SHORT #5: Growing Food on Broad Street
a downtown where nature is more important than the financial district
Just above the city, the grain is nearly ripe.
Tamyen and Farmer Che sit in the field, accompanied by a nearby sparrow who seems to be eating a cricket. “The birds always get the freshest food” says Che, “but ours is not too bad either.”
Today’s lunch is rice with foraged mountain vegetables, herbs, and a dash of soy sauce. On top are the last of the pickled bamboo shoots from spring. Tamyen proudly eats these, remembering the work it took to get them out of the ground.
“You know Farmer Che, I love coming here to help you. It’s so beautiful. I am sure if we grew food like this everywhere, that people and other living things would all be better for it.”
Che squints at Tamyen and washes his food down with a swig of rice wine before replying. “You sound like a poet. Did you change your major?”
“No. I’m still at the sustainability institute.”
“Oh. Good,” Che laughs. “You’re better at that.”
“Actually, we’re studying urban farming systems this semester. But they are nothing like your farm. Do you think Ag Villages can really exist on Broad Street?”
“They already have a bull down there, don’t they?”
“That’s a sculpture, Che.”
“Yeah? Well look, they took out the cars down there some years ago. I guess the next logical step is interconnected food forests and natural farming corridors. We need more ways for people to have their hands in the soil every once in a while. You know? Pick some apples on your lunch break, harvest rice once a year, or chase down a chicken.”
Tamyen’s long black hair whips back and forth as he laughs. “Definitely never gonna see the suits chasing chickens.”
“You might yet. Every agroecology scientist knows how this might work. It’s just hard for the rest of us to see what comes after.”
“What comes after what? After we put nature in the city centers?” Tamyen is confused. His teachers at the Sustainability Institute had lectured him on smart cities, on net-zero standards, and on nature-based technology, but in all his classes, he has never seen a proposal for natural forests and farms in the financial districts.
“Not nature in them, Tamyen. Nature in place of them. Remember all of the financial and technological fixes we thought would save us twenty years ago? They all went bust because we thought they were ends in themselves. We weren’t looking at them from the point of view of nature.”
“I don’t understand Che. We need buildings and technology and science, and all these things!”
“Of course we do. But if you want it to be sustainable Tamyen, it has to answer to nature, not the other way around. You know, we think a cement sidewalk is important, but so are the weeds that grow through the cracks. When do we ever listen to them?”
“Listen to a weed?”
“To everything, Tamyen. To the weeds. To the living things in the soil. To the trees. To the wind. Do they still not teach this at the Institute? The answers are in nature. We just need to remember how to listen to the living world around us.”
“But, Farmer Che.”
Che suddenly looks exasperated. As one of the most popular Ag Village farmers, he has heard the same questions thousands of times, from every urban environmental student who has ever visited his farm. The soft whiskers above his lip seem to fight from being dragged in his mouth, and then, suddenly, they wriggle and wave out like white streamers.
“I don’t know how to extrapolate that kind of data from nature. Is there some kind of software or algorithm you know of?”
A complicated look takes over the Farmer’s face. He wants to shout at Tamyen. He wants to curse the Institution.
Presently, the sparrow on the branch—who has been listening in the whole time—crooks her head and looks down at both of them curiously. Her poop must have been aimed precisely. She chirps as it ejects. Splatters on the front of Che’s balding forehead. A bit drips down his glasses.
No one moves for several moments.
A wind comes up the valley, a sound, a wave of ripping grain, and then a caress of the skin. Farmer Che cleans off his forehead and glasses, and then watches, together with Tamyen, as the bird dives out into the landscape, taking the urge to shout along with her. Perhaps she will drop it off in the forest for a crow.
“You should come up here more often Tamyen. I think that bird has the data you’re looking for.”
Hi, I’m Patrick, and each week at The Possible City, I write and illustrate a short adventure. Based on real people and places, these are stories of imaginative ideas and ways of thinking for equitable, resilient, regenerative cities. If you enjoyed this one, please subscribe and share it with others!
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