urbanter

Student blog of the Stanford University Urban Studies Department

Monthly Archives: July 2011

When Scarcity Meets Abundance

There are a lot of hungry people in the U.S. And I am not using the term “a lot” lightly. According to worldhunger.org, over 17 millions families in the U.S. are food insecure. Yet, despite the severity of America’s hunger problem, each year the U.S. throws over 34 millions tons of perfectly edible food into the landfill. 

To me, the co-existence of widespread hunger and excessive levels of food waste is absurd. How can such massive levels of food waste be legal—or at the very least socially acceptable—when so many are hungry?

Over the summer, I am working with an organization that attempts to redress a portion of this illogical coexistence of hunger and food waste. This organization is The Free Farm Stand, located in the Mission District of San Francisco. The Free Farm Stand operates by collecting unsold produce from farmers markets across the Bay Area and bringing this produce to Parque Niños Unidos. This produce is then arranged into little baskets, placed on shaded tables, and given away every Sunday for free. While the food is intended for those who cannot afford to purchase fresh produce, all are welcome. Through this effort, hundreds of families are given fresh produce weekly and farmers are relived of having to find a way to dispose of their unsold fruits and vegetables.

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To me, this process just makes sense. There is no reason that hunger should exist alongside an overabundance of nutritious food.

Yet, while I appreciate the work that the Free Farm Stand is able to do, I know that food waste and food access issues run much deeper than anything the stand can hope to address. For instance, due to twisted food subsidies, purchasing a Big Mac in the U.S. costs far less than a bag of lettuce. That means that in the U.S., the most affordable route out of hunger leads directly to obesity.

It’s a messy, confusing system, and I do not think there is any one solution that can fix it. However, if food-based issues say in the political and cultural spotlight that they currently occupy, I am hopeful that America’s food system will improve in the semi-near future.

A Tale of Two Farmettes

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We think of cities as permanent, and man-made objects as everlasting. It is true that most urban materials don’t decompose at the eco-friendly rate we’d like them to, but our surroundings are more transient than we would like to believe.

I went to visit my aunt and uncle in Pennsylvania over the long weekend. They live near Bellefonte—a politically powerful town at the turn of the century, but now a quiet pocket of Victorian history. Their home—a beautiful three story Victorian-era farmhouse—was only occupied by the original owners for a short while before the wife decided it was too far from the main road (highway 64). She made her husband rebuild the exact same house about a ¼ mile away from the original, and the two “farmettes” have existed nearby ever since. The second homestead was run as a 94-acre farm until 2001 when the owner died and her kids made some bad real estate deals that left the house and external buildings abandoned.

Naturally, my cousins and I decided it would be fun to explore the property. It’s been only a decade, but to see the house and accompanying barns, you’d think they had been untouched since the 50’s.  The house is alternately decorated with shag carpet and climbing vines poking through the windows.  The walls have sickening floral wallpaper plastered against the unfinished bark growing through the walls. The house and the hay barn are as much a part of nature as they are in opposition. It was strange to see this deteriorating home, a replica of my aunt’s house, and think that her meticulously furnished rooms would too merge back with the materials they came from given only a short period of neglect.  The abandoned hay barn is beautiful—sections of the tin roof falling through, black raspberry bushes guarding the carefully harvested hay bails, and only your thoughts to imagine the people and equipment which have passed through. Even still, I’m not sure I’m ready to let my aunt’s garden shed or bedroom reach this point some number of decades from now.  So no, neglect will not be the next fad in home decorating, but the peace surrounding the lonely farmette reminded me that nature and civilization can work in unison quite effortlessly.