One of the key problems for urbanites who want to grow food is access to land. Some people simply don’t have land; others have land that isn’t usable, due to soil toxicity or excessive shade. I recently had dinner with an apartment dwelling woman, Elena, from Kazakhstan, who mentioned that her downstairs neighbor shares food that she grows on her dacha. I always thought a dacha was something just for the wealthy and powerful, that is, that they were large estates or second homes few could afford. But, Elena told me that it was very common for people in Kazakhstan to have dachas, small plots just outside of cities, often with a small hut or cottage to spend the night. Since Elena had told me that most people in Kazakhstan don’t have cars, I asked how her neighbor got to her dacha. She rides the bus. (more…)

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[WARNING: Long post. It’s long because it’s important. The myths surrounding industrial agriculture’s “cheap food” are widespread, and this post addresses those myths by responding to a “cheap food” blog post at Freakonomics.]

Stephen Dubner, co-author of the book Freakonomics, recently wrote in his blog about trying to make orange sherbet with his children (Do We Really Need a Few Billion Locavores?). Apparently, he wasn’t very good at it, spending far more than is reasonable for ingredients and making a product that wasn’t very good. This isn’t surprising, of course, for a first effort. What is surprising is that he used his first-time-effort failure to introduce an argument that eating locally produced food is inefficient due to lack of scale and specialization. In the process he exhibits an appalling ignorance of the locavore (local food) movement and industrial agriculture, plus he makes egregious rhetorical leaps. Let’s take a look. (more…)