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Rage One (blog)

lunes, marzo 19, 2012

Against Enclosure: Food Forests and Permaculture in the United States as a form of Capitalist Development

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Recently, this video: "300 year old food forest in Vietnam" has been circulating and most folks may watch it with little attention to what goes into "establishing a food forest" in places like the United States. I rarely do op ed's but I felt that there was a need to do so when it comes to the dominant forms of acceptable "food forests" and permaculture in the United States, their development, and the demise and destruction of subordinated "food forests" and permaculture like the South Central Farm that used to be in Los Angeles.

In Santa Barbara County, CA we have been able to see first hand, the amount of capital that goes in to freeing up land, changing local development laws and towards transforming "vacant" lots into urban food forests. The Mesa Harmony Garden was one such project in the Mesa Neighborhood of Santa Barbara, CA.

The Mesa Harmony Garden

This project was made possible because the Holy Cross Catholic Church needed a justification to hold on to land that like many other Catholic Parish properties was subject to being sold, due to the high cost of court settlement fees, accrued from Arch-diocese child sex abuse settlements. In California, East Los Angeles for example, community Centers such as Self-Help Graphics succumbed to this type of loss:

Self-Help Graphics building has been sold by Catholic Archdiocese

The Holy Cross Catholic Church, unlike the parish that held Self-Help Graphics in Los Angeles, was able to hold ownership of the land by leasing it for the development of the Mesa Harmony Garden.

In Santa Barbara, through the efforts of "progressive" Santa Barbara Community College students, in particular a former CEO of a well known company, a large amount of capital was raised, city managers were swayed and local ordinances were maneuvered in order for the Mesa Harmony Garden to become a reality.

This type of power development did not stop at the city level. In north county, the construction firm that was responsible for making the "permaculture" aspect of this type of development happen ran into trouble with County accessibility codes in terms of its plan to construct a garden near a school. This firm with the help of a larger lobbying network was able to successfully change county wide accessibility codes to conform to their construction plans. This meant that the Mesa Harmony Garden benefitted from the lowering of accessibility requirements and thus the first step towards enclosure began even prior to either of these "urban food forest's" construction.

The next levels of enclosure occur at the levels of production, distribution and nutrition education.

PRODUCTION: At the 2011 Santa Barbara County Localizing our Food Conference, it was clear that the purpose for localizing food production through development projects like "urban food forests" was not to create a commons that everyone would have access to, but to make a business out of the distribution of this subsidized and localized method of producing food. The summary of the conference was very telling, UC Santa Barbara was to take the lead in Research and Development of how to free land for production, lobby the county and municipal governments to allow further depletion of water resources in the name of production, and ultimately to lobby changes in federal legislation to "democratize" federal subsidies towards local production by encouraging new small farmers. Though I attended with the sole panelist who discussed labor, her recommendations were given little attention. It was clear that when it came to developing "urban food forests" and permaculture for production, the driving logic was about making money.

DISTRIBUTION: In regards to distribution, it was clear that established middle men, such as The Berry Man, Inc. in Santa Barbara County also wanted a piece of the profit. It was at this level that the intended distribution of the food that was to be produced locally was to be primarily institutions as opposed to individual household consumers, this constituted another level of enclosure in regards to access. The middle men lobbied heavily for the removal of distribution barriers (i.e. policies and infrastructure), as well as for the federal government to provide incentives at the level of distribution. At the level of institutions, facilities were lacking in most institutional Kitchens at public schools and Universities and the middle men wanted government agencies to subsidize kitchen upgrades so that they could keep more fresh produce with facilities like walk in coolers.

NUTRITION EDUCATION: The last area of enclosure involved cultivating a specific type of consumer. One of the most interesting proposals at this level was the idea of advocating the claiming of food stamps by more Santa Barbara County residents, and educating them to purchase fresh produce at the farmers markets with those food stamps. It was clear here as well, that the bottom line was the amount of profit that could be made.

Santa Barbara County 2011 Localizing our Food Conference Summary

The Santa Barbara case, however, is not unique. In the "300 year old food forest in Vietnam" video above, it is clear that food forests are not a new phenomenon, yet it has become all the rave in regards to development projects such as the one in the Beacon Hill neighborhood in Seattle, Washington:

Beacon Hill Food Forest

To be ever more clear, folks, the capitalist development of food forests and capitalist development of permaculture in places like Beacon Hill and the Santa Barbara Mesa are an integral part of enclosure, an enclosure that goes hand and hand with the extended gentrification of neighborhoods as an aspect of capitalist development.

This brings us to my last point in this op ed. Food forests have been cultivated by human beings, specifically those of us with peasant backgrounds, for hundreds and hundreds of years. When we move due to displacement, we construct those same types of food forests in our front and back yards, and in vacant lots like the South Central Farm in Los Angeles.

See: Link 2: "South Central Farmers Feeding Families" and Link 9: "Putting Knowledge in its Place"

However, these types of "food forests" constructed in the name of a community commons as opposed to an enclosure for profit are not the types of food forests that are all the rave in the United States. The South Central Farm was bulldozed to the ground in June of 2006:

South Central Farm Bulldozed

When the Austrailian man in the above film states at the end of the clip that "this is a view of the past, and the view of the future" and claims that " 'WE' had them before and will have them again towards a sustainable future." I'm an not convinced that his "we" includes all of "us".


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