Front Yard Disobedience: How to Boost Food Security without Really Trying
Of the threats climate change and peak oil pose, we should be most worried about the threat to food. I have young nephews, and there’s not much I wouldn’t do to keep their bellies full if you catch my drift and I think you do. God knows what I’d be willing to do for my own kids. It’s good I don’t have any.
Food prices are high and rising and driving unrest the world over. One cause is crop damage due to climate change. If one degree Celsius (the warming so far) is enough to cause problems, what will 2 or 3 more degrees do? It’s unlikely to be linear; the second degree will do more damage than the first. If so, hello food shortages and unhinged uncles.
If climate change and peak oil aren’t threatening enough for you, there’s also peak phosphorus. If only one of the three threats hits hard we’ll have trouble. If two or all three hit…I’m not going to finish this sentence (sad pun).
Americans aren’t yet feeling it – our food prices haven’t jumped much, we’re rich, and we spend only a sliver of our income on food. But the blessing’s also a curse, since while other countries see the threat and prep for hardship, we sit and whistle. It’s time to get resilient. That means you, individual reader who’s busy and pretty sure there’s no time for it. I’m too busy deal with cancer but if I get cancer I’ll find the time. That’s our situation, even if you don’t believe it yet.
One of our weaknesses is that few of us know how to grow food. Among the factors keeping it that way are laws against food-production on our properties. Many cities bar residents from keeping chicken coops or beehives, or growing front-lawn vegetable gardens.
These laws are wrong. The right to grow food is as fundamental as the right to speech. We’ve allowed ourselves to become helpless on the assumption that truly hard times are over. The assumption would be shaky even without the looming threats of climate change and peak oil – history’s riddled with societies who thought they had it made just before pooping out.
We shouldn’t honor any law against safely and responsibly growing food. We should disobey.
What makes such laws good targets for civil disobedience is that breaking them isn’t a big deal. Our chickens won’t land us in the clink. Instead we’ll face whiny neighbors and maybe fines, both of which we can use as a platform from which to educate others. We’ll bring attention to our cause without heavy sacrifice. It’s got to be one the easiest kinds of civil disobedience we can do.
If you want only a little attention, put up a chicken coop/ beehive/garden where it’s not allowed and just wait for a kerfuffle. But there’s also an opportunity for the bold among us to get big attention. Here’s how:
- Put your coop/hive/garden in the most public spot on your property. If you live on a busy street, perfect.
- Put a big lawn sign up next to your transgression explaining why it’s there. Emphasize that you don’t break the law lightly.
- Don’t yield. If you’re fined, don’t pay, and be clear and open about why.
- Find kindred souls among your neighbors and break the law together. It’s easier to dismiss one person as a lunatic than it is to dismiss a group. You might even launch a city-wide effort through meetup.com or your local transition group.
- Offer to help neighbors grow their own food and advertise that offer in the sign in your yard.
- When a kerfuffle happens, don’t tamp it down. Let it evolve. Then alert local reporters about it, arrange for interviews, etc. Good activists invite publicity.
- Protip: send baskets filled with food you grew to those who most object to your project. Deliver the baskets in person. Don’t be ironic or snide. Be kind and respect their views. This was one of Gandhi’s go-to moves. He’d go hang out with enemies until they liked him in spite of themselves.
Two words of caution:
First, before committing civil disobedience, try to have the laws removed by legal means first. Otherwise you lose credibility.
Second, safety and aesthetics matter. The laws you’ll break have reasons for existing, be they lame (all front lawns must have grass so the neighborhood looks “nice”) or not-lame (public health risks).
So if you decide to break food-production laws, avoid accidentally justifying them. Make sure that what you do is a) pretty; and b) safe. It’s not hard, but you should do research, especially about safety. Example: before raising bees, make sure no one in your neighborhood is badly allergic to bee stings. We must look after our neighbors.
Double finally, civil disobedience only works if you’re both respectful and respectable. Be dignified and patient, never angry, never petty.
Triple finally, some inspiration: a load of mulch dumped in a kind of ballsy location
-From the Sea