Growers come together to promote urban agriculture
By STEVE BROWN
BATTLE GROUND, Wash. -- When about 100 people gathered to celebrate the first year of the nonprofit Urban Abundance, the conversations around the tables were all about sharing and growing food.
The consensus among them was that more food is not necessarily better, but local food is. They dream of an urban community -- Vancouver and its surroundings -- able to feed itself.
Growing and sharing food is nothing new for Beverly Doty. Long ago she converted her urban yard into a food source. Vegetables and fruit trees now feed her, she said. "All my surplus goes to the sharehouse, neighbors and the church."
She said the abundance of food in the U.S. "is the wrong kind of abundance. Growing corn to produce fuel is the wrong direction," she said.
In areas where local food is not abundant, "Diets adjust to what they're able to do there," Doty said. "In Alaska, look to indigenous populations to see what they do."
Kim Voyle, who with husband Rob owns 10 acres of forestland west of Portland, said the problem with U.S. food security is one of distribution.
"Small urban agriculture can feed the world," she said. "There's enough land to do it. You've got to make realistic life choices instead of relying on the convenience of a supermarket."
When she moved to the Northwest from Southern California, she had to give up having her own fresh tomatoes 10 months a year.
"Now we garden for canning and freezing," she said.
Glenn Grossman, a food activist who blogs for local food networks, said, "We're relearning methods we've forgotten."
Heirloom varieties of vegetables thrive in their own climates, he said. Growing seasons can be extended with many techniques, "and look at the Israeli model of converting a historic desert by the miserly use of water."
He recalled the desert motto: "If it doesn't give you shade or food, it's a waste of water."
The Northwest is nearly a closed-loop food production system, Grossman said. "We could feed millions right here on small plots. In the few areas of the country where you cannot provide your own community's needs, you can stretch the 100-mile food shed to 500 miles."
Chef Anna Petruolo, who prepared the meal co-sponsored by Slow Food Southwest Washington, acknowledged the limitations of relying on local, seasonal food.
"This wasn't easy," she said. "Normally there are more choices available. It's hard to put together a menu that's not all green. Thanks for not asking me, 'Where are the tomatoes?'"
Seasonal, local menu
* Sauteed mushrooms and greens
* Artisan bread
* Salad of mixed greens and pea shoots
* Roasted chicken
* Polenta with mushrooms
* White beans with shiitake mushrooms
* Kohlrabi, potato and turnip mash
* Bread pudding