Cogs and Crops
Cogs and Crops

One of the countless byproducts of the industrial revolution is the industrial food system that feeds the modern developed world.  Industrialists are still working overtime to monopolize the growing, harvesting, processing and merchandizing of food in the western world and to export that same industrial food system to “new markets” in the developing world.  The West, in general, and America in particular, has become so accustomed to this “factory production” style of food acquisition that we really don’t see the system anymore.

2014 SeptOct JohnA pic 3Rwanda cargo

Among the many problems created by this “mass marketing” approach to growing and eating food is the distance food travels by planes, boats, trains and trucks.  This phenomenon is referred to as “food miles”.

We can imagine food systems that are local and regional, dignifying food growers, reducing voluminous waste and pollution associated with the industrial food system, and creating food resiliency in the places we live.  There’s a lot of low hanging fruit locally, including:

  • Farmers’ Markets  -  There are 5 markets in different Riverside neighborhoods offering fruits, vegetables, eggs and meat.
  • Farm Stands  -  Corona Farms at the corner of Victoria Ave. and Madison St. has an excellent selection and is open daily.
  • Community Garden  -  Participate in community growing, or rent a plot and grow your own.
  • At Home  -  On a bit of land, in raised beds or on a porch with pots, plant vegetables and herbs.
  • Food Co-op or CSA (community supported agriculture)  -  Join a group that allows a local grower to bring fresh food to your door.

2014 SeptOct JohnA pic 2

The Common Good Sustainability Project seeks to build community around bicycles, buildings and gardens.  Part of God’s call to us is an increased awareness of how these realms interact with one another.  If one of the main problems with the industrial food system is long “food miles,” one of the joyful counterpoints in a local food system is moving that produce by bicycle.  An obvious choice for many is to ride your bike to the farmers market or grocery store to pick up those locally grown goods.  Put baskets or panniers on your bike to carry bags more easily and safely.  (Mad Street Bikes or a local bike shop will gladly help you set up a bike for this kind of utility commuting.)

This interface between local food and transporting by bicycles is a perfect opportunity to introduce cargo bikes.  From Rwanda to Viet Nam, people have used two-wheeled locomotion to transport crops and catches of fish to market for generations.  In Europe and the Americas, there is a burgeoning culture of cargo bikes used to take kids to school, respond to emergencies, move entire households and circulate fresh food from community gardens to food pantries, Co-ops and CSA pick-up points.  These bikes are engineered to carry hundreds of pounds of payload while being operated safely and efficiently by a single rider.  They are a means of empowerment for those who can’t afford cars or are looking for new ways to live in this world.

How do we build a new food system from the ground up?  Wherever “your place” is, consider how God may be inviting you to live into that neighborhood, city, watershed, county, or region as part of a local food system.  Is your path to grow or harvest or sell or transport by bike?  Perhaps using bikes as part of the local food system is a “veggie roots” movement.  Whatever you call it, let’s see how we can all imagine, build and operate local food systems instead of maintaining the unhealthy, industrial food system that’s become so automatic in our world.

John HeadshotJohn Alfred is a lifetime cyclist in Riverside and beyond, and a member of the Mayor’s Bicycle Advisory Committee in Riverside.

Photo credits to Rwanda Cargo; Cargobike 1 – cityfarmer.ingo and Mad Street Garden – Brian Barnes.

Posted by Debbie Wright