Pied Beauty

Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844-1889)

Glory be to God for dappled things—
For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches' wings;
Landscape plotted and pieced—fold, fallow, and plough;
And all trades, their gear and tackle and trim.

All things counter, original, spare, strange;
Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:

Praise him.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

The Limits of Local

Are you a locavore?  Do you garden organically?  Have you got a vegetable garden?  Are you a grower of native plants?  Perhaps you have vegetarian leanings?  Me, too.  There are lots of us who fit that particular demographic and I got to thinking about what it would mean if everyone did.  After the utopian rush, I started to feel a little nervous.

Where's MY farm?
I live in the coastal plain of Southeast Texas, on the outskirts of Houston, which is now the fourth-largest city in the US.  In 2009, there were 5.9 million people in the Houston metro area.  Houston itself is large -- the metro area encompasses almost 9,000 square miles or 5.76 million acres.  Some of this land is arable, some is not.  The picture above is a circle centered on my neighborhood, with a 100-mile radius.  Part of the problem immediately springs to mind.  A good chunk of the area within the 100-mile radius circle is underwater.  Frankly, speaking as a gardener here, much of the rest of it is pretty dang soggy too.

So.  What does locavorism mean for urban centers?  For cities on the coast?   For cities that abut desert lands, or marshes?  If we were serious about eating locally grown food, what exactly would we eat here, in the Houston area?  Stay tuned...


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  2. An intriguing thought. I've always thought we'd work out pretty good in Kansas, although I'd miss the oranges all the time and other local fruits when not in season...but one or two dry years and there would be a mass migration. No wonder Native Plains dwellers followed the herds rather than try to farm this ground.

  3. Back in the dim dark ages when I was a kid--the '40's--we were a lot more locavorish than we are now. We didn't have 747's bringing fresh veggies from Chile but there was a thriving truck gardening industry SE of Houston towards Galveston and what we called the "Winter Garden" area SE of San Antonio. Generally we ate fresh what was seasonal locally or canned. What came in fresh from other areas was what travelled well, like oranges, apples and iceberg lettuce. Dull and boring.

  4. Dull and boring? I'd eat that every day! Our oranges are coming, the apples are trying, and the lettuce, is daunting with our mediterranean summer ;>)

  5. This is a very interesting and good question. Not one likely to be well received either by people accustomed to getting what they want when they want it. And if you just can't grow enough to sustain, then what?

  6. Dear EEye, we always look forward to getting the South African oranges here. They're really good! Regarding locavoring here in SE Texas; back in the 1830's subsistence living here was to die! The Karankawas lived only along the coast and ate fish and birds. The Comanches lived inland and followed the buffalo herds but neither farmed.

  7. An excellent question Elizabeth. We ate out this wekend at a restaurant that strives toward local. The meats were excellent, the veggies tasty. We did ponder where they got the anchovies! gail ps I would dearly miss oranges.

  8. I too stumbled upon your blog looking up assassin bugs. I too love the Hopkins poem, and the lovely photos. I'll be a regular here for sure. But this so far is the most interesting question, one I've spent a lot of time pondering. What mikie1 says is one answer; what if instead of the arbitrary 100-mile locus, we looked at concentric circles? 100 miles (or much less) for everyday, regional for occasions (as my mom grew up thinking about oranges, for example, since they seem to be a favorite among the commenters), and exotic foods as a rarity. One of my favorite books on the subject is "Plenty" about a couple who ate locally for a year in Vancouver, BC. Thanks for asking, and for sharing.