A while back, I talked about a wonderful book I used for my environmental ethics class called Drawdown: Solutions for a Greener Tomorrow. This book discussed things that people, from individuals to large organizations, can do to reduce our carbon footprint. During this class, each student had to teach three lessons from this book. For one of mine, I chose urban gardening and an article called “Why Bother?” by Michael Pollan.
You can check out that project HERE.
*WARNING: This post turns into a novel bragging about my beloved garden so please bear with me until the end. It is worth it!*
I refer to myself as a farmer waaayy too often. I have chickens and a garden and I know about the difference between fertile and infertile soil, so I must be a farmer. But how many farmers do you know that live on one acre of land?
Well, let me introduce you to the ideas of urban farming and urban gardening. I do not claim to be a master at anything related to either of these (other than a master urban-aloe grower) but I have been trying for a while now to grow my own food at my house in a (sub)urban area.
Right now, we collect about one egg a day from our chickens, because one is a hen but four are pullets (basically a chicken who is still going through puberty). Last spring, I planted a garden with green beans, cucumbers and corn to feed my chickens and myself, but unfortunately, a week of flooding and a lawn mower killed the garden and I was left with only one single green bean. I have been adding manure and compost to my garden all summer in hopes of having the perfect conditions to replant this fall.
Right now, my garden and a million pots in my backyard are home to pineapple plants, coconut trees, aloe and baby banana trees. All of these plants thrive under the South Florida sun.
Last year during Hurricane Irma, I actually left my potted aloe plants outside and the hurricane carried in such wonderful nutrients that my herd doubled in size from 20 to 40 plants within days. Aloe is my favorite plant and it is great for the hair and healing the skin of cuts, blemishes and burns. And get this! I started off with a $5 aloe plant 8 years ago and now I have a whole army. I have shared the offspring of this aloe plant with many friends so that $5 mama plant has served dozens of people. How is that for a cheap and safe first aid/hygienic/skin care product?
If you cannot tell, I love my aloe. Also, do not worry because the big ones have been planted into the ground where their roots can roam and be filled with the nutritious soil that my chickens have created.
But anyway…urban farming and gardening are very important. Last fall, I went on a field trip to a true urban garden. A one-acre lot in the middle of Liberty City (an urban area in Miami) was transformed into a garden for local people to purchase cheap produce. It is operated by women who are being rehabilitated from prison. The garden offers a positive environment for the local youth to get involved in the community at a deeper level.
You may be wondering what the fuss is about the gardens when there are cheap places to buy produce, like ALDI or Walmart. The beauty about truly eating local (like from an Urban Garden as opposed to some pricier farmers markets) is that it is cheap and there is little transportation of the produce required. Humans in first world countries have such a large carbon footprint for many reasons, but the transport of our food is a huge one. How crazy is it that we ship in bananas, strawberries and other produce that we have right here (in Florida). The same goes for many different types of produce in different regions. While eating seasonal fruit seems to be the advice of many environmentalists, this is not really an option for states with colder climates.
Even if you do not have much of a backyard, potted plants are a great option. Aloes are insanely easy to keep, and while they do not taste very good, they are great for keeping the air clean. I have the worst trouble with indoor herbs, but perhaps they will work for you. Being less reliant on the commercial food providers is pretty cool. Growing your own food can be empowering and help to connect you with your roots. There is always the added bonus of trading carbon dioxide for oxygen via photosynthesis. Plus, plants are cheaper and quieter than pets.
I am going to give my gardena go again in a few weeks so I would love to hear from any other urban or semi-urban gardeners/farmers out there!