Bob Woodsworth, Founder and Longtime Director

The Beginnings of City Farmer Society

By Richard Whittaker, 
Works and Conversation
July 10, 2008


Bob Woodsworth: I did my Master’s in environmental economics in 1970. Dan Phelps, a physicist, and I did this huge study of energy movement through the city and nobody was doing an energy analysis of everything. Is it worthwhile getting into your car and recycling your glass bottles at a depot that’s ten miles away? Is that energy efficient? So energy was really foremost in my mind. I just thought food was an obvious example. If you could grow it, and compost it, it would undercut a massive amount of energy transport. So it was an obvious one to study.

I can tell you there was not much about urban agriculture around. By 1971 most of what was there was in relation to pollution — air pollution, water pollution, Rachel Carson sorts of things. And I will say, even now, I don’t think a very good vision of energy economics is available, whether something is good to do in terms of energy or not. Back then there was virtually nothing about energy economics and whether it was useful.

I know I went intuitively on the fact that it has to be absolutely energetically efficient to plant a few seeds in your garden and bring the vegetables into your kitchen and put the waste out into your compost. You didn’t have to do the energy economic study on that!

The minute you thought about it, well, you’re going to have your big lawn. You put the pesticides on and spend the money to get a big gas lawnmower to mow your grass. Or, you could dig it up by hand, plant food and have the food! There’s no question that it’s going to be efficient. You don’t have to do the study. We sort bypassed those kinds of studies. They weren’t needed, and they weren’t there.

See the whole interview here.

Michael Levenston