22 Feb Why local and organic is the future of food
This is the Connected Roots’ response to a recent article by Louise O Fresco, former Assistant Director-General of UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation, dismissing local and organic farming as romantic and unsustainable.
Local and organic is neither romantic, nor is it a myth. I recall all the food my family had when I was growing up in Lithuania: our own vegetables grown in the garden and greenhouse, berries and fruits, whizzed into jams and stacked in tall cupboards. We ate seasonally and preserved what we could, sharing recipes of new trends for pickles. Potatoes and apples were stored in basements to last till next season. My grandad hunted wild boar, ducks, deer and rabbits, we kept chickens, and dairy cows. Every weekend visit from city to the farm consisted of stocking up on milk, cream, eggs, homemade butter and cottage cheese. Even flour we got from grains grown in our fields that we’d take to the local mill. Supermarkets were fully stocked and functioning, but we did not rely on them. In fact, we chose to upkeep the tradition to produce most of our own food to cut down costs and access great quality, nutritious, chemical-free food.
I do feel nostalgic about it, but it was never utopian romanticism- it was just our life. Most people lived like this. Even those with little flats, boxed up in the city still had some access to allotments or a relative, a friend in the country. Here in London, I still get to be part of wonderful community gardens and grow my own food, but the culture of food-growing here is recovering after a long winter. Should we have turned our backs to that and spent more money in supermarkets, owned by a few, rather than maintain access to our own food or support our neighbours? Food was something we shared and connected through, if a guest came by, you’d always offer them milk or fruit to take home – we had an abundance.
And nature is abundant. It is our farming techniques: monoculture and pesticide addiction, that drain the land of its abundant fertility and potential for growth. No biodiverse garden, integrated to the local ecosystem, could compromise the future of food. Diversity of soil organisms, wildlife and agricultural crop species improves food security. The idea Louise O Fresco raises in her article, where she denounces local and organic as backwards, romanticised and inefficient, means placing self-sufficiency and quality food, produced by small businesses at odds with sustainability. Does this idea hold water or is that led by a traditional mindset of modernity where progress, control and efficiency brought about through technological advance is all? Let’s allow people to learn to be more self-sufficient and not overly rely on just one type or source of food.
Technology and nature can work in tandem and I strongly believe such systems as aquaponics are a wonderful option for growing in extreme and damaged conditions, to increase access to fresh food, reducing food miles. For example, building hydroponic greenhouses on city rooftops, underground, in extremely polluted, cold or hot environments, or where soil is either toxic or completely desertified. That’s a brilliant thing to do. But it is not and can not be the only way for future of our food production. We need to be mindful about why and how we apply technological advance, and not to forget and reject the natural world.
We need to put just as much effort into biodiverse, regenerativegrowing methods. We need these small-scale organic growers who can recover the soil, bring back wildlife and produce high yields of food that’s local, fresh and nutritious. Also, local and organic does not by definition exclude the use of technology and science, but it doesn’t need to do all the work. Whilst increasing yields and production is valuable, we need not get lost in the race for efficiency. We produce plenty of food, enough to feed the world, it is our distribution systems and food waste that are the real issue.
Your body is designed to move and deserves to benefit from good quality, nutritious food. Growing food is one of the most basic skills people have nurtured throughout history, it only takes trying. Gardens are food for body, as well as mind and soul. And they take a bit of time, just as anything in life, but believe us, those who take it on, it’s time well spent. Besides, since when is it a silly thing to enjoy the romance of how a garden grows? They say you cannot teach gardening at a philosophy class, but you can teach philosophy when at a garden.
If you can choose to spend more time outdoors, using the greatest and most advanced tool that your body is, to grow your own food, or support those who do, then by all means, please do go ahead!