What’s Dirt Got to Do With It?

I love dirt. Dirt is important to me. When I was six my sister refused to let me sit on her bed because apparently there was dirt in my hair (there was). It didn’t really bother me though because the time I spent outside, investigating each blade of grass and each creepy crawler, was worth sitting on the floor. As I got older, dirt transformed from this benign medium for my outdoor fun, into a life-giving elixir for all of the tasty veggies my mom always seemed to be tending to. Over the years, she helped me appreciate the value of the human connection with nature by teaching me everything she knew about gardening. I apologize in advance for the cliché; gardening keeps me grounded. When I’m at the NYU farm sprinkling some water over freshly sprouted seedlings, all of the worries whispering in my mind are temporarily shut off. For me, farming is meditative, relaxing, and dirty. When I imagine what urban farming would look like in the future, my version has dirt.

From what I’ve gathered from readings and conversations with my classmates, it is undeniable that urban farming has more to offer than calories for urbanites. Something beautiful happens when a community comes together in a farm setting. Each individual has their own unique skills and experiences that each add something special to the mix. Alongside veggies and herbs, I’d like to imagine that people are growing too. I think that the physical and mental effort required of farming (getting your hands dirty), helps one to develop a deeper understanding of what it means to provide nutrients to the body.

A classmate of mine, Kiara, did some research on a farm in the Bronx that seemed to have most of the attributes as my ideal urban farm. La Finca del Sur is led by Black and Latina women and strives to “build healthy neighborhoods through economic empowerment and increased nutritional awareness.”  Farms like this demonstrate to me that urban farming has the potential to change our society for the better. In some ways we are lucky to have grocery stores that display immaculate bouquets of broccoli and shrink-wrapped iceberg lettuce. But in other ways we are missing out. There is something incredible about eating something you have grown yourself. Even playing a minor part of an urban farm community has the potential to change the way you think about food. As the urban agriculture movement expands, many different types of urban farms are emerging.

Hydroponic farms seem to embody the opposite of what La Finca del Sur offers. When crops are grown hydroponically, instead of dirt there are mineral solutions in water which penetrate the roots. When hydroponics are indoors (which they probably would be in an urban setting), the farmer has the ability to basically create an isolated microenvironment. Farms such as these occasionally even get their own batch of bees sent in to do their jobs as pollinators.  Instead of catering to the health and cohesion of a community, these farms are simply for profit.There’s nothing wrong about being a for-profit farm, after all, farming is a business. My thinking though is that an urban environment would benefit much more from community farms which have educational goals in mind. If I was to go visit Gotham Greens greenhouse in Brooklyn, I can’t imagine that I would feel the same connection to nature that I feel at the NYU urban farm lab.

Furthermore, the complex individuals that form communities don’t seem to have a place in a fluorescently lit greenhouse with rows upon rows of perfectly formed lettuce, even if it was just for a tour. This setting appears to be so sterile that a human’s touch would have an instantaneous rotting effect. It seems to me that all of the joy I had as a child rolling in the mud, and now a novice gardener, is not feasible in this environment. In my opinion, a garden shouldn’t look like the interior of the research lab if its purpose reaches beyond food supply.

I would like to end this post with a series of photographs taken by artist Eve K. Tremblay at a hydroponics farm in Montreal. How does looking at these photos make you think about the evolution of agriculture? Would you want to live in a city, or a world, where hydroponics prevailed over traditional methods of farming? What does dirt mean to you?
Visit her site to see how critics have interpreted her work!

BY: Lana Del Vecchio


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