Growing your own food has gone beyond the hippie counter-culture of the ’60s. With the advent of books by the likes of Michael Pollan and Barbara Kingsolver, people are taking a hard look at what they’re eating. Sadly (and not always surprisingly), the more we learn, the less we want to eat commercial, processed, packaged food or even fruits, vegetables or meat from big corporate aggie farms. What better way to take control and eat locally by producing food in your very own backyard?
It seems more and more people are doing just that, and even in urban areas. Let’s take a look at some growing trends.
People are really digging into the idea of growing their own produce. Why settle for a boring lawn or shrubbery when you can walk a few steps to your backyard into an edible forest of fresh onions, chard, spinach, lettuce and squash? As one recent article in the Denver Post put it, “soil is the new oil,” and last year seed sales seriously sprouted, according to USA Today. Because let’s face it – with the growing uncertainty of our times with tech, financial, and housing bubbles crashing left and right, oil prices rising and the value of the dollar falling, self-sufficiency is sounding better and better.
And yet, why only rely on your own garden? In an interesting interview with Carol Deppe about her new book The Resilient Gardener: Food Production and Self-Reliance in Uncertain Times, Carol mentions humans’ need to be both self-reliant and interdependent. By sharing ideas and tools, we all become more self-reliant and better survivors. It is in just this way that urban citizens are joining together to trade excess fruit and vegetables from each other’s yards. Numerous trading hubs are popping up in the Bay Area, for one. Check out VeggieTrader, a “classifieds” website for easy produce trading!
As people become more experienced in the ways of gardening, it’s natural to take it to the next level. In fact, rumor has it that “vericomposting,” aka. worm composting to create your own rich compost or “black gold” is becoming a popular new trend. Earthworms are our friends. They break down the soil, helping it breath and stay loose so plants’ roots can better grow.
I was dually impressed by a friend’s earthworm “collection” when I was visiting out in Colorado. Healthy soil translates into healthy plants – no doubt – as said friend proved with an incredible tomato and squash garden. My favorite was hearing Will Allen, an urban farming genius from Milwaukee, speak at a PopTech conference in Maine. His slide show included images of worm composting that were mind-blowing. Yes, even worms can knock your socks off. Or maybe it was the resulting “black gold” that I really wanted to sink my hands into.
Beekeeping has been gaining popularity, most surprisingly in urban areas. In March of this year, New York lifted a ban on beekeeping and the city of Toronto boasts an impressive urban rooftop beehive haven atop the Fairmont Royal York Hotel. The hotel then provides its very own fresh honey harvested from its roof to satisfy restaurant diners. Genius!
Urbanites, such as Cameo Wood in the Bay Area, have turned keeping hives into a profit, selling fresh local honey to the community at Her Majesty’s Secret Beekeeper. Occasionally, beekeeping can cause conflict in city neighborhoods, as when a small urban farm in San Francisco had their beehives attacked.
Many beekeepers are simply gardeners who want bees to pollinate their flowers and vegetables. Worried about bee population declines, they’ve decided to take nature into their own hands. For more buzz on backyard beekeeping for beginners read on here.
There has been a lot of backyard chicken talk over the years. It seems in certain circles, chickens are all the rage. Sadly, my neighbors recently decided to end their urban chicken care-taking, so I no longer sip my morning coffee to the sound of the birds murmuring and ruffling their feathers. While most homeowners would consider the maintenance required for keeping chickens more work than its worth, those who have them beg to differ. For example, chickens can be fed just about any old scrap from the kitchen table, and in fact, the more variety in their diet, the more nutritious the eggs they lay.
Nobody seems to have exact numbers, but Backyard Poultry, a Wisconsin based magazine, boasts upward of 80,000 current subscribers (up from 15,000 four years prior) and numerous chicken websites are gaining surprising traffic, such as backyardchickens.com and urbanchickens.org.
Let’s face it, nobody refutes the superiority of a fresh egg to the alternative, and considering that recently Wright County Egg, an Iowa company, had to recall 380 million eggs in August for salmonella issues, keeping your own chickens just might be worth looking into.
Given the level of interest, I’m surprised that we haven’t seen any urban Chicken Coop Co-ops sprouting up. Seems like a perfect way to share in the labor and the egg-bounty. Any community organizers out there up for the challenge?
Why stop at chickens? Considering the sad state of our oceans and declining and poisoned fish populations, it makes sense to take a shot at farming your own fish. Sound fishy? Not to Will Allen (if I might reference the genius one last time) who has barrels of tilapia and perch at his Growing Power green houses, making aquaponics look easy. But could you do it at home? Apparently, fish farming in the backyard is a indeed a growing trend, although, I have yet to hear of anyone I know delving this deep. Let us know if you have encountered any local, urban (or suburban) fishmongers!
Be it a few herbs on the back deck, chickens or a full-fledged aquaponic system, may you too find the optimal self-sufficient gardening option for your very own backyard.