Urban Farming and Conscious Living

Mary, Mary, quite contrary, how does your garden grow?  ‘Well, with sun, shade, containers, soil, plants and water of course, plus the amazing online education I obtained through Urban Farming & Conscious Living at SWIHA!

So, you want to plant a garden and grow your own food, but live in an apartment.  ‘Is it possible,’ you ask, ‘to grow food in the city?’  The answer is yes!  Yes, it is, and more and more people in the growing urban areas love this productive hobby and healthy way of living.  Not only are you able to use your energy wisely, but you are opening a whole new gateway to better health, for yourself and your family.  The basic requirements necessary for productive growth are sun, shade, containers, soil, plants and water.  With these items, plus time and knowledge, you will be an Urban Farmer in no time at all, and discover a more deep rooted respect for nature.

So, are you ready to transform your personal or community green spaces into productive gardens for personal use or community sale?  You too can contribute to your local food economy through increasing the amount of food available to people living in cities, and allowing fresh vegetables and fruits to be made available to urban consumers.  Through Urban Agriculture of Conscious Living, households and small communities can take advantage of vacant land and contribute not only to their household food needs, but the needs of their resident city as well.

Now, are you ready to start building a small garden of your own?  First take a look at your environment where you plan to plant.  Most windowsills, balconies or patios make a great place for your small vegetable garden where you can grow a myriad of different edible delectables to please your palate.  Planting in containers offers several advantages and disadvantages, but if you are persistent you can have some success.  One of the biggest advantages of your new container garden is that you can move it around as the seasons change.  There are several considerations that you need to make before you begin.

Sun

Sun exposure is the most critical piece of the pie.  The first thing you need consider is the direction that your garden will face.  Above the equator, the best directions for a container garden to face are east and south.  The worst is north, which typically does not get enough sunlight to grow your groceries, and a western facing garden is challenging, but somewhat plantable.  That said, the western facing garden will need special attention during the hotter part of the year, especially in the desert southwest.  Getting your plants some relief from the hot afternoon sun will aid in success.

Containers

There are many different containers to plant in.  Your best bet is to visit the local nursery or second hand store for some ideas.  Some pots like terra cotta can have the tendency, because of its clay structure, to wick away the moisture in the soil.  You could consider sealing the inside of a pot; however, make sure you know what is in the sealant, as anything in that pot will likely end up in your food.  Keep in mind that wooden boxes have a tendency to deteriorate over time.  Metal trashcans and stock tanks can serve as great planters.  You could even be so bold to use an old bathtub, if you can get your hands on one.  Check around and see how creative you can get!  Make sure however that you have some kind of drainage for the bottom as it does not take long to fill the container with water.  The size of your planting container will dictate what you can plant, from a 6 inch pot for growing herbs in your windowsill to an old bathtub to grow just about whatever you heart desires.  The 15-gallon container size is adequate in Arizona to grow nice selections of tomatoes, eggplants and peppers.  Regardless of the size of your container, make sure that you have adequate drainage in the bottom of your pot.  Consider adding a layer of small rocks at the bottom to facilitate this.

Soil

Soil is perhaps the biggest piece of your little garden pie.  Bagged potting soil from your local nursery is probably your best choice.  These mixes will have a nice balance of organic material, nutrients and often have the added bonus of peat moss, vermiculite or perlite, which will help the soil retain water.  These mixtures also come disease and weed free, making your growing job easier.

Plants

Ah the best part.  People often ask what they should plant in their garden.  The perfect answer is that growing food is like fine art.  You don’t buy fine art that you don’t like, right?  So, grow food that you know you like, or might like if you have yet to try it.  For a great year-round planting calendar visit www.UrbanFarm.org to get some ideas of what and when to plant that are specific to your tastes.

Tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants do especially well in containers.  You can even have luck with vining crops such as squash and cucumbers.  Remember you can train them to vine up so that you can use the vertical space of your patio to grow as well.  Root crops such as radish, beets and carrots will also do very well in a pot.  And don’t forget the wonderful selection of herbs that we can grow that includes parsley, sage, rosemary, thyme, basil and any other herb you want to grow.  Typically these are the most expensive in the store, so by growing your own, you can save a bundle.  Don’t forget edible flowers like nasturtiums, which add a nice zing to your salads.

Water

Perhaps the single biggest consideration for your garden is water.  Out here in the desert our gardens will have a tendency to dry out very quickly. The best option is to add your containers to a drip system so that they are watered on even intervals and so you don’t forget.  Check with your local hardware store, as there are several easy options to assist you with this.

Shade

It is likely that your new pot garden will require daily attention, especially if it’s in direct sunlight, like in the afternoon.  Move any pots that you have into the shade after about 2pm every day, as the quickest way to kill a plant is to cook it in the direct sunlight.  Also, think about the shade structures that might already be in your yard or patio and use them.

One Step At A Time

Growing your own fruits, veggies and plants in pots can be personally rewarding and fruitful, it just takes some forethought and planning.  Be open to experimenting often to find what works and doesn’t work.  Take baby steps.  Start with a 15-gallon pot or some herbs in your windowsill and discover how that works, then graduate to something bigger.  Most of all have fun with it; for some there is nothing better than growing something that lands on the dinner table.

Urban Farming Benefits

Urban Farming has been viewed for ages, as solely for subsistence purposes; however the production of crops directly in urban areas has many additional economic, social and ecological benefits.

The Contribution of Urban Agriculture (on a small and/or large scale) has Many Benefits:

  • Improves nutrition, as produce is fresh and less damaged when grown and distributed locally.
  • Closes the nutrient loop, as domestic organic waste can be composted and processed into the soil for added nutrients and soil structure.
  • Has the potential to alleviate two of the world’s most crucial problems: poverty and waste.
  • Has the potential to provide economic regeneration and stability to the growing population.
  • Organic city farming diverts nutrient rich waste from landfills or export and returns it to the land.
  • Promotes sustainable development by reducing the vulnerability of the world’s urban populations to global ecological change.
  • Reduction in crime has been noted when gardening projects are implemented in urban centers.
  • Youth and even adults acquire self-esteem, stay busy and feel useful when participating in these programs.
  • Naturally restores the human connection to nature by instilling a sense of stewardship in the farmer, creating a better appreciation of the land’s natural processes.
  • Creates a feeling of community between people, which can facilitate further collective action on issues of local importance.
  • Improves the aesthetics of the city by increasing the ‘green spaces’ in an otherwise concrete landscape while providing recreational opportunities for those who work the land.
  • Increased gardens and plants in cities improve air quality close to pollution sources.
  • On a large scale, it reduces transportation of produce; thus, less fuel is required by vehicles and less protective packaging is needed for the produce.
  • Encourages the production of rare varieties of fruits and vegetables, as urban gardeners tend to cultivate a wider variety of crops, conserving unique cultivars and enhancing agricultural diversity.
  • Urban gardens serve as refuge for wildlife such as soil organisms, wild plants, insects, birds and amphibians; thus, increasing the biodiversity within the city environment. Rooftop gardens are known to attract many bird and insect species to a space that would otherwise be avoided.

If you have ever dreamed of growing your own food and owning your own holistic health business where you can teach others to grow their own nutritious food, especially in the city, SWIHA’s Urban Farming Certificate of Excellence or Mind Body Wellness program would be your perfect fit.  The exciting part about this is, both are offered Online and On-campus!

Greg Peterson, owner of UrbanFarm.org is a green living and sustainability innovator who is well-known regionally.  He has appeared extensively on television and radio and is a frequent guest columnist for publications.  Greg created a new concept called the Urban Farm, a real world environmental showcase home in the heart of Phoenix, Arizona which has become a model for his mission.  His mission is to inspire people to embrace their own greenness and become conscious of how they currently affect the planet, and how, if they choose to, could have an amazing impact on their community, and the world, by  empowering the friends and neighbors to grow their own food and up-level their choices.  Greg received his master’s degree in Urban and Environmental Planning in 2006 from Arizona State University.  His academic training has been augmented by 34 years of real world self-study, ownership of multiple businesses and a rich background in entrepreneurship.  Greg has been the primary author and consultant for the two new Urban Farming Certificates of Excellence now available through SWIHA, on-campus and on-line.