Tuesday, September 1, 2009

The Farm in The City

I saw this column while very far from The Farm, on a plane from Philadelphia to Zurich to be exact. It's not that often that my agricultural leanings are fed from the venerable pages of The Gray Lady. This may be another sign of something -- I'm not sure what! -- or a clue to the puzzle of this thing we call popular culture. It might mean something like this:

The line between urban and rural is not sharp and clear. Because we live on the earth, even in those densely packed, overbuilt, and artificial environments we call cities, the earth has away of breaking through and re-asserting itself. Our technology and our architecture lay a thin crust over the ground, and given the chhance, the ground will do what the ground does best: send seedlings up through cracks in the pavement.

I suppose someone will quibble that the New York Times piece on tomatoes in Brooklyn is not really about farming but about "gardening," as if the two are clearly distinguishable. But what is a city garden but a farm painted on a very small canvas, and what is a farm but a garden that got out of hand? Both share the same media, the same instincts, the same struggles, the same culture. My favorite little magazine Hobby Farms is launching a new publication called Urban Farm, which sounds like an oxymoron, but is really just another clue in this puzzle i'm trying to work out.

I remember sitting in a classroom in western Kenya while my students scribbled away on their final exams. Looking out the window I savored the sight of the lush Kisii hill country in the distance and the bountiful vegetation surrounding the building. Vines had found their way in through one of the windows, and seemed to be flourishing happily inside the room. I got the impression that, in Africa at least, all our development and building amounts to little more than a temporary clearing of the natural growth on the hills. As soon as we turn our backs, the vines are in at the windows and start their work of reclaiming this little patch of earth.

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