"If you ask me what I came to do in this world, I, an artist, will answer you: I am here to live out loud." ~ Emile Zola

15 October 2009

Blog Action Day 2009- Vertical Urban Farms: The "Ups" and the Downs

I've been reading quite a bit lately about urban agriculture and the concept of vertical farms, tall, sustainable buildings within cities that would house massive agricultural production of crops and animals raised for food. The vertical farm is being explored as a feasible alternative to current food production as modern farming practices, climate change, environmental degradation, and an ever-expanding world population form a dangerous cycle that is reducing the availability and productivity of land and promising devastating food shortages. It's extraordinary and space-age really (I picture The Jetsons), the idea that farms as we now conceive of them that spread across vast, fertile lands may someday be replaced by skyscrapers of orchards, towers of livestock, fields of corn caged cinder block. It's both compelling and terrifying.

"High rise farms" in cities could be a truly viable solution to worldwide concern about the dire consequences of what many see as inevitable and devastating climate change. These consequences include potential devastation of crops by new disease, pests, and vulnerability that may result from a rise in temperature and rain pattern changes. Add to this the continual reduction in amount of fertile land available for raising food due to the ravages of modern farming practices and soil depleted after trying to keep up with supplying nourishment to the world's ever-expanding population. Considering that traditional soil farming may thus become
unsustainable, the vertical farm holds much promise.

Growing crops in specially-engineered fortresses of agriculture that disappear into the clouds would address serious problems like massive food shortages and lack of fertile soil. Although hugely expensive to build, a 30-story farm tower could feed
50,000 people in a teeny,tiny fraction of the land it would take to do the same with modern farming, according to Dickson Despommier, the "father" of the vertical farm concept. Crops would be grown without soil using hydroponics and aeroponics, eliminating the need for dangerous pesticides and increasing food output, accessibility, and quality. Crops grown in climate-controlled spaces could be protected from pests, drought, and similar events related to the natural environment.

Urban farm structures could better meet the demands of the local food movement, while drastically reducing fossil fuel use and greenhouse gas emissions from farm machinery, vehicles used in transport, and production. Farm lands would be free to recover from damage and to replenish. These urban skyscrapers would be llargely self-sustaining, recycling water over and over and using its waste for energy, heat, or fertilizer . Vertical farms could produce year round, and the influx of plants into cities could help cleanse the air of pollution and improve quality of life in cities. All of this while boosting agriculture and the economy mega-fold as production capacity soars. Sounds idyllic, yes? I find the concept is terrifying...

Of course we want to find solutions to ensure our viability and secure our future in the face of climate change's potentially disastrous effects. It's intelligent, wise, necessary, and hope-instilling. We'd be stupid not to invest in doing so. Then why have issue with technology that could resolve so many critical issues? The reasons span from the cultural significance of the traditional farmer and the importance of connection to Earth to the potential negative impact on the victims of factory farming- animals and people. The feeling at the forefront for me as I learn more about vertical farms is overwhelming, deep sadness that we've let it get to this point of do or die. Conceiving that Earth could become depleted and sick to the point that food must be grown in human-made constructs is impossible. But research into expansion of urban agriculture makes it very real. And I worry...

I worry about what food become without nourishment from the earth? Would the 'farmer' as we now know her become a mythical superhero in tall tales about working in tune with the planet to 'magically' create sustenance? Would the 'farm' become a cultural relic devoid of the rich history and meaning it currently has? Food grown in buildings reaching into the sky sounds void of meaning, empty of energy and life. The magic of growing food in the earth is feeling the soil in the hands, the feet grounding solidly on the land, and the connection to the cycle of life as we watch the sun, skies, and Earth make something from nothing to feed us. The magic of farming the land is the larger understanding of life that happens when we eat food grown from the ground, the joy that comes eating food fresh from its source of life. It's not... "natural."

Humans have become so disconnected from that life source, arrogantly taking it for granted as we plunder it at whim. Vertical farms will only exacerbate the shallow relationship between being and Earth, pulling us further and further "up" and away from understanding the environmental destruction we have caused and implementing action to stop and even reverse it. I fear that this growing disconnect will lead to more complacency about resolving climate change and make stronger the self-righteous idea that humans can manipulate the world and conquer nature- the planet and all of its beings.

I worry about the well-being of many of these beings, as the raising of animals for food is also being explored within the vertical farm concept, perpetuating their victimization by human arrogance and the factory farm. Some fans of the vertical farm dream of "a high-rise 'Pig City' 40-stories high where the pigs would spend their entire lives from conception to slaughter. A structure called an "Agropark" would house 100, 000 pigs on one floor! Movement toward a sustainable future should include a push toward more compassionate interaction with animals as well as the planet.

The modern factory farm inflicts terrible suffering from abuse and neglect on animals raised for food. Housing livestock in high-rises would bring a food source closer to urban residents and dramatically decrease the factory farm's enormous environmental footprint. However, it will multiply a thousand-fold the number of animals imprisoned in food production, sentenced to lives of pain and suffering without opportunity for healthy relationships, fresh air and movement, freedom, and peace.

I worry because I have yet to find an article on vertical farming that specifically mentions the strong connection between climate change and factory farming of animals along with increasing meat and dairy demand . Animals being raised for meat and dairy and the crops needed to feed them lead to widespread and undeniable destruction of land, water, and air while using available, fertile land to grow feed for animals robs billions of starving people of nourishing food . It would seem, then, that any modern discussion about a sustainable future in terms of food production should include talk of animal agriculture as one of the biggest contributors to climate change and of the positive impact wide-scale reduction in meat and dairy consumption would have.

It would seem that serious efforts and monies should be invested in an obvious, less costly, and more accessible tool in diverting climate change like implementing practices and legislation to decrease human reliance on animals for food. The successful marketing of and transition to a more meat-free diet seems quite preferable to the urban farm high-rises and the loss of the farm and farmer as a cultural icon and our connection to the land. The information I have read about vertical farms seem to accept current farming methods as fixed and focus on how to adapt the earth to meet our needs, rather than investigate changing the food industry to adapt to the needs of the planet.

01 October 2009

Activism Out Loud: Should We Numb Farm Animals so They are Immune to Pain?

I just read an article in early September’s New Scientist magazine about research into numbing animals raised for food so that they don’t feel pain. Researchers are working to genetically alter the DNA of farm animals so that when they are exposed to pain and suffering, they aren’t “bothered” by it. What do you all think about this?

Personally, I feel this is simply a way to justify and continue animal abuse, neglect, and torture. It creeps me out, feels eerie, and feels viscerally immoral and ethically wrong. It may *seem* well-intentioned, but I think it’s a guise to continue using animals to meet human needs in whatever way suits them, no matter the consequences to the being, and to keep money flowing!!! Animal rights awareness is the factory farmer’s worst nightmare- this is such a crock of sh**! What do you want to make a bet that the meat and dairy industries are backing this research? I imagine altering perception and experience of pain and suffering in human slaves just so heinous practices and inhumane treatment could be continued. Why would anyone think this is okay to do to animals?

An editorial about this in this same magazine issue sums up my view pretty perfectly:
Yes, logically speaking, pain-free animals make sense. But only in a world that has already devalued animal lives to the point where factory farming is acceptable. Our visceral reaction to pain-free animals is actually a displaced reaction against the system that makes them necessary.

Too many of us are too attached to the pleasures of affordable meat to consider the plight of factory-farmed animals. If the proposal to create pain-free animals achieves anything, it is to force us to confront the pain and suffering that our diets inflict. End factory farming, and the "problem" of pain-free animals goes away, too.

And more fodder for discussion: Cloning Animals for Meat & Milk

Eat Deliciously, Shop Freely- Celebrate World Vegetarian Day!

Today is World Vegetarian Day, October 1, 2009! I'm celebrating along with the EtsyVeg team of veg artisans on Etsy (see their blog for more recipes and special sales) by sharing this original vegan recipe and having a 25% off sale on the handcrafted jewelry and original brush paintings in my shop! Enjoy shopping and feasting and celebrate Veg Living! :)

Vegan Festive Summer 'Skillet Casserole’ with Dill (Serves 4)

Though this easy, nutritious recipe uses veggies typically harvested in summer, it’s vibrant flavors are fabulous year round!

2T olive oil
2 medium zucchini, sliced in half-moons
2 shallots, minced
2 garlic cloves, pressed or minced
½ medium red bell pepper, diced
1 ½c cooked pinto beans, drained and rinsed
1 14.5 oz can diced tomatoes, drained and finely chopped (Muir Glen canned Fire-Roasted Tomatoes add the best flavor.)
1c corn kernels, fresh or frozen
2 tsp natural sweetener
2-3 tsp fresh lemon juice, or to taste
3T fresh dill, finely chopped
2-3c cooked brown rice
4 oz. vegan (or dairy) grated mozzarella cheese (I like Follow Your Heart brand)
salt and ground black pepper to taste

1. Heat olive oil in large skillet over medium heat. Add shallots, pepper, garlic, sliced zucchini. Cover and cook until zucchini is tender, about 10 min.

2. Add beans, tomatoes, corn, sweetener, lemon juice, and dill. Simmer 10 minutes covered, then 5 uncovered, stirring occasionally until liquid is absorbed.

3. Mix in cooked rice, stirring until combined well. Cover and place on low heat until rice is steaming. Salt and ground black pepper to taste. Add cheeze and mix well until melty.

4. Serve and enjoy!