Tommy Bleasdale

Urban Agriculture Researcher, Ph.D., Foodie & Gardner

Tommy Bleasdale Ph.D. has published academic papers and popular articles about food justice movements and urban agriculture in Phoenix, Arizona. Working closely with practitioners over the last seven years, he has both observed and taken part in multiple aspects of local food system establishment, from gardening to policy creation.

Dr. Bleasdale is an active participant in many local food movements. He helps shape urban and just community-based food systems using the best information available. By fusing the knowledge of academia with the experience of practitioners he crafts material to meet the needs of a community.

Justice-Based Urban Food Systems




Taste of the city

Monday, August 3, 2015
Last night I made a macaroni salad using onions, peppers, and parsley all fresh from my garden. With that, we had cherry tomatoes. They were still warm from the heat of the afternoon sun and so sweet that doing anything beyond washing them and putting them on the plate would have been a food crime. This morning I sat outside looking into my backyard garden. The peach trees shook under the weight of many songbirds pecking at the last few sweet peaches of the season. We had tried valiantly to rescue as many of the peaches as we could. But, in the end, we could not face yet another plate of peach cobbler, bowls of peaches and vanilla ice cream, or glass of peach-based smoothie. The apples on the trees are over ripening. We have buckets of them inside and have been giving them away as fast as we can. I found another local gardener using the “Nextdoor” app. We have been trading apples and greens for eggplants (ratatouille, eggplant parmesan, baba ganoush). For every Apple we pick it seems two more take its spot. Let the songbirds gorge themselves! I began to create my backyard garden almost a decade ago. Then, I saw it as the supreme act of rebellion, as taking some small element of control of my food. I saw is as an island of sanity in an insane and terrifying food system. I saw it as self-reliance and preparedness against potential future food shocks. My thinking about backyard urban agriculture has evolved. One of the first things I learned is that all but the smallest garden requires many hands to be productive. I began to understand that gardens need a host of diverse skills beyond gardening. Woodworking to build garden beds, shade structures, planters, and trellises. Plumbing skills to assemble and repair an irrigation system. Electricians to automate that irrigation system. Learning how to process and cook fresh produce (not as simple as it sounds). Another important lesson was that gardening requires many minds to understand garden ecology. I have consulted with dozens of garden experts, attended seminars and completed instructional courses as well as accumulating a small library of books and articles. I have watched countless hours of Youtube videos about gardening and garden-related topics. At this point, it is hard to know where my original thinking about gardens ends and the thinking of others begins. Gardening is not a solitary activity. It is the opposite of solitude. You may be alone in your garden. However, you are always surrounded by the knowledge, skill and labor of others. To become a gardener is not to become self-sufficient, but to become interdependent upon others. Gardening also demands that the gardener begin to develop a sense of the environment they are in and to utilize the resources of that environment. As an urban gardener living in the sixth most populated city in the US, I am far removed from a bucolic, rural setting. My garden beds are made from recovered redwood lumber my neighbor was hauling off to the dump. The rubber soaker hoses watering my garden beds began life as vehicle tires. The dust of a hundred construction sites has settled on my gardens and been incorporated into the soil. The clay soil itself has thousands of pounds of compost, both purchased from local producers and what I have created myself, worked into it. Tons of woodchip mulch covers the ground between my garden beds. The woodchips came from landscapers whose trimmings from hundreds of local trees was diverted to my backyard instead of being lost to a local landfill. The fruit trees and vegetables in my garden have soaked up carbon dioxide from thousands of cars rushing past on the nearby freeway. My tomatoes and peppers continue to grow until Christmas cocooned by the warm nights of our urban heat island and winter thermal inversions. The songbirds pecking aphids off my rosebuds were eating a neighbors birdseed and bathing in their birdbath only minutes before. Urban gardeners and farmers take the raw ingredients of a city and using knowledge and labor convert them into living substances. We are, to borrow a phrase from the political ecologists, ‘matabolizing’ the city. There is a phrase borrowed from the French and commonly used among wine affectionados: “goût de terroir” literally translated as “taste of the earth.” It means (from what I understand) the wine reflects the taste of the region, of the farm, of the soil, climate and farmer that grew the grapes. Perhaps urban gardeners and farmers need to repurpose the phrase to a more contemporary “goût de ville” or “taste of the city”? The challenges facing urban gardeners and farmers are many. But, our numbers are increasing. Recently there has been a spate of articles about the extent of urban agriculture in cities around the world, particularly in Africa. My Feedly account finds more articles like these regularly. The growing class of urban agriculturalists are building social networks with neighbors, other practitioners, farmers' markets, community supported agriculture programs, community gardens, chefs using locally grown ingredients, cooperatives, food hubs and social media. We attend classes, go to meetings, talk and strategize. Urban agriculturalists contemplate an alternative vision of the city. This vision reflects a growing interest in knowing where food comes from, how it's processed, the hidden environmental cost of production and thinking about ways to use agriculture to strengthen existing urban ecological systems. It will likely be decades before this alternative vision of the city comes to fruition. However, until then, we know something that others do not. The city tastes good.