Friday, May 22, 2009

growing up

Crow here. As you may know I've lived in this world for a good many centuries, have seen lots of changes and met many creatures both human and not. All in all it's a lovely place and it seemed there would always be space for all of us to share. Now I'm getting worried, really worried, about how the human race seems to feel justified in taking up not only too much of the space but misusing what was given to all of us. Mountains have had their peaks cut off so coal can be scooped out; thousands of square miles of tar sands in Canada are being dug up to extract heavy oil; water is being pumped into old oil wells to keep what's left of light crude oil rising; watersheds have been paved over for shopping malls and factories; slash and burn farming is still being practiced in poor countries where the newly uncovered ground is soon infertile. I could continue with examples but it should be clear things are a mess and not just for people. My main concern has always been for all my fellow beings but for now we should consider one problem at a time.

Not just in this country, but all over the world farming is failing because of climate change, the overuse of pesticides and artificial fertilizers, water shortages and plain old worn out soil. For instance, the worst drought in 70 years has decimated northern China's winter wheat crop and the soybean harvest was down 40% in South America. Two huge hurricanes hit the US within the past five years. The world food crisis continues to expand while the demand for plant based biofuels strains agricultural land. According to the UN Food and Agricultural Organization there are nearly a billion undernourished people in the world and although it's getting worse there are some people who've been thinking and planning for some big changes.

A couple of years ago I was sharing a branch in a favorite banyan tree restaurant with a guy you've probably never heard of, Dickson Despommier, and we talked about soil erosion occurring from wind blowing it away during droughts or from flooding. Topsoil isn't just plain old dirt you can find anywhere. It takes the world a thousand years to make a decent foot deep batch of the stuff and using current methods developed in the 40's, it hasn't taken long to ruin lots of it. To make things even worse farms near cities have been rezoned and sold to developers. Even if you don't have wings you do know when you leave your house for a country drive you'll be lucky to find any before you run out of gas or get tired and go home.

Anyway, Dickson came up with an idea that might eventually become a solution to feeding city people where, in 30 years or so, most people will live. It's called vertical farming, which doesn't mean growing cabbages on top of lamp posts (although I wouldn't mind flying by for a nice juicy cabbage), but actually building high rise farms in cities. Now that sounds pretty fine to me and even though there would be complications it certainly sounds not only doable but in the long run cost effective for everybody. No more huge transport costs for one thing, jobs, fresh food produced very locally even in the biggest cities and tall greenhouses would not only be beautiful but could be liveable. There are some nice pictures here.

It's a big topic and one that deserves some thought and discussion but if even the land now devoted to growing strawberries and vegetables could be returned to growing trees and grass then I know my fellow non-human creatures would once again have a chance to thrive. There's nothing better than a forest to help rid ourselves of all the extra carbon that's heating the place up faster than you can make thermometers. Why not take advantage of the growing mechanisms developed by the indoor marijuana entrepreneurs?

As we enjoyed another glass of brandy and watched the sun set over the suburbs of Detroit, Dickson mused, "For the first time in human existence, farming won't have to rely on soil types. You'll be able to build a farm in the middle of the desert or on the tundra. You'll put it wherever you want and people will live there as a result. You don't need a lot of water for hydroponic farming."

In the meanwhile, how about a little retrofitting of the now bankrupt sky-rise banks? I can think of a few people we could use as compost starters.

(Note - No obscenely wealthy bankers, humans or animals are part of hydroponic farming methods. That was just my little joke. Now I'll have a tumbler of Bailey's Irish Cream before climbing up to the sleeping perch.)


Seraphine said...

never mind the lady at the farmer's market who sold me tomato starters last weekend and told me to fertilize them with fish oil.
as glorious as it sounds, i don't want to eat anything that uses people as compost.
yes, i know: corpses are organic. i still prefer plant compost.
and no highrises in my back yard, thankyouverymuch.
but i hear detroit might be available. maybe we could try a prototype gm memorial garden there?

Lover of Life said...

I think it's a great idea, and we certainly have some empty high rises, especially in NYC that are about to come on line. We need to come up with some solutions. The days of not doing anything are over for this country and the world. Everyone needs to sacrifice and think beyond themselves.

Great post, Crow - thank you.

Utah Savage said...

My dad worked at a blood bank when he was in grad school. When blood was "old" he would bring it home and use it as fertilizer. It was awesome. I think coffins are an atrocity. A hemp shroud would be fine for me after the med students have their way with my corpse. Learning purposes you know.

La Belette Rouge said...

It would be fantastic if all Trump towers were turned into tomato farms.

Crow said...

sera - We're not talking Soylent Green but a different way of using city space. How about a nice pyramid here and there with crops inside surrounded by a tree lined farmer's market park where we could meet? Hmmm?

lol - There was a feasibility study done about growing crops on every roof in NYC that proved to only be able to feed 2% of the population. Using the insides of empty ones would be a good start.

utah - When my time finally comes I'm flying back to Peru to a spot the condors showed me :-)

belette - What an excellent idea!

Lisa said...

That's an amazing concept. It does remind me of a Dr. Who episode, though, where the homeless were being kidnapped and used as fuel to power NYC.

okjimm said...

all in all, I prefer to grow things in dirt.
makes me feel more human,to say nothing of giving me a reason to take a shower after playing in the garden...cause, you're dirty, see, and then, because you feel so good about being cleaned up after working hard in the garden you walk your self down the the local pub for a pint or two because you feel so gosh darn good from getting cleaned up from playing in the garden!!!

Wowsers! who woulda thought that some much good can come from dirt??

Liberality said...

At least it is a solution to a rapidly growing problem.

Pagan Sphinx said...

The building looks prohibitively expensive. It's nice and all but when you think about it, who of us would be able to afford to live there?

Thanks Crow. That was a good post.

linda said...

wow crow, you and your friend are really doing some thinking while drinking...

this is a great idea but I imagine it would be very expensive, not that losing all our topsoil, polluting our air and water, etc. is not...great food for thought, pardon the pun!

Crow said...

lisa - I don't remember us talking about a monster in the cellar that eats poor people. It's a utopian idea about feeding them.

okjimm - If you're one of the few lucky enough to have a garden, go for it. Dirt is good so we have to look after it before having a shower and going out for beer. One day we'll meet at Oblio's to share a brew and talk.

liberality - Yeah, it's going to become a serious problem in urban environments.

pagan - That one does look expensive but I'm sure there could be some interim retrofitting of existing spaces. It's all very futuristic but people do have the ability.

linda - I do my best thinking after a couple of glasses and even more so in good company :-)

Expensive, yes, but look what so much is being spent on now.

Randal Graves said...

I could grow a garden on my roof.

Spadoman said...

In 1969 when I had the chance to visit then British occupied Hong Kong, it was evident that these resourceful people had to use all the space they had. Gardens were on windowsills and Tai Chi was performed in large groups of people on rooftops amidst green gardens. Chickens, ducks and rabbits for consumption were raised in cages inside of their apartments and on porches, landings and stairwells.
To go "up" with gardening is not new, but looks to be a necessity in the near future for some, but a way of life already for others.
As for the items mentioned in the first paragraph of your post, I can't think of a way to stop the capitalist imperialists from taking what they want, when and how they want it, any time they want it. Thank the star nation for battles won in places like Desert Rock, NM where a small victory was won in the coal industry a short time ago.
Read about it here:

PS (Please teach me how to make it so you just have to click on it. I'm a dunce sometimes.)

Peace to All

Steve Emery said...

Hundertwasser would approve! And I love this idea of farms in highrises.

And if we ate less grain, and less beef, we'd all be healthier and pressure our planet less.

Anonymous said...

Skyscraper farming does sound like a great idea until all the NIMBY folks show up. And, anyway, all they seem to like building here in NYC is more ugly apartment buildings.

Mary Ellen said...

Great idea! They can start with that atrocious Trump building in Chicago that looks like a giant syringe.

Crow said...

randal - If moss counts as a food group susan already has a roof garden.

spadoman - Even if the human population remained the same as now we're in deep trouble when it
comes to feeding everybody over the long haul. It wouldn't take much to
break the fragile food train. There are 7 billion people now with 3
billion more expected by 2040 and that's a very scary prospect if there's no change.

I'm glad you got to see Hong Kong when you did. If the human species survives the next 50 years
it will be because you've learned to cooperate with one another
and with the world as it is.

steve - I see you get it and susan was delighted to meet Hundertwasser. He was a very cool man and I can only hope there will be more with his vision:

"A person in a rented apartment must be able to lean out of his window and scrape off the masonry within arm's reach. And he must be allowed to take a long brush and paint everything outside within arm's reach. So that it will be visible from afar to everyone in the street that someone lives there who is different from the imprisoned, enslaved, standardised man who lives next door."

spartacus - It's the same most places in this country and they don't even provide window boxes or balconies most of the time. Where's a weary bird to rest?

nunly - He'd make a good scarecrow if I were interested in such things .

Seraphine said...

ohhh you didn't say pyramids! of course, that would be awesome.
and build terraces on the slope of the pyramid so we can outdoor gardening too.
and a brick oven inside to heat the pyramid in winter, while baking animal crackers and brownies for a sustainable economic benefit.
seriously though, you do make a good point about thinking "outside the box" (or inside, as the case may be) to find creative solutions to the mess we've gotten ourselves in. It can be done.

Crow said...

sera - Yes, non-rational architecture is the way to go. Check the link to Hundertwasser above and you'll see what can be done once you really get outside the box!

yellowdog granny said...

hey!..the last time i saw a talking crow was in the stand...u sure i should be listening to you?

Crow said...

ydg - Why not? I make at least as much sense as the talking heads on tv :-)

The Crow said...

What an interesting idea, vertical gardening. Much to ponder.