I began as an urban gardener. Urban farming is imperative to cities, and I had thought my husband and I would eventually be urban farmers—but alas, that is not where life has taken us, and we currently rent land in a halfway suburb, one that straddles concrete city and corn-strewn country.
That said, I sometimes miss our city lives. I miss living in Chicago, that frothy latte of a city filled with culture, art, music, bars sticky with beer, and endless people-watching. But one thing is certain in Chicago, as in most any city I've been to: It could use more green space, more food security, and just plain more plant life.
If it hasn't been made abundantly clear reading my other posts, plants make me happy, especially in a highly urbanized area. Amidst a sea of concrete, a garden can be a tiny oasis. Heck, one flower poking out beside a brick building is enough to make me skip. (Well, skip in my mind, at least.) Urban and guerrilla gardens are a way to enliven the self, increase food security, and make the world just a little better.
With that last line, I can feel eyes rolling, including my own. "Oh please," the cynical, angry me says, "a garden? A little food plot? Oh WOW. Great, climate change is going to reverse the minute you plant those salad greens!". It is also true that, depending on what part of the city you live in, making a garden or dusting seed packets into the ground may not be the first order of business. This is where ecofeminism needs a more unflinching, critical eye. A low-income Chicago neighborhood may need to first shut down a chemical factory spewing plumes of smoke into the atmosphere before its residents can grow carrots in an earthbox. Ecofeminism is complex and could benefit from more criticism—often, white, privileged ecofeminist priorities are not not the same as low-income ecofeminist priorities, or the priorities of ecofeminists of color.
That said, gardens/growing plants are essential to the permacuture principle I think of constantly: re-forest the earth. There are times when I get pretty bogged down thinking about everything that needs fixing in the world, environmental or not. I'll hang my clothes to dry on a rope I hung up, I'll toss food scraps in our compost pile outside (one that I have made without our landlord's permission), and think to myself: What's the point? Our neighbor downstairs is throwing heaps of electronic equipment into our dumpster. Does my pithy little compost pile really matter?
Truth be told, I think it does; if nothing else, for peace of mind. Whenever I see our landlord with a leaf-blower outside on full blast, releasing volatile emissions into the air, or spraying Round-up on the sunny dandelions or spongy purslane, it makes me want to just sigh and scrape my stir-fry into the garbage. But I can't actually do that; it just isn't me.
Our planet is in peril, you say, and all I can talk about are gardens? We do definitely need legislation on our side, which it isn't right now (and not just in terms of environmental issues). But we also need to keep on our trajectory, and, yes, garden if we can. If you or someone you know has a lawn, you can rip it out, and turn it into something edible. If there is a community garden nearby, search it for open spots. If not that, then vacant lots may be an option. (An urban farmer on the west coast found his farm by searching google maps via satellite scouring the screen for vacant lot possibilities. He farmed them until the owner noticed, who saw and decided he liked what he was doing and handed over the title.)
If you are extremely limited in space, think tight; fruit and nut trees are not only perennial (they produce every year), but also vertical. They are the high-rises of urban gardening, and can be planted guerilla-garden style in places like centers of traffic roundabouts, or the outskirts of a city park.
One of my favorite gardens to plant are gardens in parking lots. That is my pinnacle of hope, the sign that asphalt isn't winning its poisonous war. For one parking lot garden I helped build, one that was connected to a low-income school whom we had gotten permission from, we took the easiest route and built raised beds over concrete tiles to let water through.
However, what I really want to see is less pavement. As I've talked about before, cracks in sidewalks are encouraging to me: nature's knives making tiny incisions, releasing green and black blood, opening its lungs. But I want more pick-axes, more releasing of nature from prison. Everywhere, the suffocating earth needs our help. It isn't going to help climate change overnight, but small actions can be little flames. And little flames can turn into bonfires.
Here are a few inspirational texts that I will pull off the shelf every once in a while, especially when I am feeling low, and right before I collapse in a tear-soaked heap in the middle of my bed about the Earth melting (OK, I'm just being dramatic now...I mean about the crying, the Earth really is melting):
This book is amazing, and has wonderful dumpster-minded information on alternative, homemade energy projects and food ideas, most using recycled and/or junk materials. Word of warning for vegetarians: a large part of the book deals with raising micro-livestock.
Also amazing, this book is inspiring and fun to read, and lots of advice on establishing community-based food systems.
Good, practical information on planting in places you aren't "supposed" to be planting in.