killing me with pesticides - smart growth for Cleveland

Submitted by Susan Miller on Sun, 03/30/2008 - 08:59.

In today's New York Times, I found this article (Did Your Shopping List Kill a Songbird?) about the fact that what we purchase in the grocery is killing songbirds. Yeah, it is, and it's killing more than songbirds. It's killing the whole ecosystem where these dangerous chemicals are used, and it's killing the people who eat the "Green Revolution's" products. Thank you Ford Foundation, Hailey Ashton Foundation and Gates Foundation.

As I read this sad story, I thought about Rachel Carson and her battle against the dangerous chemicals we dusted on our crops. I remembered reading Silent Spring while riding in a car along I-90 where I could glance up and see how the edge of the road had been "killed off" by a generous dose of herbicides.

I was also reminded of reading Barbara Kingsolver's book, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle.
That book made me want to move to the country and grow my own food, but this is tough to do alone. I'd need likeminded souls who knew the farm ropes and were willing and able to get out of Dodge.

Then I remembered Terry Schwarz's Shrinking Cities talk at CSU and her suggestion of an orchard in the Wick neighborhood in Youngstown. She had a bushel of good ideas for smart decline. Many of them included agriculture and small businesses. I wondered again if anyone in Cleveland is listening to her. Let's see, we're building Flats Eastbank, we're moving the port and hoping it will cause a resurrection of manufacturing, we're spending big bucks on a big medmart and a big convention center. Maybe we have it all backwards. Maybe we should be thinking small - you know small is beautiful. Eliminate herbicides and pesticides, invest in bioremedation (cause we have a lot of land to remediate), grow our own food, trees, shrubs, bake our own bread, make a gradual transition to slow food. Just say no to Sunbelt cities that want our water. Stop requiring pesticide laden bananas that kill the farmers in Latin America. Support local craftspeople and reinvigorate the old world crafts that the grandfathers and grandmothers still can teach us. Exploit Cleveland's rich ethnic heritage. Recycle everything to make what we need. It sounds sort of isolationist -like Japan doesn't it?

It struck me that Cleveland has a chance to rearrange this idea right here. Right here in River City! Edible Estates could pop up all over town. It would be like the 1960-70s "grow your own" movement. The other afternoon I heard Norm Krumholz speaking about the future of Cleveland. He said that cities are not going away, but they are shrinking. Yes we know that. He said that Cleveland will not return to big manufacturing and the population will not rise in the foreseeable future. So with all this vacant land, could we "grow our own"? Food that is.  I'll go to here Fritz Haeg tomorrow and let you know.


After Norm’s depressing talk, I asked him if he had read Blessed Unrest or visited He said no, but that I should send him the link. My reason for suggesting this book to the father of Equity Planning (who hasn’t seen much of his good work come to fruition in his own town), was to say that he is right about the big silver bullet solutions – they don’t and won’t work. But I told him – it will be many many little things. He had said that the city would survive, but how the city survives will not be based on one medmart or one port move; it will be based on many smart industries – cottage industries and family farms intown.

What do we need to import and what can we make right here? Do I need that Chilean strawberry in January? Nope, I can wait until Ohio strawberries are fruiting. And I'd  like mine with clotted cream  (from an Ohio cow -  hold the hormones) and a generous serving of birdsong, if you please...

recommended reading: Cultivating crisis : the human cost of pesticides in Latin America

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Do you really know what you’re eating?

While I was pondring food and smart growth, my sister sent this to me:


I just signed this petition to protect our food and I thought you might be interested as well.

Did you know that with approval from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), biotech companies are planting fields of corn, rice, and other food crops genetically engineered to grow drugs and other chemicals?

The scary thing is that if the nation's food crops are contaminated in the process, we could wind up with corn flakes, taco shells, and many other common food items that are dangerous for us to eat.

The Union of Concerned Scientists and independent experts agree that if food crops are used to produce drugs and other chemicals, they are very likely to contaminate the food supply and pose serious human health and environmental risks for years to come.

How much do you know about the food you eat? You can test your knowledge by taking this short quiz:

Then help us make sure that this never happens! Sign the petition urging the USDA to ban the genetic engineering of outdoor food crops for the production of pharmaceutical and industrial chemicals.

Click here to sign today:

Pretty interesting survey...

on Fritz Haeg lecture at CIA

OK I am just going to "free associate" like Fritz Haeg. Lo and behold Fritz is an architect. I learned this from Kevin Dreyfuss-Wells as we walked into the CIA building together. Apparently, the guy who is about to have the coolest greenest new house in NEO was a schoolmate of Haeg's at Carnegie Mellon. Wow, I had not read that. Why is it I find myself in these architecture lectures anyway?


Well, there I was and it seemed I knew many of the people gathered. I knew them from a gazillion walks of my life - lacrosse mom, stone oven server, arts stuff, dance stuff, old tech directors, sound guys, even one of my students was there... that's reaching back 2 decades!


So this guy who speaks "Valley" launches into the talk which got off to a pretty slow start. He described these events he "had" at his house that seemed like what we all did in the 1980s. OK, I thought, so your friends came over and did "this" or that for hours on a given day and you "named it" an event and now you're in the Whitney Biennial. Great, the rest of the world is waking up 20, 30, 40 years later - standard.


But then he showed image after image of dancers. It seemed just about everything he did included dancers and or choreographers. Well duh... dancers have been doing happenings and events and explorations like this in person and with others (dancers don't get holed up in a white box and then show in another white box in silence like visual artists).


When I realized I had begun to count the times he said "like" and "you know" my mind began to wander. I thought, this is wild; people twice his age have done this long before him - all of it. I wanted to say names: Leandre Poisson, Yvonne Ranier, Steve Paxton, Laurie Anderson, Rachel Rosenthal and so many more. I wanted to tell him about my friend Colleen Clark who teaches dance for Center for Families and Children in Cleveland and who not only does dance and yoga with kids all around the city, but also plants a garden with them each year, yes a food garden onsite at Rapart with the kids.


Then his talk turned to Edible Estates and the fact that he is selecting front yards where people want these gardens and are ready to take on "world change". This is no guerilla gardening, this is making an artist's statement. Unfortunately he is years behind and that was a sad message. It connotes that many visual artists may be  right there with him. (uh not Mel Chin apparently – Chin is way ahead of him) It says that visual artists (and architects?) are just lifting their heads from their canvases and drawing boards to smell the fresh and putrid air of the big world they live in. It was telling that CIA had this guy at their esteemed Kacalieff lecture series and so and so had had this great new idea to bring him in to speak. No shit, I thought; these folks are waking up, too! I thought this is good, but then I thought, why is the visual arts community so far behind? I mean Merce has been growing his own garden in his NYC apartment for years! Then I felt privileged to have grown up in the VERY RADICAL company of modern dancers. I felt proud of my dance background for the first time in a while, even though it is so ephemeral that the ways the work lasts is when it inspires artists whose work is more permanent.


I recall that so many of the people with whom I have collaborated over the years already knit and garden and sew and make things and have families and rear children and in so doing, return to a childlike sensibility of wonder with their own bodies. My god! The life of a dancer is to wake up each day and go to the temple of your body and meditate, and you do it with a group of people who all have their own lives and their own shit and somehow, you all move in unison when required and interact spatially without words and without diagrams.


Then as I watched the pretty pictures of lawns becoming vegetable gardens, I thought about how much modern dancers think about what they eat and how many of them are either outright damned if they will eat low on the food chain and buy organic food and how many have been on that track since they first walked into a modern dance class. I thought about listening to dancers talking about what they planned to cook and what they were going to plant in their gardens.


Then I thought, as the pictures turned to buildings about the intersection of dance and architecture. This is a question I have had on my mind for many years. I thought I would ask Fritz if he had a grasp on how the dancers with whom he had worked had influenced him. He had gone on and on about how dancers and poets were the purists in the art world because their works cannot be commoditized. Well I would argue that poets can be published and read over and over. But then I thought – “O body swayed to music, O brightening glance, how can you know the dancer from the dance?” (That’s Yeats, in case you don't recognize it). Then I thought, “At the still point of the turning world, there the dance is and do not call it fixity where time and space are gathered..." (That’s Eliot, in case you don't recognize it.) Well Fritz doesn't get how working with dancers has influenced him. He's just having ideas and getting them into the entropic world of the press buzz and the chain of museum commissions that follow getting your name out there. These things are "just happening" to Fritz. He's having an idea and sharing it with his friends. His friends now include many well-to-do museum patrons. But he has yet to live the life of a dancer, choreographer, or poet. Though he says he appreciates the no money, no budget, no sound equipment "actions" with which he can make his name known in the art world, he doesn't seem to have a clue how it all works. He "uses" the dancers (not unusually they would be ready to give up a day without pay to improvise as this is commonly asked of dancers and choreographers).


OK, so then he wraps up his "talk" and questions ensue. One woman asks about the "entropic" nature of his work. He doesn't get it. She tries again. She says, "The photographs you are showing are all of gardens just made or caught a few months into their first growing season. Are you thinking about the entropic nature of these projects? (He looks lost. She defines it for him.) “That they are going to change?". "Oh, yes the people I select have to take care of the gardens. I cannot go back and say to them, Oh you planted something else there!", he explains. Then he said something about how it is sad to see modernist buildings and great architecture that has "deteriorated". Not the same, I thought. Defensive, I thought. This woman was asking him a very legitimate question, and not only did he not understand the word entropic, he seemed to become defensive in a wandering sort of way.


He is another "artist" in a series of early 21st century experimenters who I think might benefit from a bit more literacy in a wider range of forms. These are not new ideas - he mentioned victory gardens. So I wonder about his "commoditization" talk. It will be interesting to see if we all do change over the front lawn in a revolution of vegetables. It is a good idea. It was a good idea. It's a good recycled idea and I'm glad to see artists waking up to it. I hope someone will tell him about Don Harvey's Natural Flats and Terry Schwarz's popup and shrinking cities and Lauren Bon's notacornfield and Martin Bonadeo's corn art I hope he will take away the descriptor "entropic" and think even more about the changing nature of all things like skin and bricks and breath and even ideas - certainly plants and land. I will. Thank you, nameless erudite audience inquirer.