There was a powerful story I heard while attending a Green Conference in San Francisco not too long ago. The speaker told of a lady in inner city Chicago whose daughter had fallen ill. After going to a number of doctors, it turned out that the little girl was allergic to the chemicals and preservatives found in the food she was eating. Being in a poor, inner-city neighborhood, when the mother asked the physician what she was to do about it, his response was basically “Sorry lady, tough luck.” Not taking “no” for an answer, this woman started to do some research on the internet and was inspired to try organic produce.
Much to her disappointment, there were no grocery stores that supplied organic produce for miles around. In fact, almost all of the food in her neighborhood was really poor quality, greasy fast food. It took her nearly three hours to get to a health food store taking multiple buses, but she did it for her child. She had to spend nearly her entire paycheck on the groceries but her daughter was worth it. She did this for a number of weeks and started to see an incredible change in the child. Not only was her health improving, but her mood, skin, and clarity were all drastically improving.
One day, the grandmother of the young girl tasted one of the organic tomatoes and was in shock; she was able to taste the tomato! Here she was thinking that she has lost her sense of taste in her old age but, in actuality, the tomatoes grown through big agribusiness have lost their flavor. She was so happy to be able to taste real food again. This is when the magic really started happening. She asked her daughter why it was that she wasn’t planting the seeds from the produce she was buying. The poor daughter’s reply-“You can do that?”
The daughter began planting vegetables in their little yard and began to see a harvest come through. One day, a neighbor popped his/her head over the fence and said that he/she noticed the corn growing over there and gave them some gardening suggestions. More and more people began to give advice and eventually, the little garden began to produce an abundance of crops. It was enough to not only feed this family, but to give food away to the neighbors.
This little project was going so well that someone decided to go to the city council and ask if they would donate some land for community gardens. There were a number of abandoned parking lots all over this part of the city where the drug dealers and thugs hung out. The city’s response: “Heck, you can have six of them!” This became the beginning of something very special. They organized community gardens and the young people began to donate their time. A sense of community returned to the neighborhood and there was plenty of food to go around. But here’s where the story gets really great: violent crime markers began to decline and the kids started doing better in school. In fact, they began to take an active role in their education and demanded better books. Through connecting with the earth through their actions and their diet, they WOKE UP as an inner city community and went from eating fried food and killing each-other to group farming and a sense of community.
This is an inspiring story that can and should be replicated in all of the inner cities we have. It is a redemption of the original Jeffersonian vision for this country; namely that a nation that cannot feed itself is in trouble. The restored communion between people and the Earth through healthy food and connection with a positive social structure literally changed a bad neighborhood within months. What does that say for our planet and community as a whole?
Now is a very good time for us to examine what it is that we’d like to be producing as a society. The country of Bhutan has implemented an innovative metric for the study of their economy. It is called the Gross National Happiness (GNH) index and it takes into account the happiness and the sense of fulfillment of the citizens in the country. If the economy is surging upwards and the people are miserable, then adjustments are made to improve the quality of life. When these markers grow together, it is considered a healthy sustainable growth that helps everyone. In contrast, here in the US, people are more stressed, their money stretches thinner, they get less vacation time, and the use of anti-depressant medications is through the roof. What does that say about our growth? What about our so-called progress? An accident that kills a family of five is a positive marker for our GDP as the ambulance, the body shop, the hospital, the morgue, and the cemetery all make money. Terrible things are factored into our GDP equally and that leads to skewed growth numbers. This is wrong in my opinion and the people of Bhutan seem to agree with this. Sustainability is the goal and we are to be its champions.