Better Than The Best Idea

Conservation Refugees cover
In a recent podcast of the San Francisco radio show An Organic Conversation, with host Helge Hellberg, Guernica magazine and former Mother Jones journalist and now “investigative historian,” Mark Dowie, talked about his career and plans for his own radio show.

I enjoyed the German, Hellberg’s personal account of his experience twenty years ago when the Berlin Wall came down and West embraced East.

For this show, Dowie described urban farming on former playgrounds and abandoned houses converted to greenhouses solving the food deserts in wrecked cities like Detroit.

University of Michigan in Lansing [Update: It’s actually MSU in East Lansing (see comment)] is engineering improvements to the makeshift solutions with a 4-season organic farm.

Tim Meyers in Bethel, Alaska is growing fresh produce 365 days a year in greenhouses and heat from compost generated methane. No fossil fuels or transporting from a thousand miles away required.

Dowie touched on other fascinating topics he’s covered in his career, including uncovering environmentalist mistakes made when the National Park System was created in the United States.

The National Parks: America’s Best Idea was a six-part TV series by Ken Burns, recently broadcast on PBS.

Not a right winger by any means, Dowie suggests that the foundation of this so-called “Best Idea” was one of ethnic cleansing. For example, seven tribes of native inhabitants were forcibly evicted from Yosemite and 300 people were shot by the U.S. Army in one day. So Amerinds in the natural setting with food security were driven out or killed to pave roads and make a tourist playground. Yeah, it’s the Best.

There’s plenty of related information in the PBS website’s history section about John Muir, Teddy Roosevelt, the Sierra Club and the Audubon Society. Despite the annoying title of the series, it doesn’t whitewash the story much.

“Long after the tribe was finally located and forced from their beloved valley, scholars would learn that in fact the natives called the valley Ahwahnee, meaning “the place of a gaping mouth,” and that they called themselves the Ahwahneechees, in honor of the valley they had considered their home for centuries. “Yosemite,” it was learned, meant something entirely different. In the native language, “Yosemite” refers to people who should be feared. It means, “they are killers.”"

There are 2.3 billion acres of land in the United States, much of it managed directly by the federal government. If we have–wait for it–food riots thanks to hyperinflation, in the not so distant future, perhaps these playgrounds could be settled by citizen stewards who pass an exam, like maybe a permaculture design certificate. We could literally chew the scenery to survive.

I doubt FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) has the Best Idea compared to that.

One Response to “Better Than The Best Idea”

  1. Amy Heath Says:

    Enjoyed your article…just wanted to let you know that the University of Michigan is in Ann Arbor, and Michigan State University is in East Lansing and they are the ones with the Student Organic Farm that you refer to. Your mistake would not be such a big deal except that these two schools have a very strong rivalry, and to attribute this amazing farm to UM is a huge insult to some. In this case it would be right to give credit where its due. Michigan State tends to be shorted at times, compared to UM in these parts. In this case, they far exceed anything that UM does in this field. Thanks

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