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Archive for the ‘Lectures & Talks’ Category

City Farmers and Locavores: Free Food in the City

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This was a Jane’s Walk I attended called City Farmers and Locavores: Free Food in the City.

The premise of the walk was to visit a number of local-urban venues rich in urban-agricultural potential, and learn about their roles in supporting neighborhood nutrition.  The walk was concentrated primarily along Queen Street West, starting from Trinity Bellwoods Park and concluding at the The Drake Hotel.  Sarah Elton (Locavore) and Lorraine Johnson (Author) lead the tour with really great information about specific urban-agricultural topics at each of the 5-stops along the walk.

Meeting at Trinity Bellwoods Park Gate

Walk Leaders: Sarah Elton (Left) and Lorraine Johnson (Right)

Our first stop was in Trinity Bellwoods Park, at a native Carolinian tree with edible pink blossoms!  Both Sarah and Lorraine described how edible blossoms comprised a small source of Urban Foraging, which could include collecting from city owned fruit, nut, berry and weed plants. Lorraine described how you could use the flower blossoms in salads, and recently I discovered a whole set of recipes for flowers, which makes me wish I had actually tried a few blossoms before our next stop (I felt a little bad though watching all of the walkers suddenly attack the tree and eat a whole bunch of the blossoms).

Lorraine explains how you can eat the blossoms right off the tree!

Once told the blossoms are edible...the tree was attacked!

Our second stop, still in the park, was the Trinity Bellwoods Greenhouse.   Here Lorraine and Sarah described how community Greenhouses offer a real advantage for city-dwellers who may not have access to a backyard, or even sunny window ledge to grow some of their own small plants or herbs.  The Greenhouse is fully functional in the winter, with a small heater and water tap.  A “walker” described how someone in the city was developing a travelling Greenhouse, and how it would move between neighborhoods distributing veggies and serving as a moving classroom for people.  Sarah described how farmers in Maine (mostly lead by the pioneering of Eliot Coleman) are developing the Four Season Farm, which is a system of placing a greenhouse type addition onto existing agricultural fields to make them perform all-year round.  These four-season farms sound kind of like field prosthetics! (I hope to find out more about them, and include them in the Agri-Tech Catalog soon).

Lorraine describes how the Greenhouse works all year round.

You can see the heater and water hose for 4-season growing capacity.

Our third stop was at a plot of (what seemed) un-kept greenery at the intersection of Queen Street West and Crawford Street.  In fact we learned that it was a an area dedicated to growing native grasses.  In fact along any boulevard (according to Lorraine and Sarah) you are allowed to grow any kind of grass species, whether it be the traditional lawn grass or productive crop-grasses!

Here you can see the local edible tall-grasses

Our forth stop was up along Shaw Street (close to Queen Street West).  Here we learned about the Kentucky Coffee Tree and how it is actually quite a rare tree in Ontario. The tree has some of the longest leaves of all Ontario trees and produces a type of legume which could be used as a coffee substitute, but also how it can be poisonous.  As an original native tree to Virginia, it was described how Kentucky Coffee seeds were used as gambling chips during the time of Canada’s discovery by European settlers, by both aboriginals and Europeans alike.  The seeds traveled as bargaining chips (and planting seeds) up along the Mississippi until they reached Southern Ontario.

Lorraine describes the story of the Kentucky Coffee Tree.

Our final stop was at the back of the Drake Hotel, where Sarah and Lorraine described that one of the best fronts in promoting local foods is through restaurants and their chefs.  “It is hard to convince 300 people to eat local for dinner, but it is easy to have 1 chef use local foods for his restaurant of 300 people at dinner”.  And we learned how the chefs at the Drake are using a small garden plot at the back of their property for growing herbs and spices.

The Drake Hotel's back-lot garden. Didn't know you'd be eating a posh culinary dish and supporting local food did you?

Overall, the walk was a lot of fun, and it opened up quite a few new research topics in local farming and food resources.  A map of the walk route is linked below.

Written by Matthew

May 8, 2010 at 20:35

Accumulation Crisis as Ecological Crisis: The End of Cheap Food, Cheap Energy, and Cheap Labor

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This was a talk I attended at the Munk Centre For International Studies at Trinity College (University of Toronto-Mar.19.2010), as part of their 2010 CIS Development Seminar Series.  The speaker, Jason W. Moore is a historian (Department of Historical Studies, Umeå University in Sweden) studying “…the relations between economic, ecological, and social change in the modern world-economy, from its origins in the long 16th century.” The discussion was based on his The Monthly Review paper.

Does the present socio-ecological impasse – captured in popular discussions as the ‘end’ of cheap food and cheap oil – represent the latest in a long history of limits and crises that have been transcended by capital, or have we arrived at an epochal turning point in the relation of capital, capitalism, and agricultural revolution? [source]

Moore first outlined the world currently organized under a capitalist world-ecology, which is fundamentally a socio-ecology or a way of knitting humans and their activities with each other and the world.  The predominant contemporary ecology has been capitalism, and operates by removing social/political constraints for the accumulation of capital.  Capitalism has developed various faces over time and today we recognize it strongly as neoliberalism.

However, unlike other previous modes of capitalism, neoliberalism is failing its predecessors.  Neoliberalism’s notorious resource/territory hoarding tactics are a sign of technological stagnation, which has traditionally been the instrumental tool to advance capitalist endeavors.  While innovation is occurring there are no major technological revolutions that promise a progressive future together with capitalism. Further, there is no one more telling system (and symptom) of capitalism’s agency than agriculture; more specifically the production of food.

For the better part of six centuries, the relation between world capitalism and agriculture has been a remarkable one. Every great wave of capitalist development, it seems, has been paved with ‘cheap’ food. Beginning in the long sixteenth century, capitalist agencies pioneered successive agricultural revolutions, yielding a series of extraordinary expansions of the food surplus. [source]

Previous advances in agriculture have moved the world into a Marxian “overproduction” organization where our machines and food processing systems have become larger than the inflow of raw resources can feed!  These advances included labor reducing technology and land productivity increases. Traditionally this accumulation has lead to lower food prices and thus lower wages, further propagating proletarianism and allowing for reallocation of capital accumulation.   Yet, today we are in a precarious position of diminishing returns.  2008 marked the “signal crisis” for neoliberalism (according to Moore), where the trend of lower food prices from the ’70s suddenly stopped and began a sharp incline.

In this wake of diminished returns there are three major obstructions to continue capitalism’s traditional trajectory of agri-abundance and capital reallocation. The first is the lack of farmable land; expanded agri-potential frontiers has left all but sub-Saharan Africa unexploited.  Even if global agriculture tapped into Africa it is projected to only solve a fraction of the world’s food allocation-hunger crisis. The second is the lack of technology; biotech has been around for a little over three decades and yet has not been able to fundamentally increase a crop-yield! Protection and pest/weed resistance is the most biotech companies are admitting to offer. Further, today’s GM companies and farmers are dealing with the ‘superweed’ effect of resistant natural weed mutations that grow faster than science can address them. The third is capital; the world has just economically collapsed and while recovery packages leave the world in limbo about the future, very little money may be left to pioneer new state-headed capitalist agri-enterprises.

…So where does this leave us?  According to Jason, capitalism may have too many current obstructions to be effective in continuing its world-ecology.  Perhaps it becomes a question of rethinking capitalism as our very engine for organization and development. Further, if we are approaching a global food crisis it is going to have to be addressed not in the poor countries who do not have capital to reallocate, but by reorganizing the money in the heartland of our current hegemonic powers.  Thus, the United States is a prime candidate for this reorganization.

Can we think of post-capitalist agriculture? What new technologies become more effective in a world without capital accumulation and the production of cheap food? Will agriculture further expand it’s spectrum of resource potential under new organization? Is it time to rethink the farm?

Written by Matthew

April 7, 2010 at 16:32