A Return to the Farm

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Green chiles, New Mexico. Photo courtesy Christina Kennedy.

Gustavo Esteva wrote in The Guardian yesterday about the past efforts of the Mexican government to reduce the number of peasants in the country. The peasant communities were, and still are, directly connected to the production of local food. When the government cut programs that supported peasant farming communities, the number of peasants began to drop quickly. Unfortunately, so did food production, forcing Mexico to increase food imports.

In 1994, the North American Free Trade Agreement was the final step in establishing an anti-peasant environment, moving land from the peasants to the free market. Many resisted, and these efforts have laid the groundwork for a modern movement of people returning to the land. Esteva talks about urbanites leaving the cities to “create a new lifestyle in the countryside.” The common theme? People want to be able to make choices about what food they eat, and how it is produced.

But this trend is not exclusive to Mexico. The local, sustainable agriculture movement is on the rise, and for those who can’t leave the city behind, plenty of pioneers are leading the way.

Consider the rise of urban farming. From vertical gardens used by communities in Nairobi, Kenya, to the transformation of vacant lots in New York city, more and more people are working to keep their food fresh and local. In Havana, Cuba, more than half of all fresh produce is grown inside the city, and in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, organizations like Growing Power are working to transform urban and sustainable food systems.

Maybe the journey from farm to table can be a short walk from the back yard or down the city block. The only way to find out is to dig in and rediscover — or reinvent — the farm.

Terrain.org is the world’s first online journal of place, publishing a rich mix of literature, artwork, case studies, and more since 1997.