Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Self-Sufficiency Rag

"So no, Growing Power isn’t self-sufficient. But neither is industrial agriculture, which relies on price supports and government subsidies. Moreover, industrial farming incurs costs that are paid by society as a whole: the health costs of eating highly processed foods, for example, or water pollution. Nor can Growing Power be compared to other small farms, because it provides so many intangible social benefits to those it reaches.'

Elizabeth Royte, "Street Farmer," The New York Times Magazine, July 1, 2009.

That's the rub. So, what are the financial benchmarks for urban agriculture? How much subsidy is needed for start-up and ongoing operations? Are we sure of the social benefits from small operations? Aren't these always present, to varying degrees, from nonprofit enterprises -- less crime, more education, better health, etc?

Is a comparison with farm subsidies for corn and soybeans the right frame for urban agriculture? Aren't these subsidies part of the problem --- ensuring that we have the wrong crops and nutrients and too little food as Michael Pollan argues in In Defense of Food.

Will Allen and Growing Power represent the best of urban ag -- a curious farmer inventor committed to social justice and good food. Let's hope the acclaim and the allures of replication don't undermine this wonderful example.

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