Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Get Ourselves Back To The Garden

I've noticed a few universities and colleges are going green. I mean in big way. They are offering full programs to learn how to go green and horticultural classes that focus on sustainable farming and forestry.

It makes a lot of sense. Our future here on earth depends on it. But why wait for someone else to grow our food? If you stop and think about it we as urban dwellers have absolutely no control over our food source. We blissfully go to the grocery store and pick up what we need. But what if there wasn't anything there? We take for granted that the farmers are growing our food, the truckers are hauling it to the stores, and the stores are monitoring its quality. There are a number of scenarios that could prevent any one of these things from happening.

Water. Fresh water sources are gradually, and in some cases rapidly, drying up. The underground water aquifers across the mid western United States are dropping in volume and not being replenished(apparently there is no mechanism for this to happen). The mighty Colorado river that feeds the south western states is in danger of becoming a mere trickle because of the mountain glaciers that feed it are shrinking.

In China, the Yangtze river in some years doesn't make it the sea. Vast agricultural areas around the world that rely on glacial melt or underground aquifers are in real danger of drying up. The reason for all of this is complex. It involves several factors such as atmospheric warm- ing, farming mechanization, and just plain waste. When was the last time you hosed off your driveway?

Fresh water doesn't just come from rain. Though it supplies our vegetation with immediate moisture, there has to be a source to get it through the dry periods. This means reservoirs, streams, rivers, and lakes. The primary volume of water for rivers comes from ice melt, not rain. The Red river in Manitoba, North Dakota floods each year due to river ice melting suddenly in the spring. The ice acts as a storage medium for water(just like icebergs in the arctic) during the winter and becomes a huge volume of water when it quickly melts and usually floods the land on either side as it flows south.
If only there was a way to redirect that excess volume of water into the underground aquifers or reservoirs?

So on the flip side of the coin for farmers dealing with a lack of water, sometimes there is too much.

Fuel. What if, and this is not so much if but when, there is a fuel shortage unlike anything we have ever seen before? Would there still be trucks hauling food to market? At what cost?

Power. California is currently experiencing a power shortage. It has to import power from other states and Canada. This could happen anywhere as the debate over how to best generate power goes on. Alternative sources aren't able to produce enough to relieve the hydro dams, nuclear plants, or coal plants of their duties just yet. As we become more technologically advanced our power consumption goes up. Grocery stores require a lot of power to store, display, and restock the shelves. Air conditioning may be the first thing to go if power becomes too expensive. Think about that in August in Austin.I think the alternative sources of power will eventually come along, but there will be a long period of adjustment as the global crisis sorts itself out.

In the meantime, we should be thinking about sourcing our own food. Many people have a few square feet of ground in which to grow some vegetables. Inner city dwellers turn to communal gardens where they share a plot of land. In the city of Vancouver(Canada) developers of new apartment high rises are encouraged by city council to include rooftop gardens. This not only helps provide oxygen but in some buildings is part of the heating and cooling system. Heavy rain fall is absorbed and released slowly. The city is also considering allowing vancouverites to raise chickens. Why not? It's been done elsewhere for as long as cities have existed.

I live in a townhouse with a few square feet of ground that we(mainly my wife) grows herbs and vegetables. I used to enjoy gardening when I was a kid. We lived in the country and I was closer to nature. But as a fully cityized person I've lost the nurturing instinct. I've gotten lazy because it's so easy to hop in my car and go the store for food. Damn me! But I'm telling you, me and you, that we need to get back to the garden....before it's too late.

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