Picture three young women getting on their bicycles and pedaling from the District of Columbia to Montreal and back to visit urban food gardens and other young people caught up in the movement to take back our agriculture.
They call themselves Women's Garden Cycles--Liz Tylander, Kat Schiffler, Lara Sheets--and we are only too lucky that they took a video camera and some sound equipment on their bicycle adventure because they have turned a farming travelogue into an extraordinary film about local food. Last night they drew upwards of 100 like-minded and youthful gardeners to the Letelier Theater in Georgetown for a rousing screening of their bicycle epic, complete with free Maryland beer, peanuts out of Mason jars and hand-crafted pizza.
Having spent several months in a bicycle seat at one point in another lifetime, I was immediately in love with the idea of this incredible adventure. I wanted to go, too. The genius of their idea was to drop in on community gardens and small farm operations along their route to take the pulse of this unfolding revolution in food production, the movement away from toxic industrial agriculture toward an embrace of sustainable, earth-friendly, community-minded farming.
Philadelphia, New Jersey, New York City, Boston, Vermont, Montreal--wherever you look there are people of every hue and ethnic background with their hands in the soil, using every possible means to bring forth a bounty of healthful fruits and vegetables to share with neighbors. There are long rows of broccoli in the country, tomatoes climbing out of plastic buckets in the city. There are tumble-down sheds turned into milking barns and urban rooftops transformed into tangles of squashes and peppers and eggplants.
Bill McKibben, author, teacher and local food advocate, makes a prominent appearance in the film. McKibben notes that certain young people, after spending a small fortune on a college education, are seeking nothing more than a few acres on which to grow vegetables and raise a few goats. Parents may not approve, but this generation is ready to forego the enticements of our consumer culture in order to grasp a transformative moment.
These are the new American farmers, and against their enthusiasm--their eagerness to recapture a sense of self-reliance, stewardship and community-- the old agriculture--with its polluting methods, unhealthy products and de-humanizing corporate culture--truly looks like a sad relic from another time.
Perhaps the best news is that the movement has taken root in the nation's capitol as well. We are seeing more farmers bringing their produce to market. New farmers markets are sprouting all the time. And efforts like the 7th Street Garden--where young, dynamic urban farmers link up with a neighborhood to raise wholesome, chemical-free vegetables--are showing us what is possible, the way forward. Last night's crowd--full of energy, determination and muscle--looked for all the world like the vanguard of a new era.
It's a very exciting time to be a gardener.