Grey. Angular. The low buzz of foot traffic, rubber-on-tar traffic, shoulders pushing against shoulders traffic. Did you see his face when he tried to smile at your across the street? Did you breathe in the blossoming jasmine that crept toward you at the bus stop? We navigate through cities, so loud yet full of silence. We have been waiting. Waiting for the earth to rise up against the pavements, to activate our joy and to remind us who we are and where we come from. We are nature.
This is an unfolding narrative of the environmentally conscious and gradual movement that is Urban Farming. This is the remembered narrative of the female presence in the food system.
Hailing from the mountainous green landscape of Barberton, Mpumalanga, South Africa, I have long held the forest as a close friend. Mother Earth can be said to have an innately powerful, fecund and peaceful presence. Plant life and forests are the ultimate reflection of matriarchy, pregnant with the life of a million organisms. My first encounter with a large city was dazzling and it was easy to become distracted by technology, industrial architecture and the scramble for identity within its oddly confining walls. Bureaucratic, patriarchal systems still hold our cities in place, where our connection to the ‘Mother’ has long since been replaced with a relationship with walls and structures; where is the ‘wild’ element of nature within all of this? Where is the wild feminine?
I dove into a practice of ‘remembering’ when I first finished university. I explored the world of documentary film in South Africa and found myself telling stories of young social entrepreneurs, many of whom were women my own age (23 at the time); but I was left with an incessant itch after having conversations with these inspiring youth: who was I? What mark was I making on the world? Where could my passion for connecting people to each other and the planet truly begin? Where did my voice fit in?
So I went off to see the world. I saw women collecting grain in Rajasthan, India. I saw young girls pruning tea leaves with their grandmothers on the hills of Kumily, Karnataka, India. I saw “mama’s” collecting seeds to string up necklaces and stripping corn cobs to dry them in the sun outside their huts in the Eastern Cape, South Africa. I met women who had forgotten where their food came from. I met young girls who couldn’t name a vegetable from its whole form to it’s packaged product. I met older women who remembered their grandmother’s ways of caring for the earth. It was through this process of ‘seeing’ that I saw my role as a young woman to renew my understanding of the planet, to inspire those around me to do the same, so that we may all remember together, so that we can bring the wilderness back to the cities.
Our answer to connecting people and plants lies not in the fast paced ways we have become accustomed to, but in the gentle, attentive nature of our planet’s ecosystems. There is a strong female presence in the Urban Farming Greening movement around the world and it is equally matched with the supportive male energy. Earth work appears to be the perfect (and practical!) place for men and women to meet each other and work together collaboratively and harmoniously.
So where to start? Balcony gardens, vertical gardens, urban & public food gardens, you name it! Regeneration begins with you. Occupy your neighbourhoods, sidewalks, highways, schools and public places with beneficial plants. Teach your friends, your families and your communities. Become the local urban acupuncturist and inspire your communities to localise food production, to ‘remember’ our planet and create internal networks of food exchange that not only benefits the natural environments, but strengthens relations between people.
Urban Farming is rated as one of the top emerging new jobs in the upcoming decade; will you embrace your roots as an earth-keeper and rejuvenate the way we consume our food? The concrete alleyways can become the edible jungle we dream of. You can begin by learning how to plant a tree with us at Green Pop, checking in with your local food gardeners (Cape Town’s finest being Guerilla House, Tyisa Nabanye and Oranjezicht City Farm), attending their workshops and planting some seeds of your own!
There is a tremendous, empowering strength that comes from growing your own food. Let your children be the ones whose grandchildren remember you as the one who taught them to watch the beautiful complexity of a single seed come to life through it’s own, wild and gentle accord. We are nature.