We continue our conversation with Owen Dell about food security and hyper-local foodsheds.
If you haven’t read the first part of this fascinating interview with Owen Dell, you can find it here. Owen lectures around the country and internationally on sustainable landscaping and related topics. He is the author of How to Start a Home-Based Landscaping Business and Sustainable Landscaping for Dummies. Owen is also a regular contributor to many national and regional horticultural publications. He is the co-host and co-creator of the popular Santa Barbara television series, Garden Wise Guys.
Is there any place that you’ve seen extensively organized urban edible landscaping?
There are things like the Village Homes Project in Davis which, amongst the landscape architectural communities, has been held up for over forty years now as an example of a really, really good neighborhood development.
It includes communal vineyards, communal vegetable garden areas, communal orchards. It involves maybe fifty or sixty homes.
I’ve been to numerous conferences where people bring up Village Homes and say, ‘Well, nobody ever did this again, but we sure do think it’s a swell idea and somebody should.’ Then there’s always somebody from the audience that says, ‘Well, why didn’t they? If it’s so good, why hasn’t it ever been imitated elsewhere?’ Nobody ever has an answer to that.
Unfortunately, the way human beings work…we respond to crisis, but we don’t think out far enough ahead.
Going back to the example of Cuba —why did they start growing their own food? They didn’t do it until they were cut off. When they realized —we’re going to die.
They did what they needed to do and did it well. It’s worked and it continues to work.
We’re not in that crisis. We’re still fat, dumb, and happy…If you don’t want to go to Safeway you can go to your food CO-OP, your health food store, or to Whole Foods—whatever part of the commercial food system that appeals to you.
So, why would anybody want to do this? They’re busy with taking their kids to soccer practice or talking to each other on Facebook. Life—that is a barrier.
How do we do this without pissing everybody off? Without scaring people to death? Without being redacted as negative, a dreamer, or whatever? How can we say your landscape could be so much more? Your neighborhood could be so much more. Your community could be so much more—and here’s how to do it.
I give talks all over the country and in Canada. No one has ever come up to me and said, ‘I really want to do this. Let’s go.’ Ever.
I think it potentially could be a world changing idea and a very important element in our future survival and well-being. I just don’t know how to get there from here, given human nature and the current condition.
It’s very hard for people to undertake something that’s never been done before. It involves a certain amount chutzpah to go out there and talk to people. It’s going to involve some rejection and possibly conflict. In some communities there are laws against growing food, believe it or not. Grow your own food and go to jail.
Well, it definitely doesn’t seem impossible. Just like you were saying earlier—the biggest barrier really is just getting people on board.
If you only have ten percent participation in growing food for a communal food exchange, the people who do show up will see a little bit of produce, but it may only amount to one or two meals. And when you only have produce grown on that scale, I think people wouldn’t be able to conceptualize it being a real, sustainable system when they don’t have substantial participation.
When you look at our food system the way it is now, with all of its flaws, it’s encouraging to see urban farmers start profitable businesses out of growing food on vacant lots of land all over a city.
Because, if people won’t accept the negative until an absolute crisis arrives on their doorstep, they will at least accept something that is going to make them money.
Although this neighborhood tuning doesn’t make money, people need to understand that they would be saving the money they would have spent at the grocery store.
It’s another way of thinking about sustaining yourself—money doesn’t sustain you, food does.
Exactly. It would be great if we could make it take off like bee-keeping, which is very “in” right now. All the permaculture people are into it and it has suddenly gotten to be something appealing enough that people are motivated to take action. Last year, and the year before, it was chickens.
These are great things that are happening. When you can get that kind of momentum, when you cross over that threshold of resistance, then things start to get easy. The only question is—how do you get over the threshold?
To read more about Owen or to contact him, please visit his website.
Owen Dell’s Recommended Reading
We asked Owen which books he recommends. Here is his list:
Endgame, Vol. 1: The Problem of Civilization
Endgame, Vol. 2: Resistance
Deep Green Resistance: Strategy to Save the Planet
How Shall I Live My Life?: On Liberating the Earth from Civilization (PM Press)
Gaia’s Garden, Second Edition: A Guide To Home-Scale Permaculture