The Urban Farm: Greening Small City Spaces

Urban farming is all the rage these days. Where I live, back lanes are becoming orchards and community gardens continue to sprout. Organizations like the Seattle Urban Farm Company are growing, harvesting, and selling food growing on suburban micro-farms. Great stuff!

I love local food. Yes, I know that there is controversy about whether local is better, more efficient. But to me, local food seems to be the logical choice – the ultimate in self-reliance. Perhaps there are savings of scale to be had in mass food production elsewhere in the world. However, the logic of picking food from your own backyard, and the community of finding local farmers who can supply your food leaves me happy, full, and feeling rewarded.

We’re members of a local CSA, a community supported agriculture model that requires an initial investment of money for a summer and fall’s worth of produce. Every week, our farmer drops off a box of food that he picked the day before. We collect it from a central location on our way to do other errands. No, we don’t get to choose what’s in the box, but what he grows is a reflection of what grows well and abundantly in our climate.

We’re also members of Urban Grains, the first wheat farm around these parts in a long, long time to grow wheat for people, not for animal fodder. This past weekend we got more than 40 pounds of whole wheat flour, and this weekend we made local pancakes. Yes, those of you from the wheat belt may guffaw, but for those of us from the rainy Pacific Northwest, this is an accomplishment.

After the success of the book Plenty: The 100 Mile Diet, the idea of a zero mile diet is also becoming popular – zero miles being your yard, of course – or your townhouse deck, or a window box. Yet many of urban-dwellers live in tiny spaces with little or no land. What are some creative ways to bring the zero mile diet home in an urban environment? 

Plant Tiles
Imagine a kitchen backsplash that doubles as a herb garden. Plant tiles are tiles that have a little pocket in them, perfect for a small plant. Now, I doubt that you’re going to feed the whole family off these, but they would be a good addition to an indoor food system and especially convenient for areas in the kitchen. If proximity is the key to using the fruits of your urban garden, these are about as close as you’re going to get.

Hanging Baskets
Ah, the hanging basket. While memories of jade plants from the 1970s might ensue, a modern indoor or deck basket doesn’t need to be full of hippie goodness. It can be full of food! I’ve grown crops in these baskets before. The only drawback is the need to water them on a very consistent basis. Choose a basket material that is not exceptionally well-drained or choose dry-area plants, or your lettuce and tomatoes will wilt in warmer weather.

Gutter Gardens
I love the idea of the rain gutter garden. These gardens grow in reused rain gutters on the side of a house. Place them where you have the most amenable weather for vegetables. You no longer need to be constrained to the places where you actually have space on the ground. Imagine a house covered in rain gutters like the ancient terraces, growing food one on top of the other. Yes, this isn’t an indoor garden, but it’s definitely a clever use of tight urban spaces.

Living Walls
What is a living wall? It’s a panel that houses plants. Water moves down the panel and through the roots of the plants. These can be house plants that purify the air in your home, or they can be herbs and other food plants. A living wall is ideal for the deck of an apartment or townhouse. For those who have limited garden space or simply want to make use of every last part of it, vertical food growing is where it’s at.

The Sunroom
If you’re blessed enough to live in a home with a sunroom that gets quite warm in the summer, you’re blessed with a miniature greenhouse. Use your in-home microclimate to your advantage. Where I live in the temperate zone, consistent sun and warmth are a rarity, but a sunroom would allow me to extend my growing season into the fall and start plants like tomatoes comfortably in early spring.

There are so many clever innovations that can turn a home into an urban farm. So dig deep – not too deep, as not to disturb the neighbors – and dig in!

Posted in Natural Living.

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