There’s evidence that my generation, those of us in 30-45 will outlive our children. We will outlive our children. Children are being born predisposed to disease at higher rates than just 10 years ago. Childhood obesity and cancer rates are soaring. I’m convinced it’s because of the toxic ingredients in food and the consumption of non-foods. If that isn’t scary I don’t know what is.
I became interested in organics when my sister-in-law, a young vibrant 26-year-old was dying from a genetic disease. She knew she didn’t have much longer to live. One night when visiting her in the hospital, I picked up a magazine. There was an article about the growing number of chemicals in food and topical products and how many of these chemicals are now linked to cancer, infertility, ADD and other ‘common’ diseases. I remember being very moved. Here was a young woman, knowing whatever she did to her body at that time wasn’t going to make much difference, but was still concerned about what she put in it and her continual drive to learn. She fueled my interest and passion for knowledge about the world of organics.
Michael Pollan’s recent book, In Defense of Food explores how and where our food system has gone very wrong. The demand for more food ‘like’ products is driving the wedge between real food and government policies in the interest of profit over purity.
Science has provided many advances. But the science of food engineering is dangerous. Genetically modified food is the beginning of a culture in which our food won’t come from the ground or a tree, but a test tube. Scary. Because of government subsidies, the push to develop the latest and greatest low-fat snack crackers is of course driven by profit. Something Pollan calls ‘nutritional inflation’.
I was excited to see last weeks’ Crain’s front page article on a growing organic business and editorial on the urban garden movement in Detroit. Attendance at local farmer’s markets is increasing, membership in CSA’s (community supported agriculture) is increasing. Organic and raw food classes at the Detroit Evolution Laboratory are popular.
Michigan is in the throws of trying to diversify the economy in the technology sector, alternative energies and bio fuels, creating jobs and opportunities and a shift in our way of thinking and living. Organic agriculture needs to be part of the equation and Michigan has wonderful resources to position itself as more people demand locally and organically grown food. Eco’pure’neurs are emerging with this shift and will lead the way creating environmental and community-based, sustainable, healthy & ethical businesses.
It’s interesting how we’re so worried about gas prices, but not so worried about the world’s food shortage. The two are interchangeably linked. It’s not getting better with the world’s food demands increasing. China and India consume 1,000 acres of farmable land every day to build new automotive plants. Many economics believe that in the next 10 years, China will see a famine.
I’m often asked about the price and value of organics. Organic is not a trend, it’s a lifestyle and a realignment of priorities. Ask anyone whether they’d rather eat an apple that’s grown with or without pesticides. It’s an obvious choice, but for many it comes down to cost and perceived value. It’s the ‘pay it forward’ principle.
Now, I don’t mean to sound elitist or snooty. I do eat non-organic food or I’d starve in Michigan and I realize that there are many people, many here in our own town that cannot afford a simple meal yet alone buy organic. And, that is part of the problem. That’s where education comes in helping to drive demand and drive down price.
For more information visit the Organic Consumers Association
Forbes magazine recently cited Woodward Avenue as one America’s "most fuel efficient neighborhoods". If I could rewrite the headline I’d call it "Woodward Avenue communities enhance quality of life".
Five years ago many Woodward communities wouldn’t dare mention the word ‘transit’. Now it’s part of regular dialogues.
Three years ago, communities didn’t know what the acronym TOD meant. Now, three Woodward communities – Huntington Woods, Pontiac and Ferndale – have included specific language in their master plans encouraging Transit Oriented Development and State Rep. Marie Donigan is proposing legislation to offer incentives to developers and communities as a tool for economic development.
Two years ago, a community garden was considered an interim use for an underutilized parcel of land. Now communities are putting urban gardens into land use plans as viable, livable, desirable and profitable community development options.
Two years ago, crosswalks were an afterthought in many planning and physical improvements. Now communities are realizing and residents are demanding crosswalks in areas once void of pedestrian activity.
Dan Barden, a well-known community planner and founder of Walkable Communities Inc. in his 12 years of work advocating for walkable communities, Silicon Valley as an example, that most people don’t live near their work. They have high levels of income, education and you would think high standard of living, but many Silicon Valley employees have horrendous commutes and work in tech parks and ultimately studies have shown they’re less happy. Not something the business attractions folks are promoting I’m sure.
Generally, quality of life is measured in terms of access to the things we value most - jobs, safe streets, affordable transportation and housing, and quality health care, schools, parks, etc. All of these things are challenging us to assess and helping shape different attitudes about what community and quality of life means.
I hope we can all keep and pick up pace.
"What the heck are those things?" I thought as the tour guide drove past a series of sculptures along the bay, prompting myself and several others to turn our heads to get another glimpse. Whatever they were, they were very cool.
I learned later, those "things" comprise the Urban Trees Art Project, a series of thirty, 15 foot 'trees' constructed of metal, glass and concrete and other materials along the bay near the Port of San Diego temporarily installed in 2003 by the San Diego Public Arts Commission.
Interestingly, the project’s success – and controversy -- attracting national and international attention – prompted three additional phases of installations and continues to grow five years later. Why when other public art and cultural projects failed? Because they’re uniquely San Diego. Each has a theme and tells a story inherent to the city and region’s character. The goal is to "help create memorable spaces for businesses, residents and tourists."
That’s pretty simple.
The trees got me thinking. What is southeast Michigan’s public art policy and goals? There are plenty of organizations and efforts addressing the arts, culture and the creative sector. We have the Spirit of Detroit – celebrating it’s 50th anniversary this fall, the Joe Louis Fist, Ferndale's Crows Nest and hundreds of other public art features, but do they attract people from afar? I’m not sure. What do people think of them? I’m not sure.
For years, there’s been much talk about building or seeking another major attraction in southeast Michigan – a soccer facility, an aquarium, a horse racing track and many others – projects that will give us a much needed economic boost, but what makes these projects different?
Maybe we don’t need another race track, water park, or lifestyle mall, which for many visitors is frankly….boring. Projects devoid of our region’s unique character yell 'any city USA'.
By the way, since inception the Urban Trees project has generated $$$$$
Southeast Michigan needs a regional public art policy. Organizations like the CVB, WA3, Detroit Renaissance, Cultural Alliance and others could help shape it and provide a broader perspective and guidance on large, public and privately funded projects.
For example, communities along Woodward are considering the development and installation of a series of 30’ sculptures, called Woodward Tributes. The first Tribute will be erected this September, with future Tributes being considered in Detroit and other communities.
However, the process will most likely fall to individual communities for their acceptance and approval. Not surprising considering, again local control is king in southeast Michigan. And while many communities have individual arts commissions, working through a regional council would also enhance funding opportunities, public and private, and enliven and challenge new ideas.
Then when people come to southeast Michigan and say ‘"did you see those things?" we know it’s with a sense of awe and interest that will prompt them to return and tell their friends.