Local food is normal

The Gazette Opinion Staff
Published: January 30 2014 | 12:01 am - Updated: 29 March 2014 | 2:51 am in

By Fred Meyer


I love eating. Over the years, I have gotten pretty good at it. Food fresh from my yard is a favorite.

I look forward to sorrel and spinach in April. Summer brings cherry tomatoes wrapped in basil along with baby carrots and blue potatoes glistening from a light scrub. Gooseberry, currant and aronia berry shrubs started yielding last year. With luck, I will bite into a few juicy apples, pears and cherries from my trees in their third year of growth.

During the growing season, stepping into my yard to forage for entire meals is pure joy. Few strawberries and snap peas make it inside — their delectability is only fully realized in sunshine and fresh air. No dishes. No recipes. Just grazing until I am satisfied.

This is local food. It is the way humans have eaten for the majority of our time on the planet. It is how all other critters eat. It is normal. We invented the term “local food” to help describe the normality of foraging and eating where we live. (The term “organic” was created for similar reasons of normalcy.)

While every other animal and insect sees the world as a giant, free buffet, the human food system mandates that we be at a specific place, during a precise time, with the correct amount of money so we can … eat. “Self-induced scarcity” is an accurate description of our current food system given the relative ease of replacing vast areas of turf grass and ornamentals with food-bearing alternatives.

How would it feel to constantly be surrounded by food in our neighborhoods and parks? How would this affect our hoarding tendencies? What social and environmental issues might be solved?

With the exception of healthful dandelions, my front yard of no-mow turf grass provides few benefits. This will change over the years with the implementation of a small neighborhood gathering patio and loads of edible landscaping. Problems with fallen fruit on the sidewalk and an extra community opossum might arise, but I will happily take on these difficulties if it means I help solve larger problems of family hunger, people’s declining health, climate-changing carbon emissions, pollution, wildlife habitat destruction, and lack of community cohesiveness.

My yard is too small for large food-bearing trees, but it would be great to harvest persimmons or heartnuts from a nearby public green space. Perhaps I could help a neighbor by grazing on an overabundance of front-yard peaches, hardy kiwis and hazelnuts while pulling a few weeds and spreading some mulch. In return, residents are very welcome to the apples, clove currants and culinary herbs that currently grow next to my driveway.

Backyard Abundance and Iowa City Park and Recreation are hosting several events this year and next year to implement the public Wetherby Park Edible Forest through fun classes and events. You are invited to participate in these events, helping create a more normal and humane food system through beautiful, edible landscapes of shared food.

Kickoff visioning events happen on Feb. 2 and 23 at the Iowa City Public Library. Visit the Backyard Abundance website or Facebook page for more information and to find dates for other events: www.BackyardAbundance.org.

Fred Meyer, a local eater in Iowa City, is the director of Backyard Abundance. Comments: fred.meyer@BackyardAbundance.org

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