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How You Can Start a Farm in Heart of the City

Sick of flavorless, genetically modified, pesticide-drenched frankenvegetables? It's time to start growing food in your back yard.

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Large agribusiness concerns offer us flavorless, genetically modified, irradiated, pesticide-drenched frankenvegetables. They are grown in such poor soil -- the result of short-sighted profit-based agricultural practices -- that they actually contain fewer nutrients than food grown in healthy soil. Our packaged foods are nutritionally bankrupt, and our livestock is raised in squalid conditions. The fact is that we live in an appalling time when it comes to food. True, we have a great abundance of inexpensive food in supermarkets, but the disturbing truth is that in terms of flavor, quality and nutrition, our greatgrandparents ate better than we do.

There is a hidden cost behind our increasingly costly supermarket food. The French have a term, malbouffe, referring to junk food, but with broader, more sinister implications. Radical farmer José Bové, who was imprisoned for dismantling a McDonald's restaurant, explains the concept of malbouffe:

I initially used the word 'shit-food', but quickly changed it to malbouffe  to avoid giving offense. The word just clicked -- perhaps because when  you're dealing with food, quite apart from any health concerns, you're also  dealing with taste and what we feed ourselves with. Malbouffe implies  eating any old thing, prepared in any old way. For me, the term means  both the standardization of food like McDonald's -- the same taste from  one end of the world to the other -- and the choice of food associated with the use of hormones and Genetically Modified Organisms as well as the  residues of pesticides and other things that can endanger health. -- The World is Not for Sale by José Bové and Franois Dufour

So what are the strategies urban homesteaders can follow to avoid malbouffe? Farmers' markets, co-ops and natural food stores serve as good supplements to the urban homestead, but we've found that growing our own food, even just a little of it, rather than buying it, not only results in better quality food, it has changed our fundamental relationship to food and to the act of eating itself. Now, now not only do we know our crops are free of pesticides and GMOs but we discovered an entirely new world of taste and flavor that big agribusiness had stolen away from us. Growing your own food is an act of resistance. We can all join with José Bové in dismantling the corporations that feed us shit.

We've also shifted from being consumers to being producers. Sure we still buy stuff. Olive oil. Parmigiano reggiano. Wine. Flour. Chocolate. And we're no strangers to consumer culture, not above experiencing a little shiver of desire when walking into an Apple computer store. But still, we do not accept that spending is our only form of power. There is more power in creating than in spending. We are producers, neighbors, and friends. Think you don't have enough land to grow your food?

Change the way you see land.

Before you start thinking that you have to move somewhere else to grow your own food, take another look around. With a couple of notable exceptions, American cities sprawl. They are full of wasted space. As a homesteader, you will begin to see any open space as a place to grow food. This includes front yards as well as backyards, vacant lots, parkways, alleyways, patios, balconies, window boxes, fire escapes and rooftops. Once you break out of the mental box that makes you imagine a vegetable garden as a fenced-off parcel of land with a scarecrow in it, you'll start to see the possibilities. Think jungle, not prairie. The truth is that you can grow a hell of a lot of food on a small amount of real estate. You can grow food whether you're in an apartment or a house, whether you rent or own.

 
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