All photos: Yiran Wang
Last week I went back home to Beijing to visit my parents. To my surprise, I came home to discover they’ve become obsessed with a new hobby: urban agriculture. Yes, they’re farming, renting a piece of farm land with a couple of friends. Together, they’ve laid out vegetable plots to tend. They’re already on their second round of harvesting!
“Escape the cities, harvest the days,” said my father.
They’ve come to enjoy the labor, tying up luffa stems and watering their pepper plants, even though they need to drive almost an hour every other day to get out of the huge city.
“It is a trend! You know our friend…she and her family spent millions and bought a big house on the perimeter of the city so that they could farm their own land!” explained my mom, trying to convince me they were not alone in this unexpected urge to grow things.
A day’s harvest from my parents’ garden.
To show them my support I told my parents that landscape architects are vocal proponents of community gardens, edible gardens, and other outdoor spaces set aside to allow plants to grow.
“Those ‘modernized’ Americans like artisan farming?!” exclaimed my dad, doubtful about the idea of affluent and modern Americans returning to the land.
But whatever thoughts he had about this idea of rural pursuits was soon eclipsed by his desire to disappear back into the “jungle” of their garden. Soon, I could only hear his voice from somewhere behind a curtain of cucumbers plants.
“This cures the ‘urban disease’!”
Photo: Linda Daley
The sustainability trend has spawned local production and do-it-yourself initiatives encouraging low-impact lifestyles and supporting local economies. We seem to have taken a step back in time with the rise of backyard chicken farmers, urban agriculture, and home-made products of everything from cheese to pickles. In certain areas, you can now even rent goats to mow your lawn!
Individuals’ interest in harvesting honey from their own beehives has been mainstream in the U.S. for some time. American beekeepers were the ones who first noticed a decline in honey bee populations. News about Colony Collapse Disorder seem to be everywhere these days. Why should this matter to us? Bees and other pollinating insects, such as Monarch butterflies, play an important role in ecosystems. We would not have food and flora without them.
Most of the attention is focused on the European honey bee species, Apis mellifera, and the impact of neonicotinoid – an insecticide – on bee health and their life cycle. Neonicotinoid is widely used in U.S. agriculture. However multiple factors such as chemical treatments, parasites, and crop monocultures are also contributing to the decline of all bee species, not just honey bees, and other pollinators.
We can do something to help encourage pollinator abundance. The U.S. Fish and Game Wildlife Service and the Pollinator Partnership, a non-profit with a mission to protect the health of bees, provides information and resources on the subject. If you are afraid of bees, these facts may take the sting out of your fear. Honeybee pollination alone adds more than $14 billion in value to U.S. crop production and some crops are 90% dependent on honey bee pollination.
It must be the season, but lately I’ve been drawn to fruits and vegetables, alongside topics surrounding sustainable food systems and eating healthy. Although I like the idea of growing my own food in my garden, my success has been limited to herbs, which is okay with me since herb gardening fits my schedule. Growing something is better than doing nothing at all. With water, energy, and waste reduction prevalent in discussions everywhere, I am transitioning to a more sustainable lifestyle by making changes in the way I have been doing things. I admit, however, that growing a crop in my garden is not one of the changes I see in my future.
Farmer’s Market photos: Linda Daley
Food is a leisure activity for me. On Sundays, I like going to the farmer’s market and taking part in my community’s weekly ritual of socializing while shopping. Instead of driving there, I walk. I get some exercise, chat with some neighbors, and bring home the seasonal bounties offered by our local farmers. It’s a pretty enjoyable way of spending a Sunday morning.
Baby steps. “Going green” does not have to be such a daunting transition.