Grow your own Personal or Community Garden

27 Jul

Anne Woods digs a garden for me in summer 2010

So here I am in the last week of my Locavore Project, and we’ve discussed farmer’s markets, local/organic food delivery, the yuck factor on processed/cheap foods, recipes, and eating local while traveling and dining at restaurants. But one thing you may not have considered is the possibility of actually growing your own food, in your very own garden or urban farm!

I started a garden for the first time last year, at my old house. Anne Woods of Woods Design, metal sculptor and gardener, dug an organic garden in my backyard. I have since moved to a loft condo on the East side, and so far have planted a little herb garden that I use every week. But now that the prime fall planting season of August to early October is nearly here, I plan to start several more containers of vegetable gardens. There’s virtually no space too small – whether you have lots of land, an average-size city yard, or a condo/apartment courtyard or patio like me, you can plant some kind of garden.

Chicken coop at an Urban Patchworks Neighborhood Farm

You can also participate in a Community Garden – a concept that was really big during the depression and World War II, and is making a comeback. (Watch for my next post, about how urban community gardens are combating hunger!). Check out a rocking concept that I am really excited about here in Austin – Urban Patchwork Neighborhood Farms.

I had the pleasure of visiting Urban Patchwork’s founder, Paige Hill, a couple of weeks ago at one of her community gardens. Here is what the website says about the nonprofit organization:

Paige Hill

We work with neighbors to turn unused yard space into farmland that provides fresh, organically grown produce and eggs to the nearby residents of each neighborhood farm. We not only help provide food for our bodies, we offer farm start-up programs; workshops for residents on nutrition, home food production and storage; training and job creation; and more.

Neighborhood residents and businesses host farm plots in their yards in exchange for fresh veggies and other opportunities that reduce cost of living and increase the quality and value of their land and lives. Neighborhood farmers and volunteers prepare the soil, plant, harvest and deliver.

Paige holds out onions & carrots she had just pulled from the garden

Terrific concept, right? Paige is an energetic and passionate person about what she does, and her enthusiasm is contagious. She grew up connecting with nature, and credits her grandparents for instilling that in her. “From the depression and war, they knew the importance of being self sufficient,” Paige says. “I grew up digging in the dirt.” She worked in marketing for a while, but couldn’t stand sitting at a desk all day. “I had to get back outside.” Her love for nature and fresh, organic food – combined with a desire for real community involvement – led her to found Urban Patchwork two years ago, on July 4. The significance of the holiday was intentional – she was declaring her own independence from processed, corporate grocery-store food.

The Urban Patchwork farm I visited

Paige and her members work the gardens planted in community yards, as well as raising chickens and fish. The members learn how to garden, work the land, and share in the food it provides. The first Urban Patchwork garden was in a front yard, which generated a lot of interest. “People would walk by and ask about the plants, wanting to know more about this and about that,” Paige says. “It really brings communities together.” Food security is an important part of the urban farming movement for her, as well as preserving the knowledge of providing our own food in contrast to the relatively new, post-WWII habits of processed, supermarket and fast foods.

“If we don’t learn the traditional ways of our grandparents, that knowledge is about to die. Our culture is very one-track right now – the conventional modern food production system fights nature, pushes it away. It is breaking our ecosystem.”

Paige jars lamb's quarter

One of the methods that Paige uses to adapt the urban farms to Austin’s unique weather and soil is by doing some experimental things, such as biomimicry. “You can use nature to mimic something a plant needs, to protect it,” she explains. For example, she has been using lamb’s quarter – a fast-growing, edible green similar to spinach – to mimic the dappled shade that other plants need during the hot Texas summer. The backyard garden I visited was filled with lamb’s quarter; and underneath those plants were the hidden treasures – onions, carrots and other vegetables. (Check out some seasonal cooking tips for lamb’s quarter!) Paige also harvests rainwater at each location for irrigation.

“I live and breathe this,” Paige explains her journey to me.

Austin Urban Gardens

If you’re interested in farming your own garden, check out Austin Urban Gardens. Co-owner Carla Crownover and her company provides affordable, easy to install, all season, durable and attractive raised bed garden systems. The patented green system includes only three components; wood look timbers made from sawdust and recycled plastic, anchor stakes, and stacking stakes. And Carla will even offer readers of this blog a 5% discount on any garden – she contacted me from a previous post, so mention my name or this blog for your discount.

Once Carla and I got to communicating, I was pretty intrigued by something else she mentioned. She undertook an experiment where she went an entire year without buying anything at a grocery store! Due to my 30-day Locavore project that has me at farmers markets, ordering from Greenling, planning my meals and food better, etc. I was definitely intrigued by this. Is it possible? Turns out, it’s not only possible, but Carla has kept going with it past the year mark. You can read more of her story at the Republic of Austin site, and she was kind enough to share with me – and you dear readers – some of her experience:

Carla Crownover at the downtown Austin Farmer's Market

In November of 2009, I watched the movie Food, Inc.  I was already an avid gardener and farmer’s market shopper, but still shopped at Costco, Central Market and Whole Foods, and didn’t question the provenance of my foods, especially the proteins. The movie really stuck with me, and on New Years Eve, with some prodding from my friend Cecilia Nasti (radio host), I pondered on Twitter whether I could go a year without shopping at a grocery store, and get to know my food and the people who grew/raised it.

There was such a big response on Twitter, that I committed to try it.  I blogged about it daily, and discussed the difficulties of eating only seasonally, with no local flour etc. The story got picked up by News 8 Austin and Take Part, the producers of Food, Inc.  Now it is rampant on the internet, and folks I’ve never heard of or talked to have written about it.  At the end of the year, Addie Broyles from the Austin American-Statesman did a “What’s In Your Fridge Friday” of my fridge, as well.

I have not returned to the grocery store, and have gotten to know personally all of the sources of my food, and have visited many of their farms. It made me be a more thoughtful gardener, and made me appreciate the seasonality of food as well. Since the beginning, I have sources for dairy that I didn’t have at the beginning, and also local grains, which indicates that our local farms are changing what they grow, to meet the increasing demands of the population.

As mentioned, stay tuned for my next post in which I will show some very cool ways that urban farming is being used to combat hunger and poverty. And as always – Eat Well!

5 Responses to “Grow your own Personal or Community Garden”

  1. Carla Crownover July 27, 2011 at 4:15 pm #

    Thanks! Nice post, Shelley!

  2. austinurbangardens July 27, 2011 at 4:32 pm #

    Also, if folks would like to read a near daily account of my No Grocery Store adventure, including what I ate, what I felt deprived of, etc., it is all on my blog


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    […] Salad with Lamb’s Quarter Paige Hill of Urban Patchworks told me about lamb’s quarter when I interviewed her, and gave me some to try. I added it to […]

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    […] Grow your own Personal or Community Garden! « 30 Days at a Time […]

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