Thanks to Pablo Elliot for this guest post. Pablo is a Washington, DC native, running a Community Supported Agriculture project with his wife, Esther Mandelheim, on the family’s Stoney Lonesome Farm in Northern Virginia.
“Suburban Agriculture” is gaining footing as a term to describe the small-acreage agriculture that takes place outside of cities in areas of sprawl. It features direct relationships between farmer and food-eater, whether through CSA programs, farm stands, or farmers’ markets. “Suburban Agriculture” is not quite “Urban Agriculture” or “Rural Agriculture,” hence the new term, which I despise.
I suppose you could call our CSA program “suburban agriculture,” in the sense that our farm is located in Gainesville, Virginia, a car-dependent non-metropolis. Yet our farm work takes place in a setting that preserves a timeless way of living and calls for an intimate, restorative, symbiotic partnership with nature. This relationship is distinctly not suburban, both because of the intimate relationship between people and the land (a concept that is foreign to suburban design), and because of our focus on the long-term viability of this intimacy (i.e. sustainability) through replenishing soil with compost and creating, restoring, and preserving habitats for wildlife.
Meanwhile, rumbling bulldozers and other beeping giants roll ever closer, and most of our CSA members in fact live somewhere in this tangled mess we refer to as “sprawl.” But we are supported by them. Together with the members of our CSA community we are creating a project entirely contrary to “suburban.”
Our farm program works to be a small but flavorful antidote to an excessive dose of bland suburbia. “Suburban agriculture” sounds like a couple of tomato seeds that accidentally sprouted on a golf course. “Suburban agriculture” sounds, well, really boring, like musak wafting from speakers along strip mall parking lots. Contrast that with Music, a potent fresh garlic variety we grow, which can make your breath an instant outcast in the antiseptic aisles of any Big Box.
Rather than label this agriculture by what it seeks not to be, we can embrace our bundles of Swiss Chard and generally refer to our sweaty farm endeavor in suburbia as a small bit of Tikkun Olam.