Blogging this morning with friends on two other continents (Southwest Asia - Rami Zurayk, and North Africa - Maryanne Stroud Gabbani). Maryanne just posted about food around her farm in Giza, in the exurbs of Cairo, and Rami thought the link I sent him so charming that he blogged it from his desk somewhere in Lebanon.
Rami also blogged this article on eating local in New York City from the latest New Yorker. I sent him the link via email last night. Read the magazine as well for a terrific profile of my favorite cookbook writer, Claudia Roden - more on this later.
My comments to Rami on the possibilities for food gardening in New York City:
A friend of mine in the old days in NYC kept pigeons in an enormous, room-sized coop on his roof. He flew them for pleasure - never ate them. He also kept a rabbit or two, tropical birds, designer chickens, a dog and a cat. His children's friends claimed they lived in a zoo.
When I lived in NYC on the Lower East Side (1981-84), my apartment was in a back building off the street, with a hidden courtyard garden. The superintendent, an elderly Italian, gardened and composted with a passion. He tended four enormous compost boxes on the property and collected food scraps in his hand cart from merchants and cafes all around the neighborhood: orange rinds, coffee grounds, lettuces etc. The whole plot was devoted to flowers, however, not a single food item. It was nevertheless miraculous. Living there was hallucinatory. You would step from a concrete-lined street filled with drug dealers and burning trash cans into this secret oasis. When I was a child my Lebanese family referred to walled gardens as "jenainy", an Arabic word meaning paradise, and this garden on East Third Street was indeed a jenainy.
These men gardened and raised food animals in the oldest and most crowded urban slum in the Americas - in the shadow of the great financial and intellectual towers of world commerce. Therefore I am not surprised that Adam Gopnik can find local NYC-grown food to eat in 2007. City dwellers can grow their own food - or some of it - if necessary. In fact the process could be quite sustainable, since composting removes organic matter from the garbage stream.
One more note - my college biology professor, Paul Mankiewicz invented a super-light-weight soil to use on rooftops where you don't want heavy soil boxes harming the surface and supports. Mankiewicz also kept fish tanks in his office for all manner of projects, including food-fish-raising, and he once brought his own home-made wine to a school party (in those days the drinking age was eighteen and sharing a bottle of wine with a teacher was not the illicit, prohibited activity it has become today). I later discovered Mankiewicz installed at the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine, where he tended a series of burbling tanks in an alcove in the main sanctuary. That was in 1990 or so.
I don't know why all these permaculture people move through my life - I was friends with urban gardening pioneer Karl Linn, as well. There must be some message in it all.