Fringe Food: Raising the Banal to the Sublime

Smuggled Bavarian and Cascade hops clamber every summer up the chimney. "I brought them in my socks. Hoping the beagles in the airport weren't up on hops."
Suburban home gardens display people’s relationships with food, ecology, culture, history, and science. Smuggled Bavarian and Cascade hops clamber every summer up a suburban chimney in Annandale, Virginia. “I brought them in my socks. through the airport, right passed the beagles,” says the beer aficionado.

A perfect storm has been brewing, raining food awareness onto our communal table: farmers’ markets, community supported agriculture, maker-faires, glossy magazines gushing over gorgeous apples, artichokes, and bees. Small Food, Slow Food, School Food, locavore-for-a-year.

Northern Virginia, the historically company-man suburb of Washington DC, may be putting down its brief case and picking up its trowel. Environmental education from grocery stores, schools, volunteer groups, and county outreach means people increasingly can connect the seemingly far-flung dots of local food, energy, Chesapeake Bay water qualiy, dead zones, oysters, and chickens.

Now, tendrils of green are working their way into  perceptions of modernity and beauty, smart infrastructure, engineering, and architecture. We are planting grassy driveways, working rain chains and barrels under our green eaves that are feeding birds and bees. We are filling schools with light.  The storm is making us pull our plates even closer to our chins hatching brilliant schemes like: aquaponics in Annandale basements, mobile composting in College Park,  shitaake  tending in Falls Church.

And the waves stretch to the horizon: vertical agriculture – still in the rather Jules Verne stage–gleaming greenhouse pyramid-and flying car-stage three story tomato and lettuce stuffed glass houses clinging to the sides  of houses, cucumbers clambering over restaurants are sketching and prototyping in Annandale.

I have a hunch that American suburban backyards may be putting down deeper roots in small-scale food production than ever before. Driving around I was seeing  skeps in the azaleas, chickens by driveway, asparagus at the curb.

I’m collecting stories – epic and ordinary, like most people’s lives – about small-scale, suburban agriculture – urban ag-inspired with all city farming’s pre-gentrification  eco-socio-political motivation, but fewer space constraints and regulatory and public health limitations, a denser neighbor-network, more dollars already garden-focused – that’s the natural sprouting. Then, as suburbia becomes the the home of economic austerity – as last year’s Brooking’s Institute report found major metropolitan suburbs became home to the largest and fastest-growing poor population in America – people are perhaps no longer wandering into  languid into the garden, leaving landed gentry flavor behind and striding into food production?

Pushed by need, pulled by market, and armed with a new green brio, American suburban backyards may be putting down deeper, still hidden roots in small-scale food production.

This blog looks at small scale food production – both commercial and non, I’m interested in garden composition, garden motivation, source of gardening know-how (is Cooperative Extension supplying advice and inspiration?), and garden location (increasingly gardens are grown frankly in front) in suburban northern Virginia.

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