time and energy toward helping me understand why they do what they do. Each and every one, in her and his own way, helped me realize that while growing a few heirloom veggies in the front yard, tending a community orchard, or keeping a beehive on a condo rooftopmay seemlike an insignificant thing on its own, it is these little actions of self-reliance and community self-sufficiency that are at the forefront of the new food revolution. More importantly, the world is a richer, and tastier, place for your important work. To them, I simply say: keep growing.
I look forward to the various book launch events already planned -- and those that will be planned in the next few months. I'll start to work on posting events on this site. You can also follow along on Facebook and on Twitter and LinkedIn. I look forward to the discussions about what is happening in other communities and households, whether they happen on this blog or in real life.
Lastly, the entire book is about how various people and cities are taking control back of their food system. They are doing this by planting seeds in their own communities and reaping the harvest. Small acts add up to big changes in our communities, and really it's up to us to take on those small acts. If you choose to buy a book, please consider the effects of your choice of where you buy your book. Money spent at local independent businesses build strong, resilient, and creative communities. If you can, please consider supporting your local, independent bookstore. The power is in your pocket, so excercise your power in a way that builds the type of community and city that you want to live in.