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Self-Sufficiency through Urban Agriculture?

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From Detroit’s famous Urban Gardening projects to New York’s “green roofs”, city and suburban dwellers are using every conceivable sunny spot, no matter how small, to grow edible plants in what seems to be the new national past time, becoming more self-sufficient.

Extreme but admirable examples, like the Dervaes family (founders of Urban Homestead) manage a tiny but fully functional urban farm, complete with animals, just 15 minutes from downtown Los Angeles. The family harvests 3 tons of organic food annually from a 1/10 acre garden. What they don’t eat they sell from their “front porch” farm stand.

On a smaller scale, if that’s possible, city, townhouse and apartment dwellers are creating “yardens” – tiny pocket gardens that produce their supply of herbs, lettuce and compact vegetables. Now, if you think you don’t have the space or sunlight to grow anything, check out O’Hare international airport’s “vertical farm” located between terminals 2 and 3. This mind-bending garden supplies all the airport’s restaurants with swiss chard, red habanero peppers and 42 other types of herbs and vegetables.

Urban agriculture has been fueled by a blend of environmental concerns, economic backlash and the drive for self-preservation, and, it makes perfect sense. Home grown produce means decreased grocery bills, reduced energy reliance, less dependence on supply chains, healthier food and the possibility to donate, trade, sell to or share with others in the community.

Designing an Urban Garden

If you’re lucky enough to have a big, sunny yard, get out there and start planting! If you’ve got less room, or think you have no room at all, here are some tips for creating your own tiny, productive “yarden”.

  • Look around your space for sunny nooks that will hold at least 1 cup of soil. Watch for skinny spaces between houses, neglected flower beds and places you can stack up rocks to build a grotto or planter.
  • Don’t ignore vertical or hanging space.
  • When you’ve found your spot, assess the light conditions – “full sun” means 6+ hours of sunlight, “partial sun /shade” means 3 – 6 hours of sun (in the morning or early afternoon), and “full shade” means less than 3 hours of direct sunlight each day, with filtered sunlight during the rest of the day.
  • Analyze the soil or amend it with commercial mix, then start a compost bin.
  • Choose the right size plants – look for alpines, dwarf varieties and small bulbs. If it can mature in a 4” pot, it will work for you. Avoid the urge to buy monster plants or those with trailing vines that will take over your little spot.
  • If you can grow it, plant it – even if you won’t eat it. Donate, sell or trade your extras.

Adding an urban garden to your food insurance plan means just one more layer of security and comfort for you and your family. For those of us in colder climates, Spring will be here soon and it’s never too early to start planning.

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