If every homeowner in Seattle ripped up their lawn and replaced it with edible plants, the resulting crop production would be enough to feed just one percent of the city’s residents, according to a new study by researchers at the University of Washington.
Researchers in Seattle performed a rigorous analysis of the potential to grow the city's own food. Their conclusions are very similar to my own, based on our experiments in Portland: if everyone in Portland converted their yards and rooftops and driveways to food production, and planted all the public areas, and did a better job than we did...the city could still only feed half its population.
The Seattle study estimates the city could grow 21% of a balanced diet for the city's inhabitants, assuming conversion of all possible surfaces (permeable and impermeable) to food production. Seattle, like Portland, and like all other cities with dense populations, can never be sustainable.
What are the implications for those of us working towards local food systems? It doesn't mean we shouldn't continue our work. But we shouldn't delude ourselves or others into denying cities' dependence on massive importation of resources, almost always extracted violently from the land, and often from humans. It's good and noble work to establish a community garden, or to convert our lawns to perennial polycultures to support humans and non-humans alike. But these individual actions, even if adopted by everyone, will never add up to the systematic transformation we need. To leverage their impact, this localization must be integrated into a culture of resistance, supporting direct dismantling of the industrial infrastructure wreaking large-scale havoc.
It's enjoyable and satisfying, but it's not a real solution to just putter around in our backyards while the world burns. We have to think about, and get involved with, the big picture.
Read the full article about the study: This is why cities can't grow all their own food
The article has also sparked a discussion between myself and another person on Reddit, with more of my thoughts on cities, sustainability, the value of individual action, and more