Sunday, June 17, 2012


Any casual visitor to the United States of America cannot help wondering about the priorities of American families in their life style and one thing that strikes any body is the fanatic attachment to automobiles, each family having a minimum of 2 cars. Of course one cannot blame the citizens for their love of cars and SUVs because these are essential tools of daily life without which it can be a huge logistical log jam. Being a wealthy country with one of the highest personal income figures, they can also afford to buy new automobiles or replace the existing one every three years. But what bothers rest of the world is the heavy carbon emission caused by the American population by its over dependence on fossil fuels which happen to be on the "extinction" list as world reserves are about to be depleted irreversibly once for all! Modern day phenomenon of global warming, due to which droughts and floods are becoming more frequent affecting food production, is also due to this reckless living style of the society here. Though alternate and sustainable energy sources are being developed in many countries, Americans do not seem to have heart in such endeavors, still addicted to petroleum fuels like a spoiled brat!

After overcoming the automobile "shock", another feature of American homes is the extra ordinary attraction to maintain a home front that is "spic and span", the front lawn being the center piece of the landscape. Billions of dollars are being expended in designing and maintaining home front gardens, mostly with seasonal flowering plants that need care and money to look after with dedication and supervision. Excessive obsession with carpet green lawns in front of every home extracts a heavy toll on the family budget  and rarely it is understood that maintaining a lawn is fraught with environmental damage of significant magnitude. The lawn mowing machinery and tons of manure and chemicals used to maintain the lawns in "picture scene" condition contributes further to environmental degradation of unimaginable dimension. Of course the culture of home front landscaping, deep rooted in American way of life has spawned industrial activities valued at billions of dollars, providing valuable employment to millions of people. It is another matter that most manual labor force is made up of illegal immigrants from South American countries!

One should not grudge the pleasure Americans may be deriving from their home front lawns and flower gardens as long as the burden of protecting these privileges is not passed on to the poor countries in Asia, Africa and South America. It is ironical that poorer countries are being asked to cut down on their carbon emissions while with great difficulties they are trying to shake of the perennial poverty and scourge of hunger and give their people a glimmer of hope to lead a decent and honorable life. Increased energy, water and food are their basic right and if they have to pollute the planet for this reason for some years at least, wealthy nations should not grudge the same. Between a square meter of land raising a lawn and another plot raising food, which should be the choice? Of course the latter. Here is where more pragmatism needs to be shown by the wealthy nations in managing their resources more efficiently with minimum wastage. It is not that Americans are totally insensitive to the food problem, though their concern is largely confined to safeguarding their health from unsafe food produced and marketed in the country.

Modern day industrial agriculture has unleashed a devastating destructive force in the form food crops which are tuned to make the farmers and the processors rich rather than making the lives of ordinary people safe. If food industry and the farm lobby are being blamed for the obesity epidemic rampant in the country, there is some justification and the reaction of the consumers is manifested in the form of many efforts like locavores, farmers market, urban farming, terrace gardening, vertical gardening, farm shops etc. to by pass the main stream food industry. The ever growing organic food industry is another testimony to the disappointment and distrust consumers are showing towards the established food players. The most pressing issue to day is whether man will really be able to keep the food production going, in tune with the population growth and every ounce of food produced will count in avoiding food shortages in future. Here is where urban farming may have a role to play.

Here is the connection between home front lawns and future food production. If all the American homes shift the emphasis from lawns to vegetable gardening the result would be dramatic in the coming years. Imagine each family able to harvest its own vegetables from its gardens in front of the house for daily consumption, in stead sitting back and watching the immaculately mowed lawn day in and day out! A cultural change needs to take place to change the present mindset but it can be done provided every stake holder including the local civic authorities, real estate industry, home owners' associations across the country collectively usher in a new era of community cooperative endeavor that will also help the nation to build a healthy society of future citizens with more responsibility and respect for the fellow citizens. The efforts of Michigan University to set up a research center at Detroit for developing techniques, technologies, practices and other logistics of urban based farming will go a long way in providing the much needed impetus to boost food production through better exploitation of urban resources. What is needed is development special seeds with plant characteristics like heavy bearing, bushy in nature, bright flowers, longer duration, easy harvesting etc by horticulturists for adoption by home owners. Existing service outfits that provide garden services for lawns and flower plants can provide the same services for maintaining the vegetable gardens also. Americans must shift their focus from landscaping to "foodscaping", if they want to be honorable partners in safeguarding and augmenting global food supply and reducing the burden of environmental degradation. 

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