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Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The question of the day

Salem River SunsetApparently all that food growing around Salem is not appropriate for a "natural place." Image by Renee_W via Flickr

A regular, local LOVESalem reader writes:
The announcement of compounding problems (algae bloom, very high temperatures and stuck dam gates) facing the City's water supply shows our failing ecosystems, climate and infrastructure are catching up with us. What will it be like in the near future, let along a couple of decades from now?
Almost simultaneously, a friend in Bellingham, Washington, was writing:
The local water treatment plant, which takes water from the huge Lake Whatcom (which in turn stays full by diverting part of a branch of the Nooksack river into the lake), recently had to reduce capacity because of algae buildup (!). Nobody seems to want to inquire about the algae source - the lake is largely surrounded by homes with septic systems and grassy lawns owned by the wealthier folks (at least some of whom must put all kinds of chemicals on their lawn to maintain that perfect look). Duh! Then pile on a bit warmer weather (due to hit around 100 over the next few days - we've not seen that since we moved here in 1995), and payback begins in the form of algae. We won't necessarily be hauling water for miles, but we will be drinking algae.

Bottom line: in one of the wettest civilized places in the u.s. plus a ~~20 square mile deep glacial-dug lake, there is now a water shortage with pleas to limit lawn watering and car washing.
As this was going on, the City Council was apparently embracing a proposal to permanently bar agriculture from 200 acres of Minto-Brown Island Park -- with absolutely no thought to what our future food needs will be, no thought about alternatives to "restoration," only thought on the federal dollars.

The worst part is that one citizen who testified said that "I always thought of the park as a natural space," and the mayor agreed with her.

What volumes those few words speak: Apparently agriculture -- the means by which humans feed themselves -- is unnatural and detracts from "natural space." That's like saying that breast feeding detracts from the natural bottle feeding that God intended. There's clearly a belief among some that agriculture -- the activity that preserved the park in the first place so that its land could be deeded to the city -- is out of place in a "natural space." This mindset doesn't mind tract homes and acre after acre of McMansions, but suggest that we grow some of the food that we depend on nearby or -- gasp! -- keep a few hens in the yards of those homes and suddenly you're detracting from the natural beauty.

Just like US policy has been to encourage all grain farming to be done in the square states and all fruit and vegetable farming in California's Central Valley, we just lopped hundreds of good farmland out of a park in the name of keeping it natural. Because there's nothing more natural than factory-farmed food delivered by jet airplane or diesel tractor-trailer, an average of 1500 miles to Salem.

UPDATE: People don't seem to get that Salem is already suffering from a food security crisis, with the Marion Polk Food Share dealing with an overwhelming surge in demand. Here's a look at a food bank in California. How will Salem residents in the future regard our thoughtlessness about acres where we successfully grew local food for decades?

UPDATE 2: Statesman-Journal notices that we've got a water problem.
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