Urban agriculture


Last winter I took a series of gardening classes and one in particular intrigued me. The instructor, another Master Gardener in my county (in fact, she was the one that told me about the training program) taught one class on how to make self-irrigating planters. I love the acronym–SIPs–although I have to say these planters don’t really SIP. They use at least as much water as a regular planter, but more of that water is going into production because losses from soil evaporation are virtually nil.

In any case, a friend and I built a couple planters each one day. As I readied to plant them I realized (more…)

What would urban agriculture look like if it were industrialized? Everything on this site approaches urban agriculture from an ecological perspective. As urban agriculture becomes more popular, we find entrepreneurs looking at opportunities in the field. Some of those entrepreneurs will follow the current trends towards local, sustainable agriculture. But, others will see the opportunities and approach urban agriculture from the industrial approach. What will their agriculture look like?

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ag1_fourPeoplePisgahView_lKevin Costner’s character, Ray Kinsella, in the 1989 movie Field of Dreams improbably plows up his corn field to build a baseball diamond when he hears a voice say “Build it and he will come.” Robert White’s story is just the opposite and equally improbable — but true. When Robert  became possessed with the idea of growing food, he’d never done it before. But he went ahead anyway, starting with taking over an existing baseball diamond in Asheville NC and turning it into an urban farm. When I visited there in April, (more…)

This website is partly about my education as an urban farmer. But I want to recommend to you a new book by another urban farmer who has had time to develop her farm and her farming knowledge much further than I have. Coincidently, Novella Carpenter also farms in Oakland, where I live. I heard her speak a year ago and found her talk to be not only hilarious, but filled with learning experiences. As I’ve advised elsewhere in this blog, farming is about learning. There is a lot to learn and the best way to do this is by experimenting, by trying things to see what works and what doesn’t. In Farm City: The Education of an Urban Farmer, Novella describes her experiences doing just that, experimenting–particularly with different kinds of livestock–in the heart of a major city. I’m sure she also touches on two key issues for urban farmers, access to land and water.

I expect the book is as funny and informative as her talk was. A New York Times reviewer found it so. You can decide for yourself by reading the first chapter. Even though I haven’t read this book yet–I plan to write a review of it soon–I recommend it wholeheartedly.

Actually, I should say “Use the fertilizer you’re already making.” While I believe compost is the best way to improve soil in most respects, growing food does remove nutrients from the soil. Compost can return some of these nutrients, and add nutrients if compost is “imported” as I do by bringing in leaves and manure from outside my yard. But, why not add a little fertilizer to help replace those nutrients? The good news is that you already have this fertilizer available and it’s free. You’re simply flushing it away, day after day. An Op-Ed piece in today’s New York Times talks about the need to change how we handle human waste (feces and urine) for environmental reasons. The article focuses on large scale waste issues. Here, I want to talk about small-scale human waste issues and how you can use them to your advantage.

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saladOne of the mantras of the eat-local movement is to eat what is in season. This has several advantages, among them reduction in energy used in shipping foods hundreds or thousands of miles, as well as saving the monetary and environmental costs associated with the energy saved. Other advantages are the increase in dietary variety and improved nutritional quality. Instead of eating the same half dozen foods all the time, sometimes from local sources, sometimes from a hemisphere away, eating locally means consuming early, late and winter season foods as they are available.

I’m now producing food year-round, so I am changing my eating habits to match what I produce. (more…)

I’ve often viewed agriculture, urban agriculture in particular, from a resource perspective. In order to grow food, people need access to land, water, genetic stock and knowledge. I’ve taken for granted one absolutely essential resource: energy from the sun. This is available to everyone, everywhere, right? (Of course, I’m ignoring the far north and far south polar regions, that lose sunshine for months at a time.) Turns out I am wrong. I need to include access to sunshine as one of the critical factors. (more…)

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