Jul 242012

By Alexia Mills

An update from my work at Edendale Farm in Los Angeles:

Those of us trying to live mindfully of our impact on the environment face a common conflict: to what extent can we live with the earth while still engaging in society? A common misconception tells us that every compromise must be made if one chooses to live in the city, with the straw-man alternative of isolating oneself as a hermit in a mountain cabin. But in reality, urban living requires far fewer compromises than we may think. In these past few weeks, I’ve been lucky to discover and participate in new ways of being in the city… ways that hone our social and environmental consciousness and reward us with a life-affirming existence in the meantime.

A potluck forms at the Micheltorena School Community Garden

The idea of “farming” conjures images of a calm pastoral scene far from the humming concrete jungle of a city. When we shed this romantic ideal, we can re-imagine farming in an urban context. The set-up at Edendale looks little like a pastoral paradise: nestled in the rows of fruit trees stand orange metal poles – pallet racks carrying shelves for “vertical gardening”. This arrangement mirrors the urban pattern of maximizing usage of space vertically. The shelving is still under construction, but will carry boxed beds of vegetables and tanks of fish. From the top of the tallest pallet rack hangs a large white vinyl sheet that was harvested from the trash of a local billboard manufacturer. This sheet becomes a screen for projecting movies during community events.

Alexia and two farm volunteers using their feet to mix a batch of "cob" - a natural building material we used to build retaining walls for the farm's duck pond

In cities, human energy is the most abundant resource available to us. Not only can we use it as an input to our full advantage, but we can also treat it as an output in our projects. During events like potlucks and movie screenings, the farm becomes a site for nurturing social interconnections. Neighbors form relationships that help each other in their projects toward living sustainably: exchanging surplus from their gardens and organizing rideshares downtown. Though the goal of fostering community can feel abstract, its effects can be felt immediately by participants, who are often starved for social connection due to the city’s tendency to alienate people from each other. As we shift toward more sustainable ways of being, we find that human energy is our greatest resource and community is our most rewarding crop.

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