Happy New Year, everybody! I’m back at home after a nice, relaxing, and expensive vacation. I’m spending the day working on a bit of housekeeping and organizing, so you can expect a more complete write-up of my holiday travels soon. For now, I’m going to talk about something that is frozen solid for most of you: your lawn.
That’s right, I’m going to talk about lawns.
I mean, seriously. It requires large quantities of water and fertilizer to keep a lawn in good condition, it takes up a lot of time and effort, you can’t eat it, and it takes up arable land that could be used for things that you can eat. Unless you’re going to do something fun with that green grass, like play football or Frisbee on it, why not put in a garden?
One of the cool things about Ghana is the way the government is going about the issue of food security. About 10 years ago, they started a program called “Operation Feed Thyself” in which they encouraged everyone — not just poor villagers — starting small personal farms. The program was very successful; it’s difficult to find people who *don’t* have a farm, and there seldom outbreaks of famine or wide-spread malnutrition. Recently, the government decided to expand the food security push into the area of urban agriculture: specifically, the use of arable land that would otherwise be planted in grass or left to grow weeds.
Very rarely do you see a large patch of land near a house, office, or school that is used as lawn space; more often than not, people will plant maize or cocoa yams (which require very little supervision) or put in a more conventional urban garden with tomatoes, eggplants, peppers, and plantain trees. It may not seem like much, but a 10 foot by 5 foot patch of tomato plants puts out a lot of tomatoes. The same is true of maize, and doubly so for plantain trees. And especially in urban areas, where not everybody has access to enough land for a traditional farm, it makes sense to use the boundaries, medians, and otherwise open, wasted patches of land for something useful.
These little urban agriculture experiments not only help to feed people and reduce the amount of money spent on food, but they help communities take ownership of the land around them, and beautify an area where there would otherwise be nothing. And it’s just plain cool! Can you imagine how awesome it is as a kid to grow up in a city and get to play hide-and-seek among the rows of corn next to your apartment building? To taste real tomatoes — not crappy, unripe, flavorless supermarket tomatoes, but real tomatoes — that you picked yourself, right off your balcony? To plant a tree as a kid and watch it grow as you grow up?
It fascinates me that such a simple idea — plant vegetables instead of grass — can have such a big impact. And it’s an example of something the developed world can learn from the developing world: when in doubt, plant things that you can eat.
Alright, time to go do other things. Until next time…