“Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.” – Arthur Ashe
For as long as I can remember, I desperately wanted to live on a farm. Raise my family close to nature and grow my own food, make awesome compost, raise some chickens, maybe get a beehive.
Instead, I found myself in suburbia with a young family.
So I decided that if I couldn’t move to “The Farm” I would bring the farm to me.
After all, I did have a big suburban yard. And I desperately wanted a hobby that would engage my brain in some subject other than childcare or housework. Perhaps contradictorily, I also wanted a hobby that I could do without excluding my kids. A vegetable patch was the perfect fit.
Years later, that vegetable patch has engulfed almost all of my block. I am raising my family close to nature, we grow our own food, make awesome compost, raise chickens and have bees.
My little urban farm has been a fantastic endeavour. And while I still want to have a rural property, thank god we didn’t do it years ago. Because an agricultural learning curve contained in a backyard is much less risky and costly than a multi-acre-meltdown.
I have also come to understand that urban farming has real advantages all of it’s own.
You Supplement your Food Bill.
While my urban farm doesn’t feed us entirely, our produce certainly supplements our purchased food.
But perhaps not in the way you might think. I stopped growing “traditional” crops a while ago. In our first year, I planted a big crop of brown onions. Six months later we had a modest harvest, but it was dispiriting to see the same onions for sale at the farmers market for less than a dollar a kilo.
Urban farming is well suited to growing those niche, heirloom edibles that you just don’t get to sample in the supermarkets. Once you get hooked on the varied offerings of heirloom varieties, it is damn near impossible to be impressed by a supermarket offering of any other fruit or vegetable. I now plant delicious exotic edibles, suited to my climate, that I know I will have trouble finding elsewhere. I probably wouldn’t pay $3.00 each for an American grown passionfruit, as much as I love them. But luckily for me, our vine planted and nourished by our chicken coop rains a surplus of fat, juicy fruit.
And it makes economic sense, if you only have a relatively small space, plant it with the most high-value (taste and cost-wise) plants.
You Enjoy Ripe, Delicious, Nutritious Produce.
Fruit and vegetables ripened where they are grown are simply more delicious. Home picked sweet corn can be on your table in minutes. As soon as corn is picked the sugars in the kernals start converting into starch, which affects the flavour. But it’s not just the flavour that can be affected when your food is not backyard fresh. Fruit and vegetables that have to travel to meet you can also deteriorate nutritionally en route.
Processed and unseasonal food that has travelled a long way to reach your plate has a big impact on our collective carbon footprint, known as food miles. Eating fresh food, where it is grown and ripened is probably one of the most pleasurable ways for you to tally your environmental brownie-points.
You Know The Growing History of Your Food.
I know the providence of my edibles. Earlier this year, there was a Hepatitis A scare with imported frozen berries. An investigation revealed the farming practices of the suppliers were most likely at fault of the contamination. When I grow my own berries, the only thing I have to worry about is the birds getting them first. I know they haven’t been treated with pesticides, farmed in a monoculture or in the case of the affected berries, watered with raw sewerage. And that reassurance extends to my chickens and bees. My chickens are fed well, with plenty of room for them to move. My bees also forage in a diverse garden, without the need to feed them sugar. Remember, you eat what your food eats! The only way you can eat with 100% confidence is to raise your own food.
You Give Your Garbage a Higher Calling.
Instead of otherwise tossing all perishable waste into the bin, my rubbish now has purpose! Between the chickens, the mealworms, the earthworms and the compost bins, every carbon-based bit of rubbish gets transmuted into something else much more valuable. Like eggs and chicken meat. Compost. Worm castings. High protein mealworms. Delicious fruits and vegetables. Flowers that feed bees nectar to make honey. In an urban farm, the challenge can be finding enough waste to keep your hungry garden satisfied.
You Have Fewer Predators In Urban Areas.
While some city areas are afflicted with assorted wild and feral predators, there are far fewer predators and pests in the city. While my country cousins despair at kangaroo-levelled vegetable patches and sneaky fox coop slaughters, its not an issue for me. I have had one injured crow eat all my ground level tomatoes which was pretty annoying until she moved on. I had one cat that used my front raised bed as a litterbox, but shoo-ing it away was enough of a deterrent, no drastic action required.
But even the neighbourhood cats aren’t interested in my chickens. We don’t have foxes, or possums, or snakes in my urban area. It’s a big positive.
You Develop a Wider Awareness of Food, Environment, Climate and Sustainability.
If you have any doubt about the vulnerability of farming, or of our food system as a whole, just grow a tomato plant. You’ll grow to appreciate that something as obsequious as a tomato takes care to prune, water, fertilise and to be kept pest free. Assuming all goes well with the weather, with no hot spells, hail, wind or deluge dashing your plant’s survival, in about 12 weeks, you should have your first ripe tomato. (Hopefully, you’ll have local pollinators up to the job!) You’ll appreciate it much more than any other tomato that you purchase from the shop. You’ll likely regard every tomato you meet from that moment on with a new found respect. And once you’ve tasted a tomato ripe from the plant, you’ll likely never want to eat a supermarket tomato ever again.
Same goes for anything else you cultivate and nurture. You appreciate it and want to see it thrive. You’ll happily prioritise food quality over quantity!
You Will Be Happier for Cultivating Your Urban Farm.
Lastly, but of equal importance, is the fact that an urban farm will make you happier. Numerous studies have shown time spent tending a garden also cultivates the person in an entirely positive way. Less anxiety, better nutrition and connecting with nature are just some of the ways a garden will help grow you.
What about you? Do you agree? Do you have an 8th reason why you should grow where you are planted?