I have an inner war battling inside me. I was born in farm country where corn fields abound and children can ride a horse almost before they can walk. But then I was transplanted to the 5th largest US city and developed a love for city life. I never forgot my roots though and spent every summer back on the farm, riding until my legs were jelly, catching lightning bugs, and enjoying the farm fresh air. Now I often alternate between dreams… a city or suburbs home with a little land to grow things and raise chickens or country home with acres of room to roam and play. I can’t seem to make up my mind… I want both.
If I had to choose I guess I can now admit that city life is what I truly love but that doesn’t mean I have to completely abandon my farmgirl roots. Just as I would argue with anti-environment wackadoos that being green doesn’t mean living in a cave and eating grass, I believe that living in the city doesn’t mean we can’t also be farmers. They key in both scenarios is that we get creative and create the life we want with the values we want.
Resources for City Farmers
1. The Backyard/Porch Garden – Most people can grow at least one or two things at home… herbs in the window, potted tomatoes on the patio, strawberries in a barrel, or wheatgrass on the counter. If you can have houseplants then you can grow edible plants too. With container gardening you can take advantage of every inch of space that is accessible to sun. You can even create compost yourself using kitchen scraps and a worm bin.
2. Become a Modern Day Johnny Appleseed – Over the years I have met several people who create gardens on the sly by planting in secluded public areas or abandoned city lots. When we first moved into a city neighborhood in Ohio we bought a very old house with planter beds that surrounded one side of it. Even though the house had been empty for a couple years the planters were full and and being cared for by the next door neighbor who had used all their growing space and co-opted ours. Since we had more than enough space, we allowed them to keep gardening in our yard, even after we moved in. If you see an empty property, contact the owner and see if you can use the land to garden because most times they will be happy to let you do so because it makes the home appear lived in… which buyers like and burglars do not. Well, at least the burglars in areas where copper pipes are still common.
3. Yard Shares – This is closely linked to what I mentioned above but involves people actively seeking to pool their space and resources to grow their own food. Contact friends and neighbors and to see if they have any space to donate to the cause. You could also put an ad on Craigslist or your local Freecycle to find more people wanting to participate. In exchange for offering up some gardening space you get a portion of the bounty or even rent money if you want to go that route… usually $20-$30 a month, depending on the size of the space. If you have always imagined having blueberry plants along your fence line or some fruit trees but aren’t confident you could plant and care for them… ask friends or family to help (labor and $) in exchange for a share in the annual harvest. We actually did something like this a couple years ago. Another idea might be a chicken coop share.. where one person with sufficient land hosts the chickens and other people spring for feed and volunteer certain days to feed them and clean up after them in exchange for fresh eggs each week or every other week. The key is find other people who value the same things you do and work together to make it happen.
4. Community Gardens – This is a basically a yard share on a much larger scale. A community comes together to garden in plots or spaces. Sometimes they are free but usually you pay rent on your space. These are particularly good for people who live in areas with no yard space available. If your community doesn’t currently have one, see if you can start one. Do you have an empty lot in your area that would make a great garden? Call the owners and see if you can make it happen! Another idea might be to ask your local elementary school to start a community garden using some of their space. Families could volunteer to set up the space and volunteers could meet with kids weekly to help maintain the gardens. It would be educational for the kids and helpful to local families if you donate a portion of all the food to area homeless shelters or food banks.
5. Eat Local – Perhaps you don’t want to grow your own food but you do want to eat farm fresh and have that farm experience. You can visit You-Pick farms and pick your own strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, peas, melons, pumpkins, apples, etc. My area in central Ohio has dozens of places that allow you go to the farm and pick your own food. Just this weekend we got a big basket of fresh strawberries from a local strawberry farm and this month we are already looking forward to picking our own raspberries and blackberries. Yum! Half the fun in living in any given are is scoping out all the local farms and places to get fresh food!
Are you a city farmgirl? Have any tips to share?