It is garden planning season, and my plan is to double the 200 s.f. first year garden from last year, and build up some raised beds as well. I wonder, how large does a backyard garden have to get to qualify as a farm? Perhaps I should be more careful to plant what I can safely consume and/or give away, rather than the overwhelming abundance of last year. All these issues and more, you will find, in this journey on Urban Agriculture below.
To guide on this quest, a couple of books that are perennial favs in the gardening sphere, particular to the Pacific Northwest. The first is my bible for local garden knowledge, 'Growing Vegetables West of the Cascades' by Steve Solomon, in a new edition. This book is worth it just for the chapters on compost and soil amendments - plus it's the book that showed me the value of sharpening tools. Second is from Oregon's own Toby Hemenway, author of 'Gaia's Garden: A Guide to Home-Scale Permaculture'. This book is a nice companion, rounding out some basic gardening techniques with more sustainable options.
:: images via Powells
The goal is to grow lots, but also to grow smarter as well, and have fun doing it. For starters, Pruned recently recapped an exhaustive list of Agro Posts, encompassing everything from laser etched bologna to high-rise farming. Read them all. Learn lots.
A recent post focussed on 'The Subterranean Farms of Tokyo', which profiled PasonaO2, an underground agricultural system that looked a lot like a well-funded indoor pot grow operation.
:: images via Pruned
But alas, our tiny basement is already brimming with stuff, and I'd hate to max the electric bill, so we must head outdoors. A comment to a L+U high-rise agriculture post pointed me to a great site entitled SPIN Farming, which elaborates a technique for urban agriculture and is short for Small Plot INtensive Farming. Using small spaces, urban farmers grow niche crops that demand a higher value on the market.
The lack of tangible information, and the sheer common sense of it as shown on the site lends me to think it's perhaps some sort of scheme, but in theory, the idea sounds solid, if maybe a little too good to be true. From the Tyee: "...it means renting the back forty from residential homeowners, ploughing their lawns under and then turning tens of thousands of dollars in profits selling the high-end produce cultivated by hand." I guess anyone with a garden and a buyer can do this? And to think I've been giving away my surplus produce all these years.
:: images via Spin Farming
A second resource, from Michael Cannell's Blog on Dwell, is similar to SPIN, involving losing the lawn and gaining the garden. Architect Fritz Haeg, who authored a book entitled 'Edible Estates: Attack on the Front Lawn', encourages engaging not just the land, but people's perceptions with this endeavor: Haeg, from the book: “Edible Estate gardens are meant to serve as provocations on the street... What happens when we share the a street with one of these gardens? The front-yard gardeners become street performers for us.”
:: image via Dwell
This is similar to recapturing of quasi-public spaces during wartime in the form of Victory Gardens. Many people in Portland I know have planted trees and other things in their front median strip, only to find rich and fertile soils which we suspect grew some tasty WWII vegetables sixty plus years ago in our quest to rid the world of despotism. More than the idea of gardens - the visibility of these strips in the eyes and consciousness of people was the point.
:: image via Wikipedia Commons
:: image via NPR
:: image via Rebar