Edible Public Spaces

apple tree

About 4 years ago, when the recession splashed over, I wandered through the city, observing the green areas of the public spaces between the blocks of flats, with trees and bushes and asked myself why don’t those people plant fruit trees and fruit bushes there, so they can have fruits when they need. They could have fruits all spring, summer and early autumn. An maybe the lines in front of the humanitarian warehouses would be a bit shorter.

Many fruit trees grow high and bear lots of fruits, like apple trees, cherries, pears, plums, apricots, mulberries, figs, persimmons, peaches, jujubes, cornels, carobs, strawberry trees and others (in the other climate areas), and don’t need lots of tending, and don’t need to be sprayed with phytopharmaceuticals. For some years I forgot about that walk to the town that brought me that very thought.

And guess what? Two years later I was browsing the internet and I could only ask myself if someone was reading my mind when I saw this:

http://mundraub.org/

http://obststadt.at

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Sugarkind*

Most of us don’t read the ingredients content’s on the food packages, and freshly baked bread most of the time doesn’t have it. So, we don’t know exactly what we eat.

Why am I tackling this topic at all, when it is hardly interesting? Well, I guess I’m some antiquity or something like this. Maybe I’m in the years when the world, the so called progress and human endeavors look awkward.

The thing is, that one day I went to a local store and wondered how come that I see so many obese people around me, while there were practically none in my youth. Okay, we were mostly walking to the school and spent afternoons playing outdoors or helping our parents and relatives, neighbors or friends.

So we were moving a lot and burned the so called calorie intake in no time.

But there is yet another thing that passes us unnoticed.

Here. I’m going to list you some of the daily commands from my childhood:

  • Don’t overeat yourself.
  • Don’t eat sweets for a breakfast.
  • Don’t eat sweets before a regular meal.
  • Don’t eat sweets – it makes holes in your teeth.
  • Don’t eat too much before you go to sleep.
  • Drink water, if you are thirsty, or bitter lukewarm yeast&chicory coffee on a hot summer day, or unsweetened tea.
  • Eat an apple if you a hungry during meals.
  • Chew the food thoroughly.
  • Eat slowly. Don’t throw the food into yourself like into a sack.
  • Looks like these words still resonate in me and compose my diet.

When I look around, it looks like now everything has to be sweet and fast. If we look the packages we bring into our dwellings more closely we might be surprised. I was.

But before that I read a sentence that raised my interest to look this topic more closely. The sentence goes  as follows: »At the beginning of the 20th century – before the widespread cultivation of sugar beets and imports of sugar from cane – intake per capita in Europe was below 5 kg per year rising to the 40-60 kg per year seen in Europe today.« (Health in All Policies, Prospects and Potentials, 2006, http://www.eu2006.fi )

Actually sugar is in many products, we wouldn’t expect it in. Sugar is a preservative, but we used it in preserving sweet food, like jams, jellies, stewed fruit, and cookies. Now, if you read the ingredients content’s you can find it in meat, bread and stewed sour vegetables – in many foods you won’t expect to find sugar.

And guess what, now children eat their cereals in milk for breakfast, and a cup of it contains so much sugar as 6 doughnuts, was told on The Doctor’s TV several years ago (sorry, I can’t find the archived file to state the exact time when the show was aired).

This is one side of this scenario. The other is that people producing sugarcane are mostly so poor they can’t afford themselves much more than to eat one raw sugarcane stalk a day. So on one side we have people getting obese and sick from the excessive intake of a product of a processed plant that is actually a medicinal plant. And on the other side we have starving people who survive by the day consuming that very stalk of that plant.

For the doubters: medicinal properties of sugar cane (http://lifestyle.iloveindia.com/lounge/benefits-of-sugarcane-1882.html), and the same seems true also for the sugar beet http://herbs-treatandtaste.blogspot.com/2012/03/sugar-beet-source-of-sugar-in-cool.html

*In accordance with the saying ‘you are what you eat’; the humankind seems to have turned into sugarkind.

A Free Gardening Plot for the Poorest Members of the Community

About half a century ago, I lived in a country with the inflation reaching thousand percent and over. Apart from running out of money right in the middle of the month and being unable to get to our jobs except by foot or by bicycle, it was fun. We were all millionaires. Money wasn’t anything serious anymore. The situation resembled the situation in »Gone with the Wind« where money was used for stuffing the holes in the walls. We played children’s roulette with it instead. Then, overnight, our country lost 80% of its market, the 30% allowed profit margin, and only domestic market remained.

During high inflation times our self-sustenance with the food produced in our own country was 80-90%. People owned small farms, where some of the owners farmed after their full time jobs. Other people rented the land from private farmers and some from the state. House owners usually had gardens, where fruits, vegetables and even poultry or other small animals were kept. Yet others rented small gardening plots in the town’s vicinity, where they grew vegetables and fruits. Growing own food wasn’t disgraceful then.

And, we were sharing within the communities – what one had in abundance he/she would offer to the neighbor and receive something useful in return. People regularly went to help their relatives who were farming and received food in return. In afternoons many went to help their friends or relatives to build or repair their houses.

Some 25 years later those gardening plot groups were banished, because their shags were disrupting the views of the town officials. This happened while hypermarkets were built.  So, at present we have about 2,5 square meters shopping space per person (above EU average) and some 10-20% of self-sustenance with the domestic food production, declining expertise in agricultural knowledge among the young generations, an increasing expertise among the poor in chasing discounted food offered by the continuous marketing actions and no limits to the profit margins. Supermarkets offer a separate box with discounted vegetables and fruits nearing their expiration date and a cart to place a purchased item for the poor. A gloomy sight!

Then in 2005, when I visited my relatives in the USA, I observed how people used their credit cards. The situation looked so familiar, I was sure it won’t last long before the whole system crashes. I didn’t need to wait more than three years. The entropic system crumbled like a house of cards and spread all over the planet.

However, it looks like poor people can support themselves during recession when they can grow food on their own or rented gardening plots. The more natural the food production, the better it is as we can read in Food and Permaculture, where David Blume states that “permacultural farming yields 8 times more than what USDA claims possible” and 22% CEC (Cation Exchange Capacity) for the soil (the divide line between dead and alive soil is 5% CEC).

I presume that every municipality owns some (surrounding) land. So, my suggestion is that every municipality on the planet offers a free of charge gardening plot in the town’s vicinity to its poorest members. Maybe they can even offer some flat roofs, if they can hold the weight of the soil and vegetables. It wouldn’t be such entirely new idea, some states and communities have provided themselves with gardening before as we can see in the documentary series Around the World in 80 Gardens by Colin Jones and other similar documentaries.

There should be no rent for the poorest; the only condition should be that they learn how to grow organically produced vegetables and fruits.  And maybe they can dig a well for the watering. There are more benefits to this than just food supply. Usually it is more satisfactory to produce own food than to beg for it at one of the charity institutions. It usually has more dignity in it and people don’t lose their connectedness to the land so quickly. Their children might pick up some agricultural knowledge while helping to garden as well. And in due time they might become not only experts in gardening, but also experts in avoiding food adds for they will learn that the most delicious food comes from the soil and not from the store shelves. In this way the poor might not live in such scarcity and the agricultural knowledge won’t be lost either.

Grapevine

It was sad to watch the vine producers how they crying out of rage pluck the still unripe grapes to receive the 5000 € subsidy for not producing wine last year. In recession the produced wine is more difficult to sell and the wine as well. Yet, most of them don’t have the needed savings to overcome the years of scarcity.

However, I ask myself, if it wouldn’t be a better way to give the subsidies for the production of the ripe grapes and donating them to the kindergartens, primary, secondary and high schools, student’s organizations, Karitas, Red Cross, food bank, crisis center, women/men refuge and similar institutions. Or, they would invite the schools on a field trip, where they would participate in grape-harvesting, and the harvest would be taken to the school and partly home and maybe they could participate in making pasteurized grape juice.

Years ago, when I was still working in my profession, I didn’t think about this, yet I have been meeting lots of people to whom such a solution would be very helpful. Back then, people, if they had at least a bit of spare money, rented a gardening plot to produce their own vegetables for the summer, when the school meals weren’t available. If the hail destroyed their tomatoes, they cried, because it was the only tomatoes they could possibly eat that summer.

The period we live in now has much similarities with the one described above. That’s why it is worth trying. Maybe we will all be less angry, disappointed and sad.

The grapevine, though, is useful also for some other uses not only for making wine, especially, if it is of organic produce. The grapevine blossoms make good tea and help to improve eyesight and revive nerves. The leaves make a pleasant refreshing, a bit sour tasting tea, and are good for treating arthritis and other diseases. Tendrils taste sour as well, and are good for leveling the skin pigmentation freckles and cleaning the face skin. The grapevine juice from the stem is used against dandruff, skin diseases and hair loss. Grapes are good also to make juice, jelly and jam. And the washed out pips are used to make oil. These are only some medicinal uses of grapevine from folk medicine.

In organically produced grapes it is said to work well, if the rape is sown beneath the grapevine, hence it evaporates enough sulphur, so the use of phytopharmaceuticals isn’t necessary. The onion is supposed to work in the same way as well. I guess it also depends on the weather. Some also let the sheep to pasture in the vineyard, so the sheep graze all the grass and the grapevine leaves up to 1 meter height and also manure the vineyard. So the byproduct is also sheep milk, sheep cheese and wool.

So there are quite some other possibilities, and maybe it’s worth a try.