Feeding Other Models: Farming Amid the Ruins of Crisis

Feeding Other Models: Farming Amid the Ruins of Crisis

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By José Luis Fernández Casadevante

More than thirty lots have been converted into community gardens by neighborhood organizations and environmentalists from Madrid, in a dynamic that has come to be recognized by the United Nations as a good practice in urban sustainability. Among the initiatives in Barcelona, ​​it is striking that of a group of retirees from Nou Barris who have gone to court for setting up orchards five years ago on the vacant lands of the construction company Carlos Nuñez, former president of F.C. Barcelona in prison for bribing Treasury technicians. The Valencian orchard battered by urban pressure finds allies in the hundreds of family gardens managed by neighborhood associations, which have sprung up on the vacant land of bankrupt real estate companies, both in Benimaclet and in the failed megaproject of Sociópolis. And we could continue listing dozens of experiences throughout our geography, where the monoculture of bricks in cities is giving way to vegetables.

The accelerated urban development induced by the real estate bubble has had dramatic social impacts (family and municipal debt, evictions, empty houses ...) and other less outstanding environmental impacts (artificialization of agricultural land and coastal areas, fragmentation of ecosystems, expansion of scattered urban planning and associated infrastructures, increasing demographic and resource imbalances…). A territorial model that has obviated the strategic and multifunctional value of peri-urban agrarian spaces that produced local crops, as many were succumbing to speculation and short-term economism. Between 1987 and 2000, the artificialization of the soil on agricultural areas increased by 30%, a trend that is reproduced in the whole of Europe, where 77% of urban growth occurred on agricultural lands between 1990 and 2000.

Although there were isolated experiences since the mid-eighties, the true roots of urban agriculture have occurred in recent years, acquiring a special presence in the public sphere and on the political agenda after 15M. In fact, in the microcities that emerged between the tents and canvas awnings of the Madrid and Barcelona camps, space was reserved to set up outraged orchards.

The rise of agriculture in our cities is an unquestionable symbol of the change in the economic cycle, as well as being one of the many ways in which the social effervescence of protest movements and citizen self-organization initiatives is being expressed. Experiences aimed at restoring the value of use to many soils that were fallow, awaiting a new speculative cycle. The figures are conclusive and show how urban agriculture is ceasing to be something testimonial: between 2006 and 2014 the number of cities or municipalities that had urban gardens has increased from 14 to 210, and the areas of orchards have risen from 21 to 400 during the same period.

Starting from the impulse given by social movements to place the issue in the public sphere, we have recently witnessed the start of a new generation of urban policies that have begun to innovate in the relationship between agriculture and the city: processes of regularization of community gardens, increase of school and leisure gardens, participatory management of urban voids, peri-urban agricultural parks, design of local food strategies, etc. Even unions such as CCOO have set up training gardens for self-employment in organic farming such as the TREDAR program, dedicated to forming union-linked production and consumption initiatives.

Today that we are undergoing a civilizational change (energy, ecological, economic, political crisis…), urban agriculture emerges as an essential tool to redesign urban settlements and the agri-food system in terms of sustainability and social justice. A practical way of demanding a new culture of the territory, making explicit the eco-dependence of urban environments, transforming cultural imaginaries, intensifying social relations, reopening discussions on land use or discussing the way in which cities are going to be fed in the future . A growing concern that is illustrated in the Charter for food sovereignty from our municipalities, signed by municipalities, solidarity economy entities and social movements.

And although it seems a completely new phenomenon, throughout history the appearance of urban agriculture during periods of emergency has been recurrent: in the economic crises of the 19th century or the Great Depression, in world wars or in the most current socio-urban collapses. . Idealized or feared, urban gardens have always developed more comfortably during turbulent times than once normality was restored, when they were once again displaced to the corners of the city and forgotten by urban planning.

And that invisible thread has been reconstructed in Roots on the asphalt, a recently published book that tells us about those who have cultivated on the margins of history, urbanism, sociology or social movements. A narrative that mixes the evolution of urban theories in their relationship with agriculture, and the reconstruction of the main episodes in which social movements and urban communities once again planted between the asphalt. Troubled times and times of revolt will mark this itinerary in which we will be accompanied by the motivations and political bets behind the gesture of growing vegetables in the city.

We look to the past with the vocation of rereading some historical episodes in a way that allows us to use them in the present, as distant and inspiring antecedents that help us project ourselves into the future. Events that have remained hidden like seeds in the snow, ready to germinate when the right time came to challenge the present, as Colin Ward liked to say. Dialogue creatively with the past allows us to share our doubts and uncertainties, refine the questions that we must ask ourselves, as well as recognize that part of the answers have already been given by ancestors who had to face challenges of similar magnitudes. What makes the past attractive to us is not nostalgia but the need to advance proposals, to minimally prefigure alternative discourses that are at the level of the present.

Just as Martin Luther King knew that although the world would end tomorrow, he had to plant a tree today, we know that, although the bet is unsuccessful, urban agriculture anticipates key elements that any future project for the city must contain. We vindicate the orchard (hortus + topos), a place where the orchards take root in the heart of the cities, recognizing the strategic importance that corresponds to an agriculture oriented to the care of the territory and people.

The newspaper

Video: Feeding the City or Is the City Feeding You? (June 2022).


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