GOOD

Can Urban Farms Feed the Future?

In his new book, Manny Howard unearths our cultural obsession for a gentler, less self-conscious involvement with the natural world. But it...

\n

In his new book, Manny Howard unearths our cultural obsession for a gentler, less self-conscious involvement with the natural world. But it turned out his backyard farm wasn’t quite so idyllic.

In 1921, Benton MacKaye, the man behind the Appalachian Trail, imagined dozens of interconnected cooperative farms on the fringes of the great, ever-expanding eastern megalopolis, where visitors would come to work and then settle down in the country. When homesteading guru Scott Nearing broke with the Communist Party, he headed first to rural Vermont and then to coastal Maine. Ray Mungo and Marty Jezer, student activists, dropped out of the rapidly splintering movement in the late 1960s and also moved to idyllic New England farms. What did these back-to-the-landers have in common? Urban roots.

Today, the latest and greatest concept is not going back to anything at all, but rather staying in the city, digging up your backyard, raising rabbits and chickens, and planting vegetables. One of the magpies of the current craze is the Brooklyn writer Manny Howard (now a self-proclaimed “simple farmer living in Flatbush”), who follows the agrarian impulse to its logical, all-American conclusion: relentless, enthusiastic, unyielding pursuit of a fruitful yard.

Howard began gardening in 2007, when an editor at New York magazine suggested he turn his fallow 20 foot by 40 foot backyard into a productive lot that would grow enough food to sustain him for a month—a gimmick that doubled as a test of the locavore logic. The resulting article, the basis for his new book My Empire of Dirt, questions the prospects for the future of urban agrarianism.

First, Howard digs a big drain and imports tons of soil from Long Island to cover up his barren yard. He can’t seem to track down tilapia so he doesn’t end up stocking an aquaponics tank with fish. His rabbits refuse to mate. He nearly loses his pinkie finger making a chicken coop, Howard’s marriage is showing signs of strain, and finally a freak storm—the first tornado in Brooklyn in 118 years—destroys much of his vegetable harvest. His farm’s most fruitful yields are comic disasters. Howard’s agrarian misadventures demonstrate the personal risks and rewards of work, and fortunately, when he makes mistakes, he writes about them with insight and levity.

In the end, Howard’s mistakes outnumber the successes: The short-lived experiment grows no cooking oil, few carbohydrates, and hardly enough protein for a month—let alone a year. Should this be taken as an indication of urban farming’s current ability to feed cities? Perhaps. After all, people do not live on mesclun mix and inspiration alone. And the areas of the world where people who do grow a higher percentage of food—Havana or Hanoi, Dakar or Dar es Salaam—are places where food generally gets treated as a high priority out of necessity, not as a fun project.

For now, complete urban self-reliance appears neither sensible nor feasible. But that does not mean it is not worth pursuing. City farming has the potential to create stories worth retelling (like Manny Howard’s) and create cultural awareness about food—grown on places as diverse as Growing Power, Rooftop Farms, and Alemany Farm. These places, hopefully, can reacquaint city dwellers with rabbit sex, death, and other oft-forgotten uncomfortable things that come when things grow and die in close proximity to humans. Even if they don’t spawn a new generation of farmers, or feed the city by themselves, they may make for wiser eaters.


Articles
NASA

Four black women, Engineers Christine Darden and Mary Jackson, mathematician Katherine Johnson, and computer programmer Dorothy Vaughan, worked as "human computers" at NASA during the Space Race, making space travel possible through their complex calculations. Jackson, Johnson, and Vaughn all played a vital role in helping John Glenn become the first American to orbit the Earth.

They worked behind the scenes, but now they're getting the credit they deserve as their accomplishments are brought to the forefront. Their amazing stories were detailed in the book "Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race" by Margot Lee Shetterly, which was later turned into a movie. (Darden was not featured in the movie, but was in the book). Johnson has a building at NASA named after her, and a street in front of NASA's Washington D.C. headquarters was renamed "Hidden Figures Way."

Keep Reading Show less
Science

Between Alexa, Siri, and Google, artificial intelligence is quickly changing us and the way we live. We no longer have to get up to turn on the lights or set the thermostat, we can find the fastest route to work with a click, and, most importantly, tag our friends in pictures. But interacting with the world isn't the only thing AI is making easier – now we can use it save the world, too.

Keep Reading Show less
Good News
Courtesy of John S. Hutton, MD

A report from Common Sense Media found the average child between the ages of 0 and 8 has 2 hours and 19 minutes of screen time a day, and 35% of their screen time is on a mobile device. A new study conducted by the Cincinnati Children's Hospital published in the journal, JAMA Pediatrics, found exactly what all that screen time is doing to your kid, or more specifically, your kid's developing brain. It turns out, more screen time contributes to slower brain development.

First, researchers gave the kids a test to determine how much and what kind of screen time they were getting. Were they watching fighting or educational content? Were they using it alone or with parents? Then, researchers examined the brains of children aged 3 to 5 year olds by using MRI scans. Forty seven brain-healthy children who hadn't started kindergarten yet were used for the study.

They found that kids who had more than one hour of screen time a day without parental supervision had lower levels of development in their brain's white matter, which is important when it comes to developing cognitive skills, language, and literacy.

Keep Reading Show less
Health
via KTVU / YouTube

The 63-year-old Oakland-Alameda Coliseum, currently branded the RingCentral Coliseum, is one of the most decrepit sports venues in America.

The home to the the NFL's Oakland Raiders (until they move to Las Vegas next season) and MLB's A's, is notoriously known as the Black Hole and has made headlines for its frequent flooding and sewage issues.

One of the stadium's few positive aspects is its connection to public transportation.

Keep Reading Show less
Hero Video
via Anadirc / Flickr

We spend roughly one-third of our life asleep, another third at work and the final third trying our best to have a little fun.

But is that the correct balance? Should we spend as much time at the office as we do with our friends and family? One of the greatest regrets people have on their deathbeds is that they spent too much of their time instead of enjoying quality time with friends and family.

Lawmakers in the United Kingdom have made a significant pledge to reevaluate the work-life balance in their country.

Keep Reading Show less
Lifestyle