Daniel Greenfield, a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the Freedom Center, is an investigative journalist and writer focusing on the radical Left and Islamic terrorism.
There’s a story about an old Marxist who would address leftist rallies in Union Square a century ago as, “Workers and Peasants of New York City”. Leftists eventually transform farce into fact and that’s why New York’s number two mayoral candidate is touting a “New Agrarian Economy”.
It’s time to farm one of the most expensive and densely populated cities in the country.
Mao had kicked off China’s worst famine by demanding that wheat be grown everywhere. And New York City’s Maoists are following in his footsteps by trying to farm rooftops and parking lots.
Urban agriculture is one of those obscure lefty ideas so insane that few even believe it exists.
But Mayor Bill de Blasio had already created an Office of Urban Agriculture and the New York City Council, which is so crazy that it makes De Blasio look sane, had declared war on “food inequity”, by vowing to grow food in one of the most densely populated cities on earth.
If your city is going to pot anyway, why not go to Pol Pot?
Urban madness doesn’t stay in cities so the 2018 Farm Bill created an Office of Urban Agriculture inside the USDA and is doling out millions of dollars in grants for urban agriculture like the one that proposes to turn residents of housing projects in Camden, New Jersey from “resident, to gardener, to farmer, and eventually to community urban agriculture leader.”
Camden is one of the most polluted and violent cities in New Jersey, so assuming anyone manages to grow anything, it’s even odds whether they’ll be shot or die of food poisoning.
New York City isn’t about to let New Jersey steal its crown and so Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams is running for mayor on a platform of giving everyone in the city healthy food by growing it in the city. Adams, who is polling behind Yang in the city’s upcoming mayoral election, plans to have rooftop farms over schools and hydroponic farms in buildings.
Considering the current state of New York City’s public schools, growing lettuce on top of them might not be the priority: getting their students to read and do simple math should be. And the city already has plenty of hydroponic agriculture, but it’s mostly used to illegally grow marijuana.
Less than half of New York City public school students are performing at grade level in Math and English. It might be a better idea to have schools actually educate students, if Randi Weingarten will allow them, than to enlist them in some Communist harvesting scheme.
It was the Soviet Union that was infamous for rushing students to the fields to harvest crops resulting in a whole lot of wasted crops and wasted time for the students. The Soviet Union might not be the best model for New York City, but finally the old Stalinists and Sandernistas who infest its school system will get to live out their collective farming dreams.
New York City is already one of the densest, and most expensive, both in terms of land value and average salary, places in the country. Growing food in the city, instead of importing it from economically depressed upstate areas, or other states, makes no sense whatsoever.
But Adams insists that urban agriculture will, “aid our economic recovery, providing a new source of tax revenue and employment for New Yorkers.”
Saner heads might wonder where these bountiful crops of urban wheat will grow.
“Perhaps surprisingly to some, at the end of the 19th century, New York City was one of the nation’s leaders in agricultural production. The counties I call and have called home — Kings (Brooklyn) and Queens — were, I was proud to learn, agricultural powerhouses,” Adams’ New Agrarian Economy report declares.
Adams fails to mention that the population of New York City rose sharply from around 1 million to 2 million between 1860 and 1880.
Today it’s over 8 million.
Back then there were also farms in what is now uptown Manhattan. Today, 32,000 people live per square mile in Harlem. The country farms of uptown Manhattan went away with the end of the Civil War. Brooklyn and Queens, which had more space, took longer to be overpopulated.
If Adams really wants a New Agrarian Economy, he needs to expel 80% of the city’s residents, tear down twenty thousand buildings, and then work to redevelop the land for cultivation.
Of course that massive effort to turn New York City into a postapocalyptic communal farm still wouldn’t work because one of the reasons that the city’s agriculture went away is that the land had been overexploited for centuries, and then tainted and polluted, until it was good for little more than paving it over, or hollowing it out as foundations for large buildings. A city.
There was a reason that the Indians let Manhattan go so cheaply and weren’t too picky about the other boroughs. The land wasn’t good for very much and the water was even worse.
The Dutch and then the English only found it useful as ports in a trading hub.
New Yorkers regularly died of disease because they were living on swampland and drinking polluted water. But it was all worth it so they could trade stocks and go out to the theater.
The great thing about ignorance is that you never realize when history is repeating itself.
New York City’s schoolchildren used to learn all this as basic history around the same time that the farms went away. Today they learn about equity and slavery while having absolutely no clue about the basic details that made the world they live in. That’s how you get urban agriculture.
Woke education and cultural illiteracy leads to stupendously stupid agricultural policy. Just as it did in the Soviet Union under Khrushchev and in Communist China under Mao. The New Agrarian Economy closely echoes Mao’s “Grow grain everywhere” policy. And is as equally ignorant about the basic realities of agriculture as Mao’s second-hand lysenkoism.
With every terrible Communist idea making a woke comeback, why not universal peasantry?
“New York City is a center of innovation and commercialization of new agricultural technologies,” Adams’ report claims. “As its new technologies develop fast, it is crucial that this economy maintain a similarly furious commitment to social justice.”
There’s no idea so insane that a leftist won’t adopt it and taxpayers won’t pay for it.
“New York City is a veritable fertile ground for urban agricultural exploration purposes, with its roughly 1,000 acres of green space at developments under the purview of the New York City Housing Authority,” the report claims. Never mind that your average housing project’s land is already covered in human waste and cigarette butts. And is meant to be recreational.
Or that 1,000 acres gets you one farm. There’s a million acres of land being used to grow corn in the state alone. How many people does Adams expect to feed from 1,000 acres of projects?
Adams proposes to start out by basing school lunch menus on “what we can supply from local New York City urban agriculture”. Using public school students, many of them minorities, as guinea pigs for Maoist urban agriculture projects in a polluted city would alternately starve and poison those students. And since New York schools are also used as general soup kitchens, also the homeless, and welfare recipients, it would also serve as a kind of eugenics program.
New York City’s government runs a welfare state that is tasked with providing free and cheap food. Adams would like to take that food supply and make it dependent on growing food on rooftops and housing project yards by “minority and women-owned businesses”.
This is what happens when you don’t teach kids about Communism.
Between all the buzzwords like “equity” and “food apartheid” is yet another doomed program that only seems to exist to vacuum up cash and government grants before failing miserably.
Meanwhile New York City is becoming more of a hellhole than ever.
Adams might want to consider using that massive “5,000 acres of vacant lots” (Iowa has about 26 million of acres of farmland) not to grow corn (which Iowa is much better at), but to house the homeless whom the city is currently putting up in $200 a night hotels at taxpayer expense.
New York City doesn’t need urban agriculture: it needs basic public safety.
Massive numbers of companies have fled New York City during the pandemic. Even Goldman Sachs is considering getting out. Between the lockdowns, the race riots, and the taxes, the city is a horrible environment for business. Instead of raising taxes to pay for urban agriculture, Adams might want to consider how to cut taxes and bring jobs back to New York City.
Maoism didn’t work in China. It sure as hell won’t work in New York City.
But getting the workers back to the land has the same magnetic appeal for 21st century lefties as it did for Lenin, Mao, and Pol Pot. One of the densest cities in America is pursuing a bizarre project out of the fevered dreams of Mao and Pol Pot. And Democrats in D.C. have been funding such ventures in urban areas around the country at the expense of farm country.
It’s not pure ideological fanaticism.
Urban farming is a great way to steal grants and funding from family farms who actually need it, while plowing the cash into the same failed urban areas whose broken schools, broken housing, broken families, and broken everything already consume much of the tax dollars of their states.
America’s farmers are already struggling. Democrats are happy to rob them to finance bizarre Maoist experiments in growing carrots in housing projects.
“We were an agrarian economy at one time,” Eric Adams mournfully declaims.
But if he wants to be part of an agrarian economy, he can head upstate. The trouble is that Adams doesn’t actually want to live in a low-density farming community. Nor does he want to do the hard work of actually farming. Like the USSR or Mao’s China, our economy is becoming a figment of someone’s ideological imagination in which nothing but buzzwords are really real.
“You’re going to teach my young children a nutritionally-based education so they can learn this multi-billion dollar industry of urban farming,” Adams argues.
There’s no multi-billion dollar industry of urban farming. Nor will there ever be. But in a political economy in which Democrats can falsely claim that everyone’s going to get jobs installing solar panels and de-icing wind turbines, in which money and art are imaginary digital commodities, and the government can turn carbon credits into big business, unreality is a minor detail.
Like Pol Pot, Adams is dreaming of a great return to nature in the concrete canyons of NYC.
“They’re going to be skillful in it,” Adams babbles, as he optimistically invokes New York’s children getting jobs as urban farmers in an industry which pays unskilled Mexican laborers 40 cents for picking a 40 pound bucket of produce. “And these are the jobs of the future, because 40 percent of the jobs we’re training our children for now won’t be available because of computer learning and artificial intelligence. But we’re always going to eat.”
The jobs of the future will be planting rotten carrots on rooftops to be sold to the government.
Forget all the real jobs. Computers will do them. Especially once the minimum wage hits forty bucks. But we’ll always need someone to work a hoe in the neo-medieval future of New York.
The Left has been claiming for some two centuries that it’s the ideology of the future. But its future is the past. All of its ideas come down to a return to the medieval world, the lord and his sharecroppers, the peace of a timeless world in which men rise at dawn and go to bed at dusk, in which there are no questions, only a dogma to learn and repeat, life is nasty, short, and brutish, and in which everyone knows their place. Welcome to the progressive future.
Here’s your bucket.