Tiny farming: Grow your own

Big city garden

Community garden in Montreal

[From 24-May-2012] My first visit to a big city community garden: FANTASTIC! I was happily startled by the energy flowing out of all those tiny, densely packed, hand-built, trellised plots, even though the garden was largely empty when I dropped by. A couple hundred growers doing right by a little LAND.

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Enter the Riot Garden

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[From 17-Jun-2013] Tried this a couple of times before, to varying degrees of success, a small garden within the market garden, a kinda test/demo back yard-sized plot. One year, it was an elaborate set-up we called Home Garden, masterminded by Shannon: after a great start, I think it eventually went to the weeds, being lower on the weeding list than many other things… This year, it’s a simple 10′x20′ rectangle, being measured, squared and staked out for tilling by Ashley. This version is called the Riot Garden because the plan is no plan, just throw in odds and ends of leftover seedlings and seeds, and edit as we go…what could be easier, right?!

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Front yard farming!

Front yard veggie garden

Often heard about, never before seen first-hand, this is front-yard tiny farming in action—late fall edition. I’m at the home of Andrew and Sue and Margo, in a town of 70,000, leaning on the front porch rail on a residential street lined with single homes on small lots. Typical front lawns all along. Except here, where the grass is gone, replaced by an eclectic collection of veggies and herbs. Beets, carrots, tomatoes, corn and several other crops are already gone for the season. Still up and struggling along in the cold, there’s colorful Swiss chard in a couple of spots, parsley and sage, and a few other things that need a closer look to ID. Andrew also mentioned native edibles, like ostrich fern (fiddleheads), wild ginger and wild leek. And more. The keyhole path set-up comes from permaculture methods: minimum path for maximum access to the growing area. It’s a front-yard revolution! After a season or two of sidewalk-side veggie abundance for all to see, I wonder if this alternate land use will start to spread up and down the street! Urban agriculture. Pretty cool!

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Road trip, sorta

Road in autumn

Ah, yes, a leisurely autumn drive through the countryside… After the soothing greens of summer, the intense fall colors busting out everywhere never fails to amaze. Pretty as a picture. Still, it took a brief road trip and an extremely rare overnight stay in a larger nearby town, to remind me how for most of my life, scenes like this were a bit of an exotic treat. Living in the city, you planned for a drive in the country, but oftener than not, the turning of the leaves in autumn was observed tree by tree on city streets, or in parks…or pictures. Here in farm country, surrounded by trees wherever the fields end, the colors of nature are now not a novelty, simply the everyday backdrop. I left hardcore urban living entirely behind six years ago—now, this little off-farm break, cruising around a fair-sized town for a few hours, something I haven’t done in ages, was enough of a jog to remind me all in a rush how different things are, city to country…

Rachelle's kitchen garden

In town, I got to see Raechelle’s kitchen garden (it’s literally right outside her kitchen door) as it makes its way through autumn. After a season of working with Rae every Tuesday in the field, it was cool to see her own veggie plot. I see rhubarb, and cherry tomatoes, and…

Maple leaves

Here’s the inspiration for the red maple leaf on our Canadian flag, beautifully set in a riverside park… Tourism! ;)

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A simple (chicken!) sandwich

A semi-local chicken sandwich

Roasted a White Rock chicken last night, today, got a Spicy Cheese Loaf from Fran, the baker beside me at the farmers’ market. (The market day went well, it was the first day of CSA shares: mesclun, spinach, radishes, garlic scapes, beet greens—it’s still early.) The chicken and the bread naturally organized themselves into a late afternoon simple sandwich…

Looking at it before the first bite, I realized that I’ve been thinking about FOOD a lot more recently. Not exactly my own diet, but on a more personal level than as a local veggie grower, probably something to do with the Endless Salad, more communal cooking and eating lately…

Part of the running stream of thought has to do with nutrition, what I know about it, how much I want to and need to explore further. I mean, do I really have any sort of basic IDEA of what to eat, beyond “lots of veggies, little meat, drink lots of water,” vague general guidelines like that? Do I NEED a plan? Should I RESEARCH? Consult with a nutritionist or a naturopathic doctor (I’ve been considering visiting an ND for an initial workup)? Sheesh, more RULES! All that is really clear is that most people around here (a “developed nation”) don’t know much practical stuff about the food they eat, me included.

The other part is about food quality, and local food. The one thing I’m quite sure of is that it feels way better to eat fresh food that you’ve grown, and to know where the rest comes from and what’s in it, and that wasn’t at all painful to discover. So, I examined this pretty local sandwich. The cheese bread listed the ingredients: flour, water, cheese, sugar, milk, vegetable oil, butter, yeast, dried chili peppers, salt. The chicken was raised here on the farm from two weeks old, fed mainly Purina (Cargill) starter and grower feed (nutritional content in percentages, contact the manufacturer for the actual INGREDIENTS), with some greens from the garden. The lettuce is from the garden. I poured on home-made vinaigrette dressing: extra virgin olive oil from Italy, pink salt from the Himalayas, fresh-ground black pepper, vinegar, Tabasco pepper sauce from…the store. The mayonnaise is from Kraft, it was in the fridge, the bottle says it’s “real.” It’s all ingredients within ingredients… I’m planning to make my own mayo, with eggs from the farm and oil from…Italy. Should I care where the flour in the bread came from? The cheese? The chili peppers? And what about the “vegetable oil,” what’s up with that? Should I make my own cheese and bake my own bread? When do I start looking around for organic chicken feed, how IMPORTANT is that, what’s the priority, how much can I afford to PAY?

I don’t have any neat point to sum up with here, I’m just being a literalist and looking at what I eat. When you start to question your basic eating habits in a very primitive way, they may not hold up to much scrutiny, and that’s unsettling. I’m curious. The story unfolds…

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Ah, the Home Garden…

Setting up the home garden

After quite a bit of talking about it, and last year’s false start, a Home Garden is suddenly in place in one corner of the field. The idea is to have a small demonstration veggie plot, to encourage people to grow at least some of their own stuff in whatever space they have. Why? Well, it seemed like fun. Located by the farm stand, it would be an extra little attraction to farm visitors… Just a thing worth doing… Anyhow, last year, I staked out a section, but didn’t get too far in planting anything in it, a couple of tomatoes and a few potatoes… This time around, I’d been chatting with Shannon, who has a lot of permaculture-based ideas, from reading and interning, so I asked her to plan it out. The final design was done really quickly earlier today (it was a busy month…), it’s more a freeform, jumbled garden with a permaculture flavor: all annual veggies, no rows, lots of interplanting, a herb spiral on a mound (a mix of annuals and perennials), an anti-pest barrier of alliums (onions and garlic chives) around the perimeter, and three little keyholes, which are dugouts that you can kneel in to garden within reach around you, as an alternative to working from paths. At about 10′x20′ (3x6m), it’s fairly small. One cool thing: the home garden layout is entirely unlike the rest of the market garden, which is all flat, linear and grid-like, lots of rectangles and squares and straight paths. Now, we have a deliberate elevation and CIRCLES! To make the mound, I dumped a few buckets of compost using the Kubota compact tractor, and raked it into shape. We then added stones for the spiral, and Erin and Mike dropped in and helped plant it out, using odds and ends of transplants and also seed, with Shannon directing. The rough plan is to have Lynn and Raechelle develop and tend it over the season (Shannon leaves tomorrow after a solid month in the field).

Planting the home garden

At just over two acres of veggies, the tiny farm is really small by most any modern agricultural standard, and starting up a MUCH TINIER space is its own private…thrill for me. It’s so…opposite! ;) It’ll be interesting to see how Home Garden 1 turns out as the season rolls along! Any way you can, getting your hands dirty is what it’s all about… (Guest photos: top by Shannon, below by Erin.)

Getting hands dirty

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