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August 18, 2009 5:52 PM   Subscribe

Suburban farming, an idea whose time may have come. Short and sweet SLYT from the Wall Street Journal about people growing herbs and vegetables in their own yards in American suburbia.
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane (64 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite

 
I think growing vegetables in your own backyard is a great idea. The price of fresh food is getting outrageous, and many of the vegetables we eat in the summer we can grow ourselves. We are lucky to have a number of neighborhood gardening opportunities in my area. I did a small garden area at home this year and am thinking about getting a neighborhood plot next year. It's really satisfying to eat what you've grown yourself.
posted by garnetgirl at 5:59 PM on August 18, 2009


There was an article in one of the local alt-weeklies talking about the same sort of thing in Portland: The Sellwood Gardening Club.

Me and my wife have had a "should we grow stuff in the front yard?" discussion a couple times—we're already growing a few experimental small plots in the back and side yards (tomatoes, beans, beets, kohlrabi, snap peas: yay; corn, carrots, radishes, garlic more mixed results), but moving it up front feels a little conspicuous. On the other hand, I don't really like mowing at all, so it'd be a psychic win for me even if it's just changing the sort of labor involved.
posted by cortex at 6:00 PM on August 18, 2009


That's an idea that never left. We did it when I was in high school.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 6:08 PM on August 18, 2009


I was dreaming about buying this house in Fresno last year. That second yard looked perfect for some hothouses.

If I had a million-five I could have gone for the gusto.
posted by @troy at 6:08 PM on August 18, 2009


Interesting, today I drove by a small market garden on a rather large suburban lot called Bad Seed Farm. They've opened up a storefront downtown so they're a bit more commercial than the WSJ link (though complete hippies). They're getting heat from neighbors as the lots are very much suburban, no one wants to move next to a working farm. I do sympathize with this, it does look bad in the winter or after a harvest, it is just a dirt field after all.

I think it would be much more productive to put in a small greenhouse and harvest year round, not to mention it would look nicer.
posted by geoff. at 6:11 PM on August 18, 2009


It reminds me of this time a couple of years ago that I got solicited with a subscription for Backyard Poultry magazine. As the card (which I still have stuck to the refrigerator) says:
Here's something to crow about!

Return the card below and we'll send you a free copy of a brand-new magazine devoted entirely to domestic poultry! You'll get a quality magazine that pays tribute to chickens and other fowl:
* not merely as good food or a business...
* not simply as pets, or as the subjects of old fables and modern humor...
* not only as birds of grace and beauty in the showroom or in your backyard...
* but all of these and more! Here is a magazine as diverse and as fascinating as its subject: Poultry!
BACKYARD POULTRY salutes the whole chicken -- and other fowl -- in all their wondrous forms and colors. Yes, it covers breeds, housing, management -- everything you'd expect to find in a professionally-produced magazine dedicated to poultry. But, be prepared to expect the unexpected!
I'm sold!
posted by Rhaomi at 6:13 PM on August 18, 2009


cortex, you're already a farmer, harvesting your crop of grass. You just never eat it. (That I know about) I am still convinced that the mowing ritual is some weird cultural holdover from all of that farmers moving to the 'burbs.

I want a geodesic dome greenhouse.
posted by adipocere at 6:23 PM on August 18, 2009 [10 favorites]


During what time period did "American suburbia" NOT garden?

And I actually got a book about backyard poultry out of the library today. Granted, it was mainly to prove to my wife that it's more work than she wants to do (she just thinks chickens are cute).

...we're already growing a few experimental small plots in the back and side yards (tomatoes, beans, beets, kohlrabi, snap peas: yay; corn, carrots, radishes, garlic more mixed results), but moving it up front feels a little conspicuous

Holy crap, my "experimental plot" (in the sun along the side of the house) is just tomatoes, green peppers and jalapeƱos. I'm going to be crazy and add snap peas next year. Maybe, if I feel really, really adventurous, watermelon.

Eventually, if I run out of space there (the area is bounded by driveway and only about 4'x15') I'll move to the front yard. But dammit, I just realized there's a tree there that'll going to be very shady in 5-10 years!
posted by DU at 6:24 PM on August 18, 2009


Holy crap, my "experimental plot" (in the sun along the side of the house)

I don't mean to oversell it; most of those are very small lots, a few square feet each. Biggest by far is the corn and the beans (the latter of which we're growing a couple watermelon plants underneath), and all in all we're probably not using up more than 80-100 square feet of the backyard this year, and another maybe 20 sqft along the side of the house.

We were in an apartment downtown for six years before we bought the house last year, so this is kind of the toes-in-the-water first go at the whole thing; we're gonna try to kill some more of the backyard grass this winter to make it easier to add more plots for next spring, but it's still not anything remotely ambitious.
posted by cortex at 6:30 PM on August 18, 2009


The past is the future!
posted by regicide is good for you at 6:36 PM on August 18, 2009


Gaaah. Banjo music? Really???

That aside, I love the idea of urban / suburban gardening in one's yard. The house we have here in eastern WA came with a few raised box beds which we've planted with lettuce and tomatoes for a few years now. And a lot of raspberry vines which have propagated themselves. Having lived the first 30 years of my life in southern NM, where things will only grow if you beg and plead, it's pretty amazing to live someplace where plants not only grow but volunteer bits of themselves as food. Between the raspberries and the plum tree, we have lots of fruit on and off. And there is something really amazing about heading out and picking young lettuce and making a salad which was, a mere 5 minutes ago, taking in sunshine. You can nearly taste the photosynthesis as you chew.

I've thought for more than a little while that I want to expand the raised beds to take over a lot more of the yard, try growing a lot more variety, maybe experiment with home canning and such. At the very least, the neighbors wouldn't care how it looks. They seem to be growing dead cars and unused boats in their yard.
posted by hippybear at 6:39 PM on August 18, 2009


Serious question: when the oil runs out, will we all go back to farming through manual labor?
posted by Rhomboid at 6:44 PM on August 18, 2009


Rhomboid: only as long as we haven't tipped the climate to the point where nothing will grow.
posted by hippybear at 6:45 PM on August 18, 2009


Rhomboid: only as long as we haven't tipped the climate to the point where nothing will grow.

You don't really believe that. Of course things will grow. Plants already grow in nearly every climate zone. As for how we'll get by when the oil runs out - first of all, it won't ever run out, because as soon as it gets scarce enough there will be wars and such and we'll use up all we already have before we even have the chance to get to it all. So I'd worry about conscription before I'd worry about whether or not I'm going to be forced into an agricultural labor camp, but I'm an optimist.
posted by billysumday at 6:49 PM on August 18, 2009 [4 favorites]


Square foot gardening. Raised beds, tight growing plan.

The very best reason to do it is for the taste. Even farmer's market carrots are stale in comparison to fresh-plucked.

You would not believe how good a fresh-picked, at-peak peach is. It is to peaches from a bin as peaches from a bin are to canned peaches.

I find the same applies to most foods, actually. Fresh peas, potatoes, berries, whatever. Fresh fish, too, for that matter.
posted by five fresh fish at 6:50 PM on August 18, 2009


I would love to tear the front lawn out and turn it into vegetables, but it's divided into oddly shaped plots by this crazy walkway/former koi pond business and fencing it would be complicated. Leaving it unfenced isn't a good option. We're going to have to come up with a different alternative to the traditional lawn.

But we do have a few raised beds out back, several herb pots by the kitchen door, and chickens.

it was mainly to prove to my wife that it's more work than she wants to do (she just thinks chickens are cute).


They crap so. much. Within most city limits, you can't get enough of them to really make it cost-effective. They don't want to eat all the scraps I want them to eat. There are feathers all over the damn place. They're incredibly stupid. But honestly, once they're old enough to live outside, they're not really that much work. By then, though, they're also not all that cute.

(I'm in the post-honeymoon phase, where they're no longer cuddly and adorable but not yet bestowing eggs upon me, so don't mind me)
posted by padraigin at 6:54 PM on August 18, 2009 [2 favorites]


Serious question: when the oil runs out, will we all go back to farming through manual labor?

There are other means of electricity/energy. We can't feed the current population through manual labor, so either we have a big die-off (quite possible anyways depending on climate change) or we use other energy sources.

Well, it's not necessarily "or", I think we will use other energy sources anyways. Fuel cell and/or battery stored electricity derived from renewables and nuclear should be able to power farm equipment, and even if energy was more scarce than today farming would eventually be prioritized over personal transportation so I think we'd easily have enough to feed ourselves.
posted by wildcrdj at 6:55 PM on August 18, 2009


We tried growing our own food this year but failed to do sufficient research --- I live on the California coast and it's foggy most of the time, and we chose plants we were familiar with from other areas without thinking it through.

By next year we'll figure out what you can grow in low / inconsistent sunlight (assuming California has any water left to grow plants with).
posted by wildcrdj at 6:57 PM on August 18, 2009


So I'd worry about conscription before I'd worry about whether or not I'm going to be forced into an agricultural labor camp, but I'm an optimist.

That's quite a leap from "manual farming" to "forced agricultural labor camp." Are you certain you're an optimist? ;)
posted by hippybear at 6:57 PM on August 18, 2009


Anyone looking to put in a garden (or any plants of any sort) should pick up a copy of the Sunset Garden Book appropriate to their region. It will have pretty much all the required information and advice in a single place at your fingertips.
posted by hippybear at 7:00 PM on August 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


I'm not sure how I'd have time to garden, we're having trouble keeping up with watering the two window boxes. I'm pretty sure that I'd start out with grand plans and visions of fresh veggies but would end up with a plot full of brown death. Speaking as someone who has managed to kill cacti (left them out in the rain), I don't think that I'm cut out for gardening much less farming.
posted by octothorpe at 7:01 PM on August 18, 2009


By then, though, they're also not all that cute.

Well no, she actually thinks adult hens are cute. But "not really that much work" is more work than she's willing to do for chickens.
posted by DU at 7:10 PM on August 18, 2009


Good luck with all of that, as long as your HOA doesn't forbid it - such insanity!

Been there, done that, still doing now, will do again more at some point.

I kind of gave up on part of the dream when all of my turkeys and most of the free range chickens disappeared, only to find that there was a mountain lion, female with cubs, in residence about 200 feet from the shed (confirmed by a state GFP biologist). She didnt' touch the pigs (too big?) so we got lots of ham bacon and eventually soap, but I wasn't willing to tell her that she deserved less than me, so I let her have her way.

Now, a different place, and I can't even legally have the poultry.

But i will do it again. Not sure how to take the competition with marginally endangered natives, though.
posted by yesster at 7:16 PM on August 18, 2009


We also jumped on the chicken bandwagon. Our three Rhode Island Reds are pretty mellow and only require about 10 minutes of maintenance a day. They are pretty stupid, they are never going to fetch your slippers without pooping on them, but they have personalities and will pay back affection, especially in the evening when they're settling down. Hugging chickens is fun. Ours also walk and growl like little velociraptors.

There is one drawback, though. While we knew that they would poop a lot, but we didn't know that the poop would attract massive amounts of flies on hot days. We use traps to control their numbers, but there are still more out there than we would like and they are annoying.

You have been warned, future chicken farmers.

*Also:*
Most of my backyard is cultivated so we added a small veggie plot to the front yard along a busy sidewalk. I think the trick to keeping people from stealing tomatoes is to grow white or yellow ones. They're less likely to get nipped if they don't look ripe.
posted by Alison at 7:27 PM on August 18, 2009 [4 favorites]


If there's one thing I hate, it's.... well ok there are a lot of things I hate but, gardens you can't eat are up there. Why have a big lawn you need to mow on a regular basis when you can have a whole harvest of fruits, vegetables and herbs? I find it truly bizarre that anyone picks the former over the latter.
posted by mek at 7:31 PM on August 18, 2009 [5 favorites]


What about economies of scale? Wouldn't it be much more efficient (not to mention less environmentally damaging) if we all lived in apartment buildings instead of suburbs, and used all that extra land for farms?
posted by k. at 7:34 PM on August 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


There is one drawback, though. While we knew that they would poop a lot, but we didn't know that the poop would attract massive amounts of flies on hot days. We use traps to control their numbers, but there are still more out there than we would like and they are annoying.

Have you tried sprinkling food grade diatomaceous earth to keep the flies down? It's supposed to be pretty effective and totally safe. We haven't had a major fly problem, I think because our coop is mobile so there's no concentrated area of poop so long as we move it every few days or so. But the folks on the local chicken mailing list have been raving about it.
posted by padraigin at 7:36 PM on August 18, 2009


Everyone should try and grow something. Herbs are quite rewarding for little effort. Many, like rosemary, can look like shrubs anyway.
posted by caddis at 7:40 PM on August 18, 2009


During what time period did "American suburbia" NOT garden?

It's been quite uncommon along the East Coast. In fact, there are many developments where the HOA will not allow you to have a vegetable garden. And in older neighborhoods, from the middle of the 20th century (basically just postwar onward) ornamental gardens became the norm, as gardening for food was associated with immigrants.

What about economies of scale?

That's kind of what got us into this mess. I'm all for denser cities, but I'm also for more people employed in smaller-scale industries and everyone growing/raising at least some of their own food. Large farms might be more efficient, but efficient at what? With expanded gardening, more people are working, paying attention to the soil and water quality, being more aware of climate and seasonal shifts, getting exercise, and eating fresh food.
posted by Miko at 7:45 PM on August 18, 2009 [5 favorites]


I know media tend to amplify trends like this, but I'm really rather pleasantly surprised how much attention these urban (or now, maybe non-rural) agriculture activities are getting. Even the recent issue of Planning is devoted entirely to these kind of trends. The USDA is also getting in on the action, though their initiative, Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food, looks like it's still in the early planning stages since I can't find anything on it on their site.

I've been thinking about these things for a long time but I've only become active in the movement since getting laid off last December so I might have missed a lot of coverage, but it does seem like this is all coming to a head now. And not a moment too soon, as it were.

What I'd like to see now, and what I hope to be working on for the next few years, is integrating these activities into the larger food systems, which would also involve more production on more land, more greenhouses, year-round farmers markets, and outlets in local grocers (not to mention food banks and co-ops). And I'm sure that all might sound both over-ambitious as well as possibly self-defeating but I think this sort of thing is going to happen eventually anyway (like geoff.'s Bad Seed Farm example getting into direct retail) so it'd be nice to hash out some systems to ensure that this just doesn't become some overpriced niche market, say like Whole Foods, but also provides benefits to underserved neighborhoods as well as the community as a whole.
posted by effwerd at 8:06 PM on August 18, 2009


Data point: here in the old line suburbs of Cleveland, we all seem to grow vegetables in our gardens. Then we become competitive over whose tomatoes have ripened already, and whose zucchini plant is looking awful (hint: ours) and so forth. And then we eat amazing fresh tomatoes for dinner, almost for free.
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 8:08 PM on August 18, 2009


octothorpe: I'm pretty sure that I'd start out with grand plans and visions of fresh veggies but would end up with a plot full of brown death.

If there's a community garden or community farm nearby and they have such a program, you could always consider yard sharing. You'll be providing useful space and you'll get to know more of your neighbors. And I'm sure you could manage some kickbacks, whether it's a part of the program or not.
posted by effwerd at 8:14 PM on August 18, 2009


I live in an apartment that gets near 0 direct sun.

I grew tomatoes until some green caterpillar fucks came along and ate all of the leaves off of the plants. And the peppers. And all the herbs.

So I picked them off of the tomato plant and squashed them.

And 5 cherry tomatoes grew, even with no leaves.

And then 3 leaves grew back.

And then those caterpillar fucks came back and ate all the leaves again.

And then 2 of the 5 tomatoes turned red so we ate them.

And they were kinda crappy.

I think I'm going to buy some worms and grow compost instead.
posted by Lord_Pall at 8:18 PM on August 18, 2009 [2 favorites]


> Herbs are quite rewarding for little effort.

Seconding that. My wife and I have an uncanny ability to kill almost any plant (including, to date, cactus and "lucky" bamboo), and even we've managed to grow a big window box's worth of various herbs for two summers in a row.
posted by The Card Cheat at 8:22 PM on August 18, 2009


Good luck with all of that, as long as your HOA doesn't forbid it - such insanity!

You know, I'm really hoping the urban agriculture trend and distributed generation for the Smart Grid will precipitate pushback on HOA powers. I'd hate to think access to local food and distributed power generation would suffer because of a bunch of uptight home owners more concerned about real estate values (which I understand is a legitimate concern but I don't think it should override sustainability efforts).
posted by effwerd at 8:23 PM on August 18, 2009


I've grown a vegetable garden for 50+ years. Some years more than others. I can see no reason why every one with at least a few square feet of space can't grow a small salad garden, even in pots. One tomato plant will supply plenty of salad fixings later in the season.

For those that are green thumb challenged, try teaming up with a neighbor that isn't. Sort of like share cropping.

Specialize a bit and grow lots of berries. You can always trade berries for veggies. OR Grow early tomatoes and trade for radishes and lettuce. Etc.
posted by Jumpin Jack Flash at 8:23 PM on August 18, 2009


Yeah, tomatoes need exactly sun. But you might do better with greens, which grow easy even in indirect light. Fresh arugula is delish.
posted by Miko at 8:24 PM on August 18, 2009


Not until I make some pepper spray for those jackass caterpillars.
posted by Lord_Pall at 8:29 PM on August 18, 2009


"They're getting heat from neighbors as the lots are very much suburban, no one wants to move next to a working farm. I do sympathize with this, it does look bad in the winter or after a harvest, it is just a dirt field after all."

Smeg them and the SUVs they road in on. How anyone could find tilled earth offensive or unsightly is beyond me.

But then I'm a bit booster of home gardens. We've got 1600 square feet in this year plus our fruit trees. Part of that is about 100 square feet in the front yard where we tore up lawn this spring and planted strawberries. Taking care of strawberries is a lot less work than mowing the lawn.

One of the cool things about gardening is I'm still never quite sure what I'm going to get and there is a lot of support for all sorts of weird stuff. Like purple potatoes this year. My bell peppers are a weirdly stunted this year but my hot peppers are growing crazy. The Thai Dragon and Kung Pao I planted on whim because they were on sale at the end of the transplant season and looking sad are almost a metre tall and half a metre wide. Awesome.

Lord_Pall writes "I grew tomatoes until some green caterpillar fucks came along and ate all of the leaves off of the plants. And the peppers. And all the herbs."

These big bastards? Tomato Hornworms. Luckily they are fairly slow and easy to catch in the morning when it's cool and their droppings are distinctive so you can tell when they are around. Been a weird year for bugs for us, it was the first time we had them. Apparently they also glow under a black light so that's a more nerdy approach to hunting but I haven't had a chance to verify that yet.
posted by Mitheral at 8:44 PM on August 18, 2009


I live in an apartment that gets near 0 direct sun.

I have the same problem and I've gotten suggestions to try lettuce, radishes, beets, and mushrooms (which you could also do indoors). But, yeah, your gonna have to do something about those caterpillars. I've heard bacillus thuringiensis works well and isn't harmful to anything but caterpillars, and some quick googling seems to bear this out.
posted by effwerd at 8:45 PM on August 18, 2009


Have you tried sprinkling food grade diatomaceous earth to keep the flies down?

We are kind of in a catch-22 with that. The chickens get the run of the backyard, an area a little too big to cover with DE and with too many good insects that I want to keep. Still, the yard is a little too small for full fly dispersal. It's a good suggestion, though, and one we'll be employing once they get a permanent coop.

We're using those traps where the flies climb in and eventually drown in a pool of water. They smell pretty bad at first and eventually turn into their own little hellscapes, but they reduce fly numbers by about 75%.
posted by Alison at 8:58 PM on August 18, 2009


mek: "If there's one thing I hate, it's.... well ok there are a lot of things I hate but, gardens you can't eat are up there. Why have a big lawn you need to mow on a regular basis when you can have a whole harvest of fruits, vegetables and herbs? I find it truly bizarre that anyone picks the former over the latter."

When the kids were playing tag they kept tripping over the kohlrabi was what made us change to lawn.
posted by vapidave at 9:02 PM on August 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


I've got a tiny back yard where my tomatoes are thriving despite getting maybe 3-4 hours of direct sun a day, tops. Not only are the beefsteaks all ripening at once, but I've been getting at least a cup of golden cherry tomatoes off one of the backyard plants every freakin' day since mid-July. That plant is actually trying to grow into the house now. Meanwhile, the strawberry plants, while not producing all that much fruit, are endearingly predatory, sending runners out all over the place to root, creating a waterfall effect from the high planters, to the tomato plot, to the patch of lawn nearby. (Yeah, if I want more fruit, I should get rid of the runners, but I'm just so charmed by the persistence of the plants in gaining whatever land they can get.)

I have some tomatoes growing in pots out front, too, but there has been no theft, probably because the plants look so scraggly. This includes the zombie tomato plant that got drowned in the June rains because I hadn't drained the pot properly. I set it out back and neglected what was apparently a dead plant, but after a few weeks, it came back, so it's out front again, making Charlie Brown's Christmas tree look like a sequoia. I've gotten two decent tomatoes off that little sucker, and it may yet yield a third.

My neighbours on either side have completely paved over their yards, but several people across the street are actually starting tiny gardens on their eensy plots this year. I wonder what the place will look like next year.
posted by maudlin at 9:05 PM on August 18, 2009


Yes to herbs; even I can't kill rosemary, and I can kill anything. Actually, here in TX, rosemary just goes crazy and will turn into a car-sized bush if you let it. And while it smells good and all, that's a lot of fucking rosemary.
posted by emjaybee at 9:20 PM on August 18, 2009


Definitely, windowbox herbs and balcony tomatoes are totally easy. Tasty and convenient, too. Basil (both sweet and Thai) and rosemary are particularly hardy, but I've also seen dill and even green onions grown well indoors. Mint is almost a weed, outdoors, in the ground. Parsley (and cilantro) is also really easy and prolific. (At least around here), one can pick up a couple of live plants for a couple of bucks; cheaper than buying half the amount dead from the supermarket and it keeps regenerating through the summer.

My folks had a huge backyard in N.Vancouver; strawberries, other shrubbish berries, a cherry tree, corn, a huge mint patch, all kinds of beans. Having grown it yourself almost makes it even taste better.

My apartment building has a plot out back that residents can sign up for; there're a couple of WWII vets who grow a bunch of stuff and harvest and leave the bounty in the lobby for the other residents to share. Had tomatoes and cucumber as good as when my I grew them myself, and got hooked on parsnips.
posted by porpoise at 9:48 PM on August 18, 2009


It doesn't really seem logical, as a solution to food crises or environmental damage. Our society is built on division of labor and economy of scale, and those two things make people vastly more productive than they would be otherwise. To use a very economically productive first-worlder as what amounts to a subsistence farmer is incredibly inefficient. Or to put it another way, if you really want to generate food, instead of having a hundred people work 3 hours a week doing little gardens, have a hundred people put three hour's pay into paying one dude to farm all the time. One modern first-world farmer would outproduce them on a level that borders on the comical.

And if the environment is your concern, replace 'pay one dude to farm all the time' with 'spend the money on ecological remediation'. Growing some of your own food honestly makes a piddling difference to the world environment (and with the manufacture of all of your individual gardening tools and supplies, may not be as good for it as you think.) On the other hand putting the time and effort you put into making a garden into making money and then spending that money on fixing the environment would be a much larger difference. For most people, if they could actually do it (depends on your job of course), it would amount to at least hundreds of dollars a year.

I'm not saying you shouldn't garden. If you like it then by all means go at it. But if you want to use it as a means instead of an end, then you should probably take into account that it is a very inefficient means, and you could probably find a better one.
posted by Mitrovarr at 1:00 AM on August 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


Mitrovarr, sometimes the means are the ends.
posted by telstar at 2:01 AM on August 19, 2009


I don't think anyone is slaving away over a vegie patch just to help the environment. People might try it for that reason, but they'll only keep going if they're getting something personal out of it too.

Plus, it doesn't have to be individual food production vs agribusiness - Community Supported Agriculture is gaining in popularity. You pay a local farmer (and that might be a dude who buys a vacant lot and puts plants instead of a house on it) for a share in his medium-sized crop, you get fresh vegies when he's done growing them, he gets stable finances for the season. All the benefits of specialisation, none of the Monsanto exploitation.
posted by harriet vane at 2:51 AM on August 19, 2009


Victory garden.
posted by caddis at 4:38 AM on August 19, 2009


That's an idea that never left. We did it when I was in high school.

My thoughts exactly, how is this news?
posted by Pollomacho at 5:05 AM on August 19, 2009


if you really want to generate food, instead of having a hundred people work 3 hours a week doing little gardens, have a hundred people put three hour's pay into paying one dude to farm all the time.

There's no denying it, and that is what was described in the WSJ video, but community involvement, beyond a monetary transaction, is a key aspect for me. I would rather bear some inefficiencies (which is why I mentioned being seemingly self-defeating) and have folks put in three hours of labor rather than three hours of pay. If we put the emphasis solely on maximizing efficiency, we'll end up in the same boat we're in now.

I'd also prefer, rather than each individual tending their own small garden, to have them offer their land as a part of some yard share--which they could work on also, of course--to get more production as well as build community ties. The larger community operation would also allow for more efficiency than each person on their own.
posted by effwerd at 5:37 AM on August 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


@Pollomacho (and others): I think the people in the clip are doing a little more than backyard gardening. They are doing micro-scale commercial farming, with customers and all. This is the first I've heard of this, and I'm having trouble believing it's a "trend"-- more like the leading edge of something, or just an extreme of backyard gardening. I live in one of the last bastions of hippiedom in America, the Rogers Park neighborhood of Chicago, and I have been amazed at how few backyard gardeners and community gardens there are here. If there isn't even much backyard gardening in Rogers Park, I'd say we're a long way from a "trend" of tiny suburban "farms."

However, I love that someone's trying it. I think that this country needs this kind of range of food resources. Everything from herbs on the windowsill to backyard gardens to backyard farms and community gardens, CSAs, Polyface-type farms, industrial organic (to borrow a phrase from Michael Pollan), and, yes, Big Ag. The key to sustainability is not creating your own resources at the family or even community level, but to leverage all resources within a society for maximum economic and minimum environmental impact.
posted by nax at 5:48 AM on August 19, 2009


Tomato Hornworms.
No.. we had cabbage loopers.

They're smaller and try to be clever by pretending to be the tomato plant.
posted by Lord_Pall at 6:06 AM on August 19, 2009


>That's an idea that never left. We did it when I was in high school.

My thoughts exactly, how is this news?


The guy in the video had his whole yard devoted to farming rather than grass? And he was expanding his operation into neighbors' yards. Was that really the case for you? I know my mother used nearly half of our back yard (maybe an eighth of an acre) for gardening when I was a kid and she made the most of it, selling excess, as well as prepared foods, like gochijung and kimchi, and flowers to relatives, friends, and passersby. We even had chickens for a while until local laws got in the way. But I still wouldn't describe it on the same scale as this. And she was an isolated case.

on preview: what nax said. I also agree this is more leading edge than established trend but there are a lot more data points than this, for sure. They've got rooftop community farms and drug rehab farms in New York City, changes in laws in Seattle to accommodate parking strip gardening, and Food Policy Councils popping up in many cities across the country. In Salt Lake City, they've got a new program to encourage commercial property owners of vacant lots to allow for temporary raised bed community gardens until commercial development becomes more viable. And, as I mentioned, the USDA is getting in on this, too. Aside from their Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food program, they also have the People's Garden program to transform asphalt into garden plots on every USDA facility.
posted by effwerd at 6:13 AM on August 19, 2009


Funny that grass is considered prettier than rows of veggies. Ya, your kids can't play soccer in the veggies, but as long as it's kept up a garden looks good ... it'll just take a while for people to get used to it. Ideas like SPIN Farming have been encouraging this sort of thing for a while.
posted by polkadotninja at 6:35 AM on August 19, 2009


"To use a very economically productive first-worlder as what amounts to a subsistence farmer is incredibly inefficient. "

Much better that they expend all that effort to raise grass and then just throw it away.

"My thoughts exactly, how is this news?"

Gardening has had a huge upswing in popularity the last few years. It's sad to say but it used to be mostly the place of the working poor and old people. It wasn't hard, still isn't really, to look at aerials of suburban neighbourhoods and not see a garden for blocks at a time.
posted by Mitheral at 7:31 AM on August 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


First we had a four foot square raised bed (square foot gardening), added to the two apple trees that came with the property. Then came the compost bin, and another bed. Added a few tomato plants, and a couple of dwarf citrus (lemon and tangerine). Another raised bed. Squash, including zucchini. Cucumbers. Bush beans. Mint, in a container.

It's actually really convenient that we don't have to go to the store as often for this more perishable stuff. And, of course, tasty.
Raised bed contents (as far as I can remember; Mrs. RTT does all the work):
Dill
Lettuce (green leaf, red leaf)
Kale (great in a stir-fry)
Cilantro
Dill
Vietnamese cilantro
Onions
Carrots (until a few days ago. They don't grow great in our soil but they were good)
Basil
Chard
Jalapenos
Bell Peppers
Mizuna
Epazote
Bok Choy

Man, I'm forgetting a lot. We generally don't like putting anything in the yard unless it works for its keep, so to speak. Roses are the exception. All this is in the back; haven't yet convinced anyone to start farming the front.

Unfortunately we have mandatory watering restrictions so we can't water the vegetables every day. This kinda torques me off, as we have a large dead lawn in front (pending replacement with something non-grass) and a completely mulched back yard, so the watering restrictions are actually messing with my food, and not my grass.

I just have problems with rats eating our food. Wish I could convince them to eat elsewhere without killing them, but they're pretty persistent.
posted by RikiTikiTavi at 9:08 AM on August 19, 2009


I wish more of our neighbors would grow food, and cooperate on selection. "Hey, we've already got zucchini for both of us, how about trying a melon?" It would be awesome.
posted by RikiTikiTavi at 9:09 AM on August 19, 2009


It's great when the city really tried to help you out as well.
THOUSANDS of fruit trees and bushes are to be planted in Manchester - with an invitation to `Help Yourself'..

Not only are they planting fruit tress and berries, they also plan to have beehives.
They are hoping each site to producing up to 80lbs of honey a year.

Yummm! Manc Honey
posted by slyrabbit at 9:33 AM on August 19, 2009


I did a lovely garden this year and like most novices, I over planted. It's been a learning experience. First came the tomato hornworms (big giant green caterpillars that are the same color as the plant), then the birds and it's been unbelievably hot and dry this summer in Houston. The green beans were a complete failure. The tomatoes have been a bust. The surprise hit are the cantaloupes and we're optimistic about the watermelons. The black-eyed peas did well. The corn up and died. The bell peppers have been majestic as well as the eggplants. The strawberries are a waste of space. Basil, parsley, sage and thyme have been bountiful. The cilantro and dill died quick and early deaths.

I'm looking forward to doing it all again next year.
posted by shoesietart at 9:38 AM on August 19, 2009


I live on the California coast and it's foggy most of the time, and we chose plants we were familiar with from other areas without thinking it through.

My grandparents had a farm on the California coast (Watsonville) here's what grows well in that neck of the woods:

Artichokes
Avocados
Strawberries
Pot

At least that's what grew on their farm.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 10:03 AM on August 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


Oh, another thought.

I once went on a walking tour of Pittsburgh houses and during a short lecture in front of a church, I stripped a branch of it's cherries and munched out. Say what you will about Pittsburgh, but anyplace you can grow a cherry tree in the city is okay with me.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 10:05 AM on August 19, 2009


I just wish I had more useable room to garden. The backyard is tiny and pretty much all useful space is a garden now. I would like to expand to the front yard (gets better sun there) but the raised beds I made for the back ended up looking like freshly-dug graves. Not sure how well the cemetery look will go over with my neighbors. Then again, it may actually be the thing that keeps the more chatty ones away...hmmmm.....
posted by medeine at 10:17 AM on August 19, 2009


If you really want to freak them out, have some friends put up missing pet signs around the neighborhood around the same time that you talk to the pushy neighbors about having just acquired some new, quality fertilizer for your garden.
posted by hippybear at 10:47 AM on August 19, 2009


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