Taking Back the Food System: Three Practical Steps

From displacing indigenous tribes in Indonesia to uprooting family farms in the U.S., the world’s agriculture giants have given us plenty of reasons to be indignant. Our food supply is literally controlled by a handful of multinational companies–ten corporations produce half the food in an average grocery store, and four companies are responsible for 90 percent of the global grain trade. Meanwhile, over 90 percent of America’s soybean seeds and 90 percent of our corn seeds are patented by Monsanto.

This is a problem because, to put it mildly, corporations like Monsanto and Cargill do not have our best interests at heart (or anywhere else). Under the industrial food system, profits are king, sustainability is a joke, and world hunger is still an unsolved problem.

Of course, it’s easy to talk about how the system is broken. The harder question is, how do we fix it? There’s no simple answer, but here are a few real-life ideas for bringing food back to the grassroots.

1. Grow at home. Big Agribusiness has power because we depend on it for our sustenance. That means the simplest way to break free is to declare gastronomic independence. In other words, grow your own food! How much space to you need? Not as much as you might think. In fact, you can even grow a variety of vegetables on a fire escape. How’s that for thinking outside the picket fence?

Better yet, work with your neighbors to organize a community garden. In both urban and suburban areas, shared gardens revitalize a community by giving people access to fresh, healthy food. The American Community Garden Association has some resources to get you started.

2. Buy local. Let’s face it: No matter how innovative you get with space and schedule, there are limits to what you can produce yourself. Maybe you don’t have the space for melons, or perhaps you’re not ready for backyard chickens. In that case, take your shopping list to your local farmers’ market. With over 5,000 markets nationwide, chances are there’s one near you. (Find one on Local Harvest.) Many markets aren’t limited to vegetables: You can find eggs, cheese, canned goods, and even meat. You might pay a few cents more, but the money goes straight to independent growers, not faceless corporations.

You might also want to look into community shared agriculture (CSA). CSA farms deliver fresh produce every week during the growing season, in return for a subscription fee. Again, Local Harvest is a great place to start looking.

3. Join the guerrilla gardening movement. If your tastes are more radical (pun intended), you might want to check out guerrilla gardening. This is the charmingly subversive tactic of planting flowers and vegetables in disused urban spaces, like empty lots and highway medians–a way of “taking back the land.” The result? Greener cities, more abundant food, and a thought-provoking message. Although often illegal, guerrilla gardening has fascinating potential to renew cities. And, at the very least, it gets people’s attention.

Bonus: Add your voice. How do you think we can improve the food system? What steps can we take to implement our vision? Join the conversation, online and in real life–after all, you are part of the grassroots.

You can share your ideas in the comments below.


Greenaid turns vintage gumball machines into seedbomb dispensers

Urban eco designers create new tool for guerilla gardening

File this one under “random but brilliant.” Commonstudio, an emerging design practice and consultancy, has begun distributing gumball dispensers converted to hold seedbombs.

If you’re new to the idea of seedbombing, here’s some background. You’ve seen those “gray” spaces in cities — empty lots where buildings were torn down and derelict parking spaces, for example. With cash-starved governments unable to revitalize abandoned areas, an increasing number of green thinkers are taking matters into their own hands, discreetly planting flowers on unused land.

Seedbombs, an essential part of the guerilla gardener’s arsenal, are nothing more than clay, compost, and seeds. Slingshot them onto an empty lot, wait for them to break down, and watch the plants retake a forgotten urban void.

Here’s how Greenaid will help:

You can purchase or rent a machine (or two, or ten…) directly from us and we will develop a seed mix as well as a strategic neighborhood intervention plan in response to the unique ecologies of your area. You then simply place the machine at your local bar, business, school, park, or anywhere that you think it can have the most impact. We will then supply you with all the seedbombs you need to support the continued success of the initiative.

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Can’t find a Greenaid dispenser near you? Don’t despair! Just follow these steps to make your own seedbombs. You only need clay, water, compost, and (of course) seeds to get started with greening the gray space in your community.