Urban Farming Rules for Spring

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urban gardeningSad to say, we Americans are getting larger, especially kids (one-third of children are either overweight or obese). We're eating too much junk and processed food, thanks to Big Food - the monolith of industrialized agriculture.

One way to eat better without depositing your entire income at Whole Foods - much as we love the place -- is to grow your own, even if you live in a concrete jungle.

You can plant a garden on the roof or balcony, or indoors -- though, do ask the landlord first. There's an entire movement developing around urban growing, called vertical farming. It's mostly about large-scale projects, but small gardens help too.

So how else do city slickers get a green thumb?
City dwellers are already raising their own chickens and goats. They're signing up for Community Supported Agriculture, known as CSAs, in which you pay a fee to a farm and get a monthly CARE package from the countryside.

They're taking stakes in community gardens, weeding and sowing alongside fellow urban citizens. Some garden guerrillas are even commandeering discarded plots of real estate for illegal urban farming. (We are not advocating that).

The Chicago Tribune, quoting urban gardener Gayla Trail (yougrowgirl.com), suggests that a mere 16 square feet of space can yield plenty of fresh wholesome vegetables in summer. Try to plant stuff that grows vertically (you know, like pole beans) and veggies that mature quickly, such as lettuce and spinach, so you can plant a second crop. And you thought you'd get away with only one harvest per season?

Here are some insights on urban growing from Novella Carpenter, author of "Farm City: The Education of an Urban Farmer":
  • Make sure the soil isn't contaminated by lead -- definitely bad for the plants and your health.
  • Also make certain that there's plenty of water and space. And of course, check that the neighbors are cooperative with your farm-conversion plans, as they might not want cornstalks blocking their view.
  • Try a cleverly designed gizmo called a VeggiePatch, by an Australian designer. You can make it yourself with recycled fabric, tubing and some tools. It uses drip irrigation so saves water and can fit in small urban spaces (make it any size you like). Download plans from the site and have a VeggiePatch party -- the entire building or block can participate.
Whatever you do, get out there (or stay in) and plant seeds and grow veggies, and eat them.

Living in the city in a rented apartment is no longer an excuse.
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