By Stephen Bartlett, Sustainable Ag of Louisville, Common Earth Gardens
US Food Sovereignty Alliance
“Better to die standing tall on your feet, than surrender to slow death on your knees.” A paraphrase of an old proverb.
I am daily heartened by the steady and strategic work of friends and compañeros with whom I roll as a local agriculturalist or as we of the international food justice movement call ourselves, peasants or campesinos (“people of the land”). Farmers and gardeners by our natures are hopeful, because we know that the plant world and the world of soil life, with sun and rain and the passing seasons, perform regular miracles of producing everything us two-leggeds need to live, sometimes in extravagant abundance.
No need to repeat ad infinitum the litany of challenges we all face today as two-leggeds on Mother Earth: extreme weather, limited access to land, expensive water bills, increasing economic inequality, raw, cunning, divisive and often violent political power in the hands of the extremely wealthy 1%, getting wealthier all the time, imperialism, racism, classism, media spin and propaganda, an uninformed and badly educated electorate manipulated by hate speech.
So here is how I envision a Green New Deal for agriculture in Kentucky: the organized people guided and led by the Urban Ag Coalition/ Food in Neighborhoods Coalition wage a campaign with Metro Council and the Mayor, to hold them to their public promises about acting in the face of the current and worsening climate crisis. The demands we bring are:
1) to streamline and prioritize the distribution of vacant and abandoned properties to individuals, entrepreneurs, organizations and associations, with a transparent and accountable process, in order to dedicate those properties to a variety of green space uses: food and medicine production, recreational green spaces, reforestation, water storage (in healthy soils and biomass) to reduce flood runoff problems, and to lower the heat sink that overly paved Louisville suffers.
2) to pressure the city to underwrite/ subsidize water dedicated to agricultural, forestry and other ecologically favorable uses. Such a policy would also help subsidize the installation of water conservation infrastructure in agricultural and silvicultural (forest) spaces, such as drip irrigation and other water conservation methods.
In order to prepare for the increasingly dangerous extreme weather events and their aftermaths, we absolutely need to increase our resiliency as a community to the impacts of climate change and find ways to contribute to mitigating climate warming by sequestering carbon and conserving resources including water. Such investments save money needed for repairs of infrastructure from excess flooding damage, reduce electric usage from air conditioning during heat events, moderate extreme high or low temperatures and maintain or increase biodiversity in our city to balance our ecosystem.
In addition, I believe the city should dedicate additional resources toward increasing local food production, that will lower the overall carbon footprint required when we ship most of our food in from distant regions of production. In addition, such productive green spaces will increase local economic activity in the sale and exchange of healthy foods and locally grown medicinal herbs and crops, and increase the amount of firewood for home heating and quality wood products from locally managed woodlots. Multiple benefits come from such public investments into a sustainable future, and cost a lot less on the front end, than it will cost to deal with the damage done by not being prepared for what is now scientifically proven to be an inevitability: extreme climate crisis impacting the very living systems humans rely on to survive, from shelter to a sustainable food system.
Agriculture and green space development absolutely need to be an integral part of a Green New Deal for Kentucky. It just makes sense.
One example can help illustrate this. The Common Earth Gardens organization facilitates and supports the agricultural activity of approximately 350 families of refugees from Asia and Africa in the Louisville area. 12 years ago the program began with two gardens and about 40 families. Today on six major gardens and small farm plots, there are 350 families of experienced gardeners and farmers producing an enormous amount of food that nourish several thousands of people with healthy fresh vegetables and roots and medicinal herbs to eat. There are many more such farmers and gardeners on waiting lists, and many of the current farmers have expressed a capacity to double or triple their production plot areas. The main obstacles to dramatically increasing production of such local gardens and farm plots are limited land access and the cost of water for irrigation, as well as a general lack of knowledge or appreciation of the general public to the benefits of localized agriculture and large piles of rich manure in the vicinity.
A forward thinking government would see the benefit of subsidizing water for such purposes and clearing away bureaucratic obstacles for people to access enough land near where they live, in order to green the overbuilt environment and feed the beautiful diverse people who live here. Proximity of productive garden spaces to where people live is important, given the demands our economy places on families to work multiple, often low paying jobs, people have little time to travel long distances to where they do their gardening or farming, not to mention the gasoline or bus money to waste. In addition, if the cost of local food production becomes prohibitive for maintaining optimum production or for expansion due to the high cost of city water, as is becoming the case in several of these gardens, this becomes an issue for the wider society and local government to seriously remedy.
We are fortunate here in Louisville to live on fertile land in a well watered river valley, and with people with the considerable knowledge and experience needed to be good food producers, not to mention decent infrastructure support for the transition back toward more local food production in terms of roads, vehicles, tools, machines, and other inputs for agriculture. Let’s get our government to see and act on the wisdom of providing a leg up to unleash People Power to transform our economy in these trying times of danger, corruption and crisis, but also of mobilization, indignation and increasing social movement organizing.