What is an urban farm?

By bit bit (bitbit) on April 12, 2011

From growing a single pot of herbs in the windowsill of a studio apartment to growing rows of crops in place of a front lawn, more and more city-dwellers are producing their own food. Although we can't always grow as much as people with more land, urban farmers learn to make the most of the conditions we have and produce delicious, healthy food rather than depend on the supermarket. In this article, I'll take you on a tour of my urban farm and talk a bit about the whys and hows of growing food in the city.

Farming in the city might sound like an oxymoron, but it's a trend that's gaining popularity among young and old, rich and poor, and in cities all over the world.  All over the US, laws are being passed to legalize keeping of chickens and bees in cities, in addition to the rich vegetable gardens that have been popping up all over urban yards, balconies, and rooftops.

So, you might ask why people living in cities want to put the time and effort into growing their own food.  After all, the supermarket is just around the corner where imported produce can be had year-round without all the hard work.  But if you've ever tasted a tomato fresh off the vine, felt the pride of harvesting everything you need for a healthy dinner, or looked at the skyrocketing price of vegetables during the cold months, you already know some of the answers.  For me, the garden is also a place of peace, where I can forget about the bustle of life for a while.

In addition to why people want to garden in the city, there's also a big question of how.  After all, lots are small, tall buildings limit sunlight, and many people live in apartments.  For most urbanites, containers are the cornerstone of the food garden.  Even on a small balcony or rooftop, a few containers can be filled with herbs, greens, and small vegetable plants.  I am lucky to have a lot that's large by urban standards, which allows me to plant both in the ground and in containers on my patio.

And now for a short tour of my garden.  We'll start in midsummer, when the garden is at its peak.  The first thing you'll see when you pull up in front of my little house is the corn standing tall alongside the garage.

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Corn isn't a crop you think of in most urban gardens.  After all, it's huge, and to some people, it could be an eyesore.  I'm lucky to live in a neighborhood that is, on the whole, very pro-gardening, and which also does not have a homeowner's association to impose limitations.  If you look between the corn stalks, you'll also see my young zucchini plants, which will grow to cover the whole patch when the corn is done for the season.

If you walk around to the north side of my house, you'll find my greens.  In the hot southern summer, this low-light spot between the house and the neighbor's fence is the perfect place to grow lettuce and other heat-sensitive plants.

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Once you get inside the fence, the real fun begins. First, you come to the patio, where my herb containers live.

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Off the patio, I have just enough space to fit nine 15'x3' beds in my fenced yard, where they're relatively safe from the squirrels and rabbits.  Because my space is limited, I tend to pack those rows as full as possible.  Two of the beds are taken up now with our strawberry patch. 

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Last year, the strawberries were in containers, hence the rectangles of dense plants.  I fully expect them to fill in the gaps this year. It might seem like a lot to devote more than 20% of my back yard to one crop, but that's how strong my love of strawberries is.  I also can't dig deep in this area because of the fenceposts.

I don't have a good summer photo of the other beds, but here are a couple of them this winter, while I was building low tunnels over them.

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And the payoff comes in many forms, from a pot of fresh ratatouille to a slice of cantaloupe on a hot afternoon.

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That's my urban farm.  If you have your own urban farming experience to share, leave it in the comments or start a thread in the Urban Farming cubit.  I'd love to hear about more city growing adventures of any scale or variety!

Related articles:
city life, urban farming, urban homesteading, vegetable gardening

About bit bit
Bit lives on 1/8 acre in a quiet neighborhood in Norfolk, VA, where she and her husband grow most of the produce they eat throughout the year, and dream of one day having bees, chickens, and goats to supplement their vegetable harvest. Her favorite crops include strawberries, potatoes, onions, Swiss chard, and zucchini.

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Comments and discussion:
Subject Thread Starter Last Reply Replies
Great Job! CajuninKy Apr 29, 2011 7:47 PM 77
What is....? AlohaHoya Apr 27, 2011 11:17 PM 0
I Am So Impressed! nap Apr 22, 2011 10:57 AM 5

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