Today, Hui is the force behind Guerrilla Grafters, a renegade band of idealistic produce lovers who attach fruit-growing branches to public trees in Bay Area cities (they are loath to specify exactly where for fear of reprisal).
Their handiwork currently is getting recognition in the 13th International Architecture Biennale in Venice, Italy, as part of the U.S. exhibit called “Spontaneous Interventions: Design Actions for the Common Good.” Closer to home, however, municipal officials have denounced the group’s efforts.
Even the urban agriculture movement is torn when it comes to the secretive splicers, outliers in a nascent push to bring orchards to America’s inner cities. While many applaud their civil disobedience, others fear a backlash against community farming efforts. And few believe their work will ever fill a fruit bowl.
Lininger calls himself a farmer, though he doesn’t ride a John Deere and never sees a sun set over the fields. Instead, he tends a succession of peewee suburban plots as if they were the sprawling ranches of the Central Valley.
“The sign of success used to be who had the best lawn,” said Lininger, 41, as he pinched the dead leaves off the plot’s lone beet. “Now, it’s all about how much food you can grow.”
Homeowners who want fresh cucumbers and heirloom tomatoes but don’t have time to grow their own hire Lininger’s company, Farmscape, to do the work for them. But don’t call him a gardener: It’s more like farming by the foot. And the 6-foot-4 ex-Marine, skinny as a snap bean, says he can barely keep up with demand.
There’s a mini-boom in such mini farms. Scores of businesses like Farmscape are sprouting up nationwide, from My Backyard Farm in San Clemente to Your Backyard Farmer in Portland, Ore., and Freelance Farmers in New Haven, Conn.
Klint Finley: What do you think the biggest/most important food security problems we have in Portland are?
Jeremy O’Leary: During the City of Portland’s Peak Oil Taskforce, we had a conversation with the management of Safeway where we learned that, for example, an apple from Hood River would be driven to LA and then back up to Portland. I think this example indicates one of the many problems with the food system. Many of the food issue we have in Portland are similar in other areas.
One of the things we have discussed in the steering committee meetings for the Multnomah Food Initiative is our area has one of the highest levels of hunger.
Which personally I’ve always found odd as we are also one of the leading cities for the local food movement. The following is from Multnomah Food Initiative:
Why a Food Initiative?
Multnomah County is at the epicenter of the local food movement. There are countless food-related, grassroots efforts being made in the community, as well as numerous projects and initiatives led by local government. The prevalence of local Farmers’ Markets and growing interest in organic gardening indicate strong community support for local food, but we must do more. To achieve a truly sustainable, healthy and equitable food system, all partners must help reach a common vision and share responsibility for the implementation of a strategic action plan.
It makes more sense than ever to implement a local food initiative. Despite the energy generated by local food in communities throughout Oregon, statistics show that our food system is broken:
Oregon is ranked second in hunger by the United States Department of Agriculture.
About 36,000 Multnomah County residents access emergency food boxes each month.
Half of all adults in Multnomah County are either overweight or obese.
Chronic diseases like type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and stroke are on the rise
Half of all Multnomah County children will be on food stamps at one point in their childhood.
Only a small percentage of the food that we consume is grown locally (estimates indicate 5-10%).
We lack a coordinated strategy to ensure the vitality of our local food system.
One thing I’ve been puzzled by is how if you don’t have food in your house for tonight, it is a social justice issue. However if you don’t have food in your house for 72 hours (standard Red Cross recommendations) it is an emergency management issue.
Just to narrow the conversation a little, as the food system is more than a little complex, just talking about organic food sold at places like People’s Coop, New Seasons, Wild Oats … the fact that stores only have a three day supply of date sensitive food is one aspect that I’m concerned about.
More broadly speaking I sometimes think that the best way to describe our food system is (mind you I have a somewhat dark sense of humor) is Death by Convenience.
How is that even though we’re one of the leading local food cities, we still only produce about 5-10% of the food we consume here?
It is in the same vein as the discussion of Portland being the Greenest City in the US, basically we are being graded on a bell curve. I’m always filled with pride and terror when it is pointed out that Portland is leading the charge on sustainability.
Just how problematic is the fact that we only produce about 5-10% of our own food? Do we export a lot of food? And do you know what they’re counting as local? For example, would they be considering Forest Grove local?
This may seem like an aside but it is related….
In Yellowstone national park, analysis of trees prior to 1850 shows that 50% of the nitrogen was of marine origin. 50% of the nitrogen arrived in the form of salmon. So it is not as if a long supply is necessarily a bad thing.
Efforts like the 100 mile diet are interesting, but it really depends on how the food arrives. Grain shipped in via trains from the mid-west is considerably better then strawberries flown in from Chile.
As for what food we export, I don’t have specific information about that.
Taking a completely different angle on things… I did my own sociological experiment by going to the one of the local gun shows and talking about sustainability to self-described “right-wing gun nuts.”
Basically, if you ask whether it’s a good idea to take a typical single family house and re-design it so you can live without power fairly well for a week if it is January or July, to have a large pantry, rain water cisterns, veggie gardens, fruit trees, … the response to this was basically “duh.”
My conversations with the “gun nuts” led me to the view that it is much better to focus on what you want and stop. The key detail when talking about a problem: you can debate whether that problem is actually a problem then never actually start effectlvely talking about actions.
It seems like the environmental movement has progressed from talking about renewable resources, to sustainability, and now to resilience. What exactly is resilience?
I can’t speak for the environmental movement, just for what I’m focusing on which is community and resilience. I think part of the focusing on resilience is that it is a more accurate meaning of sustainability…. how you sustain yourself/family/community is a rather important detail.
Sustainability seems to have been mostly about a long term vision, which is great, but doesn’t do you much good if you don’t have a vision for tonight or next week.
I think resilience is an example of what folks want.
Based on your experience on the gun show, do you think there’s more overlap between the left and the right if you re-frame what you’re talking about as resilience instead of “environmentalism”?
On the community level, very much so. On the level of Washington DC, I have no idea.
What can individuals do to improve their community’s resilience – whether that be in Portland or elsewhere?
I would suggest one of the 1st steps is to re-enforce the school buildings to withstand an earthquake, use the food certified kitchens in the schools to process locally grown food, and store emergency provisions at the schools.
If you mount solar PV panels on the roofs and place HAM radios there you can be fairly sure of having islands of communication even if things go really sideways.
You would need to have rain water cisterns at the schools, which could also be used for the urban orchards and the veggie gardens.
More broadly speaking, knowing your neighbors and being on good terms with them is possibly the 1st thing to do. It’s only then that conversations about sharing resources can be possible.
It sounds like you’ve picked schools as the epicenter for resilience in communities. Why?
At least in the case of Portland, they are arranged so there is usually a school within a 1/2 mile of you at any point in town. Community centers, churches, a mall…. these would of course work as well.
Transition PDX is interested in applying permaculture principles to the city. Are there good working examples of urban permaculture already?
As applied to dirt, very much so. The Columbia EcoVillage would be a good example that is more or less open to the public. For me permaculture comes down to good design, which translates into other disciplines.
In the case of my backyard, I have things lined up so I’m getting fruit consistently from early may until late Sept. Once the Kiwi matures, I can get another harvest in late November.
People who rent, instead of own, single family houses can have a hard time applying permaculture to their homes. Is there anything at all people who live in multifamily housing can do in terms of applying permaculture?
So what Leonard is doing is also applicable in multi-family housing?
Admittedly I’m not the best source of suggestion around permaculture for folks who don’t have some land to work with. You can do some pretty nifty things with container gardening on a balcony for example. But there are also examples of folks finding ways to share resources or buy things in bulk together.
What is the minimum amount of space needed to grow enough food for one person to survive? And for one person to have a reasonably healthy diet?
I guess we’re just about out of time, so I will ask one last question: If people reading this interview come away with only ONE message, what message should that be?
Using “Maslow’s hierarchy of needs” as a point of reference, society seems to spend the vast majority of our focus on whether we are sufficiently amused. This is an arrangement that by definition is unsustainable.
The federal government plans to plant its own bold garden directly above a downtown plaza. As part of a $133 million renovation, the General Services Administration is planning to cultivate “vegetated fins” that will grow more than 200 feet high on the western facade of the main federal building here, a vertical garden that changes with the seasons and nurtures plants that yield energy savings.
“They will bloom in the spring and summer when you want the shade, and then they will go away in the winter when you want to let the light in,” said Bob Peck, commissioner of public buildings for the G.S.A. “Don’t ask me how you get them irrigated.”
Rainwater, captured on the roof, and perhaps even “gray water” recycled from the interior plumbing are both possibilities, the architects say. But they concede that they are still figuring out some of the finer points of renovating the Edith Green-Wendell Wyatt Federal Building, which was completed in 1975 and is currently 18 stories of concrete, glass and minimal inspiration.
Acres of vacant land are eyed for urban agriculture under an ambitious plan that aims to turn the struggling Rust Belt city into a green mecca.
Reporting from Detroit – On the city’s east side, where auto workers once assembled cars by the millions, nature is taking back the land.
Cottonwood trees grow through the collapsed roofs of homes stripped clean for scrap metal. Wild grasses carpet the rusty shells of empty factories, now home to pheasants and wild turkeys.
This green veil is proof of how far this city has fallen from its industrial heyday and, to a small group of investors, a clear sign. Detroit, they say, needs to get back to what it was before Henry Ford moved to town: farmland. […]
It is the size and scope of Hantz Farms that makes the project unique. Although company officials declined to pinpoint how many acres they might use, they have been quoted as saying that they plan to farm up to 5,000 acres within the Motor City’s limits in the coming years, raising organic lettuces, trees for biofuel and a variety of other things.
Over the years, I’ve often wondered at the unique and sometimes confusing situation of the urban-renter-beginner-permaculturist: trying to figure out how to utilize the ethics and principles of a framework originally conceived to develop areas thousands of acres in size, while often finding oneself without access to an area even hundreds of square feet in size.
While most permaculture teachers will tell you that the ethics and principles of permaculture are not limited to rural broadacre applications, the vast majority of literature on the subject (not to mention course curriculum) displays no uncertain preference for rolling food forested hills, cascading ponds, and just beyond, the beckoning vastness of Zone 5.
(My point of entry into this wonderful world, Permaculture Two, mostly referred to properties that were comparable in acreage to the more notable state parks in the area! Meanwhile, I was trying to figure out how to reconcile a desire to grow massive amounts of food with reality that I couldn’t dig up the lawn.)
Alchemists are often characterized in modern times as bumbling would-be wizards at best, greedy charlatans at worst. They’re portrayed as fumbling hopelessly in cluttered laboratories, unenlightened madmen trying to turn lead into gold. The reality is more complex, of course.
Alchemists were up to plenty of things, many of them having to do with relating to the natural world—and understanding its processes of transformation and transmutation—in philosophical and spiritual dimensions that transcended traditional religious thinking, both Christian and pagan, and preceded modern scientific thought. The whole “lead into gold” thing was but the most lucrative of the alchemical —or hermetic—practices in the eyes of the monarchs and rulers. Alchemy’s material prima as Peter Lamborn Wilson writes in the recent collection Green Hermeticism: Alchemy and Ecology, “can be found ‘on any dung hill.’ Hermeticism changes shit into gold.” It’s an image memorably realized in Alejandro Jodorowsky’s 1973 film The Holy Mountain wherein the thief character takes a dump in a fancy bucket, and Jodorowsky, playing an alchemist, distills those fresh turds into a hefty chunk of golden bling.
Such fantastical processes are well known to dirt-worshipping gardening sage Tim Dundon, the beneficent caretaker of California’s most famous compost pile and the kindly warden of the tropical forest that has fruited from its rich humus. It’s here that Dundon, a scientist-poet in the truest hermetic sense, finds hope and salvation in the transformation of death into life—of rotting organic matter into nutrient-rich soil—that takes place daily in the fecund jungle he maintains on his one-acre yard.
A: Pretty much what you read about in New Scientist every week. Climate change, dust bowls caused by over-cultivation necessitated by over-population, resource depletion in obscure and irritatingly mission-critical sectors (never mind oil; we’ve only got 60 years of easily exploitable phosphates left — if we run out of phosphates, our agricultural fertilizer base goes away), the great population overshoot (as developing countries transition to the low population growth model of developed countries) leading to happy fun economic side-effects (deflation, house prices crash, stagnation in cutting-edge research sectors due to not enough workers, aging populations), and general bad-tempered overcrowded primate bickering.
Oh, and the unknown unknowns.
Q: Unknown unknowns? Are you talking about Donald Rumsfeld?
A: No, but I’m stealing his term for unprecedented and unpredictable events (sometimes also known as black swans). From the point of view of an observer in 1909, the modern consumer electronics industry (not to mention computing and internetworking) is a black swan, a radical departure from the then-predictable revolutionary enabling technologies (automobiles and aeroplanes). Planes, trains and automobiles were already present, and progressed remarkably well — and a smart mind in 1909 would have predicted this. But antibiotics, communication satellites, and nuclear weapons were another matter. Some of these items were mentioned, in very approximate form, by 1909-era futurists, but for the most part they took the world by surprise.
We’re certainly going to see unknown unknowns in the 21st century. Possible sources of existential surprise include (but are not limited to) biotechnology, nanotechnology, AI, climate change, supply chain/logistics breakthroughs to rival the shipping container, fork lift pallet, bar code, and RFID chip — and politics. But there’ll be other stuff so weird and strange I can’t even guess at it.
Q: Eh? But what’s the big picture?
A: The big picture is that since around 2005, the human species has — for the first time ever — become a predominantly urban species. Prior to that time, the majority of humans lived in rural/agricultural lifestyles. Since then, just over 50% of us now live in cities; the move to urbanization is accelerating. If it continues at the current pace, then some time after 2100 the human population will tend towards the condition of the UK — in which roughly 99% of the population live in cities or suburbia.
This is going to affect everything.
It’s going to affect epidemiology. It’s going to affect wealth production. It’s going to affect agriculture (possibly for the better, if it means a global shift towards concentrated high-intensity food production, possibly in vertical farms, and a re-wilding/return to nature of depopulated and underutilized former rural areas). It’s going to affect the design and layout of our power, transport, and information grids. It’s going to affect our demographics (urban populations tend to grow by immigration, and tend to feature lower birth rates than agricultural communities).
There’s a gigantic difference between the sustainability of a year 2109 with 6.5 billion humans living a first world standard of living in creative cities, and a year 2109 with 3.3 billion humans living in cities and 3.2 billion humans still practicing slash’n’burn subsistence farming all over the map.