Since the second world war, humanity (predominantly the global north) has experienced a post war boom that has thrown us into lives of comfort and consumer excess, as we entered the 21st century we stopped repairing and began replacing, our mass produced cheap goods exerting a large toll on the natural resources of our home planet and the labour of her inhabitants.
Our natural resources are dwindling, as extractive industry is given free license to consume the planet in exchange for monetary tokens which risk becoming worthless every decade or so. This is likely going to be a heavy opener to an article on a usually light hearted gardening blog, I’ll grant you that, however I can justify this starter. Our agricultural industry relies on resources that are obtained through extraction, and rely heavily on large amounts of energy to extract, process and transport to the consumer, and the fickle nature of our society means that a myriad of complex processes need to run efficiently and without fail in order to feed society. Thus we as a species have gained an achilles heel of our own creation, as with all weaknesses we need to build resilience.
My forte is gardening, so the only supply chain resilience I can reasonably speak about is gardening, and to do this, I will be using the example of the use of organoponics known widely as organopónicos in its country of origin (Cuba)
What is organoponics?
Organoponics is an agricultural method/system that utilises urban land in the form of kitchen and market gardens being created in the fragments of space available in urban areas. The Organopónicos in Cuba use a wide array of methods to grow produce, many of which are friendlier to soil than conventional agriculture, more often than not these gardens utilise composting, integrated pest management, crop rotation and polyculture. Many of these have come to trend in recent years as gardeners seek to be more sustainable in their practices and to form a relationship with the soil rather than seek to control it.
How could organoponics shield us from supply chain issues?
Organoponics would bring an extra layer of food security to the population, and the areas most suitable for organoponics also tend to be the areas that are furthest from the source of food. Cities are very disconnected from the production and seasonality of food, which means that urban residents will be the first to run out of food should fuel and fertiliser shortages hit our shores.
Organopónicos may work for Cuba, but could it work here?
In the UK our limiting factor could be our higher population density (105 vs 280 per km2) but that doesn’t mean organoponics wouldn’t work here, because ultimately any attempts at utilising urban spaces for food production would reduce our demand on imported food and could introduce a greater variety of vegetables to our diets. The increased supply of food closer to urban populations may also decrease demand and transport costs which would push food prices down in urban food deserts.
It is also noteworthy that organopónicos arrived in Cuba as a necessity following the collapse of the USSR and lack of friendly trading partners, the daily calorie intake per capita dropped by over 37% and as a response to this community groups took control of vacant and underutilised land and began cultivating food independently of government intervention, later on in the movement the Cuban Ministry of Agriculture helped the urban farmers by providing education and training to bolster the urban production of food.
Communities come together around mutual projects especially when working towards a common goal, and working in the same space fosters a camaraderie which can be seen in the allotments scattered up and down the UK. Growers practise a form of mutual aid, exchanging produce and seeds without seeking monetary gains.
All of this points to a positive impact on local communities that can be attained by localising food production. Furthermore in the uncertain times we live in, with world governments crawling towards authoritarian positions, we could do well to add an element of anarchy and collectivism to food production in order to protect our communities from authoritarian policies that target groups within our communities.
As for the numbers, 29.5 percent of our urban area consists of gardens. The large area this covers could be harnessed for the production of food as well as the protection of habitats. Ideally we would see gardens comprised of a mix of vegetable beds (companion planted with pollinator friendly plants) and wildlife habitats such as ponds, wildflower meadow, logpiles and hedgerows. This use for gardens is likely to gain popularity in the coming years as biosphere collapse and the ensuing food shortages will lead to home food production out of necessity.
In summary, I believe it is important that people have the autonomy to decide how to manage the land they live on, but as perhaps the dominant species on this planet, it is our responsibility to be good stewards and the first step to doing so is to produce anything we consume in the most sustainable manner possible, we must realise that our home planet is finite and that our exploitation of the resources needs to reduce, with resources allocated for the common good rather than for the increase in monetary flow. Perhaps, as we face the threat of climate change, fitting eight billion of on our snug rock and the eventual exhaustion of the fossil fuels to which we are addicted to we may begin to change hearts and minds for the better.
If you want to learn more about organoponics please take the time to peruse the following sources
WWF - Fighting oil addiction with urban agriculture
Yale Tropical Resources Institute
Created by Jack Phillpotts