for those of you who have never heard of this phenomenon, it refers to a school of thought called, “Not In My Backyard”. it happens mostly when talking about where to put a something that most people don’t want in their neighborhood, and it can be anything from a prison to a farm to a mental hospital to an industrial plant to a railway line.

some people will be concerned with property values (oh, the property values strike again!, others will worry about perceived threats to health and safety, and others will just fear the treading into unknown territory (“but darling, i’ve never lived in a place that had student housing so nearby. what do you think that would be like??? usually it’s less innocuous than that, but i’m in a generous mood today…). for the more nerdlike among you (and this is SO me, by the way,) there is a fantastic book by jane jacobs called  “death and life of great america cities”. it may take you a while to get through- it took me several months and several stops and starts- but i have never regretted reading it… it is an incredible book that will absolutely change the way you look at urban planning and layout and if you think that is dry and boring (i did prior to this book- even if you only skim it, it’s worth skimming), you don’t understand the field.

anyway, we have such a tendency to look at cities (and suburbs) as these discrete blobs of shopping here and apartments here and houses here and nicer houses there and a downtown way over there… and that’s just all wrong. for places to be vibrant and alive and really thrive, they have to be more mixed up. if you look at places where things really happen, you will see enclaves of “mixed use”. you will see some rental units with some family homes and some “mom and pop” shops (rare to have “big box” stores here, though). you will have some businesses very near and maybe a college or university, usually some public transportation that is safe enough to use, and places people need to go to run errands as well (like post offices, for example). you will have home-based business and people will generally be familiar with each other and be friendly. it is a place where people will mix and mingle, and people will sit out on the stoop and shmooze with folks strolling by throughout the day. there will be parks, but no contrived “park-like settings” that modern city planners work so hard to design that are just dead end spaces that lead to nowhere and are destinations at the end of nowhere where nobody passes through on their way to anywhere; these are just spots that ask to become drug-infested turfs and they usually do just that. yuck. there will be day life and night life and this is what will keep the area safe- that it is constantly in use. there will always be natural traffic because people will always want to be there.

no, i’m not talking about the kind of traffic that happens when a rock concert gets out or walmart has a black friday sale and 86,000 people are trying to by 12 TV sets on sale. i’m talking about the natural rhythm that happens when there is a place where people work and play and there is a vibe to a neighborhood. there is parking but not giant parking lots. there are stores but not megaplexes. there are places to live, but they aren’t all impersonal skyscrapers.

got it so far?

ok, so here’s where it becomes relevant to this blog.

you knew i kind of had to have some point with all of this, right?

one of the things that got zoned out of existence under the mentality of NIMBY was farming.

it used to be in villages that many crafts and skills and businesses were located close to or right in people’s homes. if you go to any colonial village type of place, you will see that the barrel-maker and the blacksmith and the millenary and the cobbler and whoever, all lived over their shops or right next door. the farmer, of course, lived in the farm-house right on his own land, and his neighbors were just the next farm over or “in town” (remember “the little house on the prairie” books?)

but as farms became industrial giants and their practices became disgusting messes, nobody really wanted them around.

you see, lots of farms that grow food spray lots of very harmful things ending in -cide (that means “death” in case you are interested. like homicide, suicide, etc.) on their crops. so they spray fungicide and herbicide and pesticide and nobody wants to be downwind of that. and sometimes when they water their crops, the -cides run off into the local waterways and contaminate them too, so nobody wants to live nearby for that reason either (although it ends up harming us all anyway).

farms that raise animals are even worse though. they have lots of excrement to deal with. and because of the volume, it’s not like they can just compost it or bury it. so it usually ends up in a slurry of smelly goo. and it reeks to high heaven. and it’s disgusting. and since the animals are in closer quarters than they ever should be, they smell even worse, and there are higher rates of disease than there ever should be (which is why they have to use so much medicine routinely in industrial animals), and that stinks even more. and if/when the animals die of disease, it isn’t just one or two, like you would have on a normal farm, it is on a huge industrial scale- like everything else- and i don’t even want to get explicit about that…

so people fought for- and won- the right to get farms zoned the heck away from civilization.

which is great when you are talking about dysfunctional factory farms.

but it’s awful when you are talking about normal people farms.

and unfortunately lots of normal people farms got swept up in the anti-farming madness.

and i’m sorry that it took me a gazillion years to get here, but that’s the point of this post.

because not only is it one more way that people became alienated from the source of their food, it’s one more way that people are removed from good healthy food, and it’s one more set of hurdles for small farmers to overcome.

because now there is an entire set of bureaucratic regulations designed to keep megafarms in check- and lots of them are completely sane when dealing with large corporate interests- but they are completely insane and overly burdensome when put upon small farmers.

and these small farmers, in addition to minding their farms and doing the work that few of us would ever want to do (get up at 5am, to milk a cow? ha! stand in a hail storm to fix a fence while being kicked by a goat? not a chance!), now have to submit to rules and regulations and piles of paperwork designed to keep industrial farms hidden from the delicate public eyes and noses. and it puts a lot of them out of business.

and even if they manage to stay in business, it puts unfair burdens on them and takes away valuable time from them doing their farm work and bringing more healthy food to you and your family.

so, what can you do? why am i bothering you with this?

first, be aware and get educated. realize that when zoning rules are made they do have an impact. just because your livelihood isn’t at stake doesn’t mean someone else’s isn’t.

talk to your local farmer. when you go to the farmer’s market- as i’m sure all of you will come spring 2013- ask them what issues they are facing in their communities and see what you can do to help. you may be surprised.

vote with your food dollars. every purchasing choice goes in one direction or another. you don’t have to be a saint, but you do have to be aware.

i’m watching the word count on this post rise and rise and rise, and i personally don’t like reading really long posts, so i’m gonna spare you any further tirade.

read joel salatin’s “everything i want to do is illegal” if you can. it will be worth it in every way.

and now i’ll let you get back to signing up for the garden spring 😉