Feeding the hungry, building alternatives

Garden plotting against Wall Street:

Feeding the hungry, building alternatives

by Roger Bybee

Contrary to the soft media coverage Boris Yeltsin received in the West, Yeltsin supervised the sudden looting and despoliation of Russia.


His "achievements" were nothing less than stunning thanks to his seizing of dictatorial powers and imposition of brutal capitalism via "shock therapy:"


  • Production rapidly dropped 50%
  • Vital social services like health went unfunded.
  • Pensioners’ meager pensions dried up.
  • Life expectancy plummeted, a particularly stunning result.
  • Meanwhile, Russia‘s resources were looted at fire-sale prices by former commissars and the increasingly powerful Russian Mafia.

(While relatively high oil prices have helped Russia to recover economically, they now are faced with a new set of authoritarian rulers and cursed by the ever-powerful Mafia.)


Excellent accounts of this horrific transition under Yeltsin  can be found in Naomi Klein’s "Shock Therapy, Benjamin Barber’s "Jihad vs. McWorld," and John Gray’s False Dawn.


Amidst this period of incredible privation for ordinary Russians, they managed largely to escape starvation and survive. Gray attributes this to Russians’ extended family structure and –here’s the relevant part for Americans right now–their raising of food on family plots of land.


We now see Great Depression levels of unemployment in cities like Detroit (22%), Janesville, Wis. (15.3%), Beloit, Wis. (17.7%) and countless other communities victimized by America‘s shift to financialization and globalization at the expense of real production in the US.


Finding enough to food to feed families is an increasingly intense problem across the nation. But we can draw upon the experiences of the Russians under Yeltsin and other tyrants, as well as from our grandparents’ generation with "victory Gardens" planted during World War II.


A new, vital, and politicized brand of urban agriculture–being taught by the Growing Power project in Milwaukee founded by the heroic Will Allen (which I profiled in a recent cover story in Yes!), and spreading around the nation and world–can help families to weather the present set of Depression-era conditions. Moreover, families can eat much healthier food than is available in most stores, especially in impoverished central cities.


Will has hooked up with some of the nation’s most outstanding activists on the Left (like the remarkable 93-year-old writer and activist Grace Lee Boggs in Detroit) in nutrition, in farming, and in the counterculture. He reminds us that taking back our food system from corporations is a critical step in fighting racism, ending corporate domination, and establishing a humane, democratic, localized mode of living.


At this point, it should be clear what we are fighting against–bailing out banks and CEOs while families are left floating in the frigid waters of the free market without any help; outsourcing jobs to tyrannical workplaces in Mexico and China; and Democrats like Evan Bayh and his Un-Sweet 16 sellouts in the Senate and the Blue Dog mongrels in the House, among many other problems.

 But we now have both a crisis and an opportunity to drive us to spread an alternative way of raising food. It will help families survive, create community, build unity across racial and class divides, and start to build up the kind of decent and democratic society we want to see.

 So, gardening experts who are reading this, is there some way of  designing standard plots for maximum nutritional value to help jobless/poor families better endure the current Depression? Hopefully, we could come up with different designs and configurations for different-sized plots based on land availability, and prepare an easy-to-follow manual. And then we need to spread the word through the Internet, progressive media, and community meetings.

Leave a comment