4 Tips to Farm In the City When Land’s Too Pricey

So you can’t afford your farm dream quite yet. Don’t despair—there’s a lot of growing to do right where you are.

Original post by Nick Strauss at Urban Farm online.

4 Tips to Farm In the City When Land's Too Pricey (UrbanFarmOnline.com)

Do you sit at your office cubicle and dream of driving a tractor across acres of your own farmland? Even just a small tractor and an acre or two—enough to live self-sufficiently or work the farmers market scene? Do you then return home to an urban lot, squashed in between other urban lots, and despair that you’ll never escape, never save enough, never find the right plot of land? Do you count your savings and check real-estate listings, hoping that magical plot of land (affordable, ideally sited, just the right size) will come along sooner than later, allowing you to start living the grow-your-own dream instead of just imagining it? Don’t worry. Just because you can’t live your off-the-grid-self-sufficient-farmer fantasy life right now doesn’t mean you need to abandon the whole vision or put it on hold until you can take the plunge. Get started now, with what you’ve got, where you are. Consider it practice. Consider it testing the waters. Consider it making do with what you have. However you think of it, there’s no reason to hold off from starting your own farm/garden right now!

1. Get Creative With Your Space
4 Tips to Farm In the City When Land's Too Pricey (UrbanFarmOnline.com)

A productive garden doesn’t need to be a set of raised beds built of dimension lumber and set up in orthogonal rows. When looking at your space, consider all of the options and all of the spaces. An organically shaped hugelkultur bed may very well accommodate an odd or sloping piece of ground you’d thought unusable. And front yard gardens aren’t just for Portland anymore. While we all hear horror stories about fights with small-minded officialdom or recalcitrant neighbors, the reality is that far more folks happily grow edibles than end up in legal disputes. Talk to your neighbors, test the waters, and see how things will fly. It never hurts to open the “would you mind if I plant some edibles up front” conversation by bringing over a home-grown salad, a few eggs or other sample of what bounty your garden already produces. There’s also the option of “stealth edibles”—something like a blueberry bush or a fruit tree that’s visually appealing and easy to work into decorative landscaping without anyone being the wiser. There’s a great place for containers, as well. Many crops thrive in container gardens: Think potato towers, tomatoes and herbs. You can reclaim concrete patio space, the edge of a driveway and even an apartment balcony this way. We’ve put containers of peppers and tomatoes on our roof to take advantage of the sunlight—though I’d be careful with this. Make sure your roof can handle the weight and that you have easy and above all safe access.

2. Practice Season Extension

4 Tips to Farm In the City When Land's Too Pricey (UrbanFarmOnline.com)

If you can’t add space to your garden, why not add time? You don’t need to be a Harry Potter character to find more time in the gardening year. You just need to aggressively use season-extension techniques. Use cloches, cold frames or a compact greenhouse to start the growing season earlier and extend it later. If you set up an indoor seed-starting station with good artificial light and perhaps a heater mat, you’ll not only be able to start seeds earlier in the year but also be able to get seeds going while you wait for an outside crop to finish maturing and free up some space. (This is particularly helpful with fall crops.)

We like to call this whole package of ideas “Four-Dimensional Gardening,” planning our garden to take full advantage of the sowing, transplanting and harvesting cycles of all the different plants we want to grow. With overwintering crops, quick-maturing fall greens, inter-cropping and other techniques, you’ll be able to get two full crops out of most of your garden space every year.

3. Stick to High-Value Crops
4 Tips to Farm In the City When Land's Too Pricey (UrbanFarmOnline.com)

Ah, seed catalogs. They arrive every spring full of beautiful descriptions for hundreds of varieties, all seductively described and oh-so-tempting! The urge is to grow all of them, to sample a little of everything, the novel and the exotic. But the words the small-scale production gardener needs to look for are “productive,” “reliable” and “high yielding,” not “unique,” “new” and “exotic.” If your goal is to produce as much of your food of your own plot of land as possible, then focus on reliable, high-yielding crops and varieties. Identify characteristics that are key for your climate, and select those. Here in the Pacific Northwest, we choose many of our summer crops based on days-to-maturity—the quicker the better! Also, grow what you eat and what you’ve learned you grow well … and avoid the opposite. We’ve always had back luck with carrots for some reason, so we’ve stopped setting aside space for a crop that’s frustrating and disappointing. Trust me, even the most mundane, reliable, highly productive variety grown in your own yard and eaten fresh out of the soil is going to be light years better than anything you will find at the supermarket.

4. Be Part of a Team
4 Tips to Farm In the City When Land's Too Pricey (UrbanFarmOnline.com)

I’m lucky—I live on a block where one neighbor keeps bees and another grows brilliant carrots. We have ducks and chickens a plenty. A local brewery has more leftover grain than it can deal with, so we feed it to our flocks. This makes for a natural incorporation of swap economy into our life and is something you should consider, too. We give eggs and get carrots and grain. If you’re in town, keep an eye out for patches of vegetables, chicken coops and other signs of backyard productivity. Make friends and connections and swap what you do well for what other folks are offering. Don’t confuse the goal of growing more of your own with the need to live entirely off your own land and effort. Whether casual or organized, swapping with your friends, neighbors and fellow productive gardeners will bring variety and bounty to your life.

About the Author: Nick Strauss is an all-grain homebrewer with more than 13 years of experience. He and his wife own a small homestead in the Pacific Northwest and blog about home brewing, homesteading, cooking and more at Northwest Edible Life.

Can Urban Gardens in ugandan schools connect youth to the land?

More than 5years ago, i went to visit an urban garden in the most unlikely of places, the middle of Kibera! Kibera is the largest slum in Nairobi, and probably the largest urban dwelling in any African city! Kibera started out as a settlement in the forests at the outskirts of Nairobi, when Nubian soldiers were relocated here by allocation of plots in return for their efforts from the war.

The population of Kibera has since grown, and plans to demolish the place have been unsuccessful. Kibera is heavily polluted by human refuse, garbage, soot, dust and other waste. It is contaminated with human and animal faeces, due to open sewage systems and the humorously called ”flying toilets” (i will leave your imagination to run wild here). The lack of sanitation, combined with poor nutrition among residents, accounts for many illnesses and diseases.

Not to be deterred by this, Victor Matioli and his friends found a way to convert an unlikely space in Kibera into a urban garden that supplied organic vegetables to the people of Kibera.

“This area had a very bad reputation. The youth here were very bad before they reformed. People looked down on us and said bad things about us.They said, those young people are wasting their time, they have come up with an idea that will not help them. They are lazy and are in the habit of reaping unfairly, they will not manage. This brought our morale down, but we pushed on, encouraged each other and managed quite well.” Victor

The boys cleared the plot of all rubbish, and with some help from friends acquired a water tank and the farm was well on its way. They grew  ‘sukuma (a type of spinach), tomatoes, cucumber, and pumpkins which were sold directly to the local community, and being completely organic was /is an added bonus especially in Kenya, which is placed amongst the highest pesticide users in Sun-Saharan Africa!

When i visited Victor and the project, the boys were recovering from a bout of parasites that had attacked their crop and as such they were leaving the plot free to ”breathe” literally and applying organic alternatives to kill off the pests.

I have a dream, to pilot vegetable gardens and permaculture projects in Uganda’s local schools. I envision  young people connecting with the food production systems and taking ownership of food production. However, growing up, agriculture was often portrayed as punishment. When your grades were low or had committed an offense, as punishment you were sent to the garden with a hoe. We grew up seeing agriculture as hard labor, punishment, and something that the people in villages did, not as city dwelling kids. Luckily, i attended a boarding school where 2 days were dedicated to agriculture, we planted, harvested, and even prepared our food – not the cooking part as we were not allowed near a fire. We more or less knew where our food came from, we were expected to take responsibility of planting and harvesting. Nevertheless, when we graduated on to secondary school, this is the one part of our education we were so glad to leave behind!

There is a continued disconnect between people of all ages and where their food comes from. As the fast food industry slowly/quickly advances into Sub Saharan African cities, young people are not only becoming farmers, but they are also not becoming healthy, nourished eaters, and this can lead to rising youth obesity. I believe that one solution is reconnecting young people to the food chain, to see the opportunities and want to get involved in agriculture rather than be forced. It is a combination of students learning to produce food, and acquiring information on nutrition and food security. Students can learn how to grow, process, and preserve food and celebrate it in ways that allow them to recognize the diversity and uniqueness of their local food cultures.

One such initiative is DISC (Developing Innovations in School Cultivation Project), the project is helping youth build leadership skills around farming. One of the project’s former students, Betty Nabukala, managed the school’s garden. She explained that DISC taught the students ‘new’ methods of planting vegetables. Before, she says, “we used to just plant seeds,” but DISC taught them how to fertilize crops with manure and compost, and how to save seeds after harvest. More importantly, Betty explained that she and the students learned that not only can they produce food, they can also earn money from its sale.

DISC was co-founded by Edward Mukiibi, who is now the Vice-President of Slow Food International. Edie is 28 years
old and has been part of leading efforts around Slow Food’s Thousand Gardens in Africa initiative, which is implementing gardens in communities and schools across the continent. “It is time to be proud of being a food producer and revive our lost food traditions in Africa,” says Mukiibi, adding that the Thousand Gardens initiative “is an opportunity for young ones, like me” to strengthen ties between communities but also within communities through the oral exchange of agricultural traditions and practices. Thanks to DISC and Slow Food, many students are no longer seeing agriculture as an option of last resort, but something enjoyable, intellectually stimulating and economically profitable.

To quote Food Tank’s Danielle Nierenberg , ”It’s clear that the future of agriculture is in the hands of young people – whether they’re family farmers, cooks and chefs, entrepreneurs, teachers or scientists. To cultivate that next generation, governments, academics, businesses and the funding and donor communities need to provide the investment and funding they need to nourish both people and planet.”