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Radishes in Suburbia: Documenting Urban Growth and the End of a Family Farm

Threatened by sprawl, a fourth-generation family farmer documents his doomed way of life with time-lapse video.


When Matthew Moore returned to his family's 1,000-acre carrot farm outside Phoenix in 2003, he was struck by how much the landscape had changed. During the seven years the 35 year-old spent studying sculpture in San Francisco, the city had expanded into the surrounding land. What was once a 30-minute drive into civilization was now a stroll across the road. A new Target big-box store broke ground nearby and a Wal-Mart is close behind.

Few cities epitomize suburban sprawl in the United States like Phoenix, Arizona. Over the last half century, the city has become the nation’s 6th largest metropolitan area, and with more than 4.1 million people, was one of the fastest growing until the housing collapse took some the wind from its sails.


Urban development nationwide has swallowed more than 23 million acres of agricultural land in the last quarter century. As a fourth-generation Arizona farmer, Matthew Moore is not the first to face the reality that one day soon, his family's property will be completely engulfed by urban development.

In 2007, the city of Surprise, Arizona, released development projections for the area surrounding Moore's farm. By 2030, his stretch of farmland is forecast to consist almost exclusively of mixed-use and medium density residential plots. Moore says he gets daily calls from speculators looking to snap up the property while the market is soft. "Every forecaster around here predicts that in 5 years, the market will be back," he says. "It's only a matter of time before we're zoned out of existence."


In order to save his family's farming legacy, if not the farm itself, Moore set about documenting everything his farm produces. He set up solar-powered time-lapse cameras paired with weather-tracking systems, covering the entire growing period of his crops. He collected his compendium of short films into a project called Lifecycles.

Fittingly, Lifecycles had its feature debut in a supermarket. With support from the Sundance Institute’s New Frontier Program, Moore set up monitors above the produce section of a Fresh Market grocery store in Park City, Utah. He let the footage run on a loop for 10 days during the 2010 Sundance Film Festival.

While delicate growing patterns of squash, radishes, and broccoli unfolded on-screen, customers were invited to take a moment to reflect on the effort it takes to produce the surfeit of food to which Americans are accustomed.


Moore says he'd like to expand Lifecycles to stores around the country to spark a nationwide debate about farm policy. "I can get a raging conservative and an organic activist to shut up and watch transfixed for three minutes," he says. "In the process, I can gently wipe their minds clean for a minute."

The developer and the activist might take different cues from Lifecycles but Moore says if he can get people to more fully consider where their food comes from, that's a start. "The plain basics are gone from the debate." he says. "How is it revolutionary that people are just now re-learning where food comes from?"

Moore says he packs around 110,000 pounds of carrots a day, yet he's never seen his produce in his area's supermarkets. "It's much like the art market," he said. "I don't know the buyers and the brokers don't tell me." His organic CSA is small but growing and he says his customers seem to take comfort in the personal connection. "The food tastes better because they know me," he says.

[vimeo][/vimeo]

With the initial success of Lifecycles in January, Moore launched a larger, more ambitious expansion of the project called the Digital Farm Collective. The idea would be to replicate his time-lapse cameras and weather stations at farms around the country, to record the particular regional varieties and inherited wisdom of independent farmers.

Moore hopes the eventual online omnibus could simultaneously educate consumers about the ecosystem of food plants while also giving producers access to the collective expertise of aging farmers.

He's looking for start-up capital through the online crowd-sourcing site United States Artists, and he's recruited a pair of farmers in California and Kentucky into his first class of contributors for this summer. Moore hopes to have recording equipment in the hands of six more farmers—including at least two in Arizona—by the end of 2011, as the next stage of his project's world-wide expansion.

"I sometimes daydream that this project will one day find its way to some farmer in Peru," Moore says. "That would go a long way towards re-centering the conversation."

You can watch more of Moore's timelapse videos, including crookneck squash, broccoli, and kale, online here, and if you like what you see, you have until April 29 to help support his Digital Farm Collective. Stay tuned for Part 2 of this story later this spring as we report back on Moore's progress.

All images courtesy Matthew Moore.

Articles

The healthcare systems in the United States and the United Kingdom couldn't be more different.

The UK's National Health Service is the largest government-run healthcare system in the world and the US's is largest private sector system.

Almost all essential health services in the UK are free, whereas in America cost can vary wildly based on insurance, co pays and what the hospitals and physicians choose to charge.

A medical bill in the US

One of the largest differences is cost. The average person in the UK spends £2,989 ($3915) per year on healthcare (most of which is collected through taxes), whereas the average American spends around $10,739 a year.

So Americans should obviously be getting better care, right? Well, the average life expectancy in the UK is higher and infant mortality rate is lower than that in the US.

RELATED: The World Health Organization declares war on the out of control price of insulin

Plus, in the U.S., only 84% of people are covered by private insurance, Medicare or Medicaid. Sixteen percent of the population are forced to pay out of pocket.

In the UK, everyone is covered unless they are visiting the country or an undocumented resident.

Prescription drugs can cost Americans an arm and a leg, but in the UK, prescriptions or either free or capped at £8.60 ($11.27).

via Wikimedia Commons

The one drawback to the NHS system is responsiveness. In the UK people tend to wait longer for inessential surgeries, doctor's appointments, and in emergency rooms. Whereas, the US is ranked as the most responsive country in the world.

RELATED: Alarmingly high insulin prices are forcing Americans to flock to Canada to buy the drug

The New York Times printed a fair evaluation of the UK's system:

The service is known for its simplicity: It is free at the point of use to anyone who needs it. Paperwork is minimal, and most patients never see a bill. … No one needs to delay medical treatment until he or she can afford it, and virtually everyone is covered. …

According to data from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the United States spent 17.2 percent of its economic output on health care in 2016, compared with 9.7 percent in Britain. Yet Britain has a higher life expectancy at birth and lower infant mortality.

Citizens in each country have an interesting perspective on each other's healthcare systems. UK citizens think it's inhumane for Americans have to pay through the nose when they're sick or injured. While Americans are skeptical of socialist medicine.

A reporter from Politics Joe hit the streets of London and asked everyday people what they think Americans pay for healthcare and they were completely shocked.

Health

Bans on plastic bags and straws can only go so far. Using disposable products, like grabbing a plastic fork when you're on the go, can be incredibly convenient. But these items also contribute to our growing plastic problem.

Fortunately, you can cut down on the amount of waste you produce by cutting down on disposable products. And even more fortunately, there are sustainable (and cute) replacements that won't damage the environment.

Coconut bowls


Cocostation

Who says sustainable can't also be stylish? These cute coconut bowls were handmade using reclaimed coconuts, making each piece one of a kind. Not only are they organic and biodegradable, but they're also durable, in case your dinner parties tend to get out of hand. The matching ebony wood spoons were polished with the same coconut oil as the bowls.

Cocostation Set of 2 Vietnamese Coconut Bowls and Spoons, $14.99; at Amazon

Solar powered phone charger

Dizaul

Why spend time looking around for an outlet when you can just harness the power of the sun? This solar powered phone charger will make sure your phone never dies as long as you can bask in the sun's rays. As an added bonus, this charger was made using eco-friendly silicone rubber. It's win-win all around.

Dizaul Solar Charger, 5000mAh Portable Solar Power Bank, $19.95; at Amazon, $19.95; at Amazon

Herb garden kit

Planter Pro

Put some green in your life with this herb planter. The kit comes with everything you need to get a garden growing, including a moisture meter that helps you determine if your herbs are getting the right amount of food to flourish. All the seeds included are certified to be non-GMO and non-hybrids, meaning you can have fresh, organic herbs right at your fingertips.

Planter Pro's Herb Garden Cedar Planter, $39.00; at Amazonedar Planter, $39.00; at Amazon

Reusable Keurig cups

K & J

Keurig cups are convenient, but they also create a ton of plastic waste. These Keurig-compatible plastic cups are an easy way to cut down on the amount of trash you create without cutting down on your caffeine. Additionally, you won't have to keep on buying K Cups, which means you'll be saving money and the environment.

K&J Reusable Filter Cups, $8.95 for a set of 4,; at Amazon

Low-flow shower head

Speakman

Low-flow water fixtures can cut down your water consumption, which saves you money while also saving one of the Earth's resources. This shower head was designed with a lighter flow in mind, which means you'll be able to cut down on water usage without feeling like you're cutting down on your shower.

Speakman Low Flow Shower Head, $14.58; at Amazon

Bamboo safety razor

Zomchi

Instead of throwing away a disposable razor every time you shave, invest in an eco-friendly, reusable one. This unisex shaver isn't just sustainable, it's also sharp-looking, which means it would make a great gift for the holidays.

Zomchi Safety Razor, $16.99; at Amazon

The Planet
Instagram / Leonardo DiCaprio

This August, the world watched as the Amazon burned. There were 30,901 individual fires that lapped at the largest rainforest in the world. While fires can occur in the dry season due to natural factors, like lightning strikes, it is believed that the widespread fires were started by loggers and farmers to clear land. Brazil's president, Jair Bolsonaro, cites a different cause: the actor Leonardo DiCaprio.

DiCaprio wasn't accused of hanging out in the rainforest with a box of matches, however President Bolsonaro did accuse the actor of funding nonprofit organizations that allegedly set fires to raise donations.

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The Planet