Urban blight got you down? Farm your city

garden boxMy friends and neighbors and I are catching on to the latest sustainability movement: farming your front yard. It's variously called "Food Not Lawns" or "Edible Estates" or "Urban Homesteading" or simply "gardening." But it's not just about growing a little food, eating local, saving money, or helping the planet; it can also be about making money.

And it's not new, or American. In fact, Cubans have been farming urban plots for decades. An AP story yesterday tells of a woman whose government job was cut back to $3 a month. She took advantage of a government program (championed by Raul Castro) that supported urban farming and took over a 1/2 acre plot. Now she makes $100 to $250 a month growing spinach, sweet potatoes and spinach, and selling them to her neighbors. Every penny she makes goes straight to her own pocket, and she's feeding her family in the bargain.

As Americans increasingly grow disillusioned with an economy that's built to work them long, hard hours, far from home, rarely spending time outdoors or with their family, never cooking their food; as consumers demand more and more locally- and sustainably-grown produce; urban farming is becoming exceedingly attractive. A friend recently contacted me with a proposal: a woman she knew was growing food in her backyard to sell to local restaurants. Might I help her?

With a huge, sunny, fertile backyard and a developing interest in gardening, I was all for it.Perhaps soon I'll be supplying my hearty red winter kale and leeks and gold nugget cherry tomatoes to local restaurants for $50 or $100 a month. It won't pay my mortgage but it'll keep me in coffee beans and maple syrup (two vital ingredients for life that don't grow here). And now I'm wondering, does anyone have a lot nearby I could farm? Urban farming is a creative solution to a half-dozen problems all at once (urban blight! isolation! rising food costs! global warming! industrialization of our food supply! toxic veggies!), and it's far more satisfying than I ever realized.

Do you farm your city? Have you ever sold anything? What have you found easy to grow and worth it? A woman in my neighborhood sells raspberries, organic vegetable starts, and a few other things from her gorgeous front-yard garden -- I'm thinking berries are a high-value, low-maintenance crop. Same thing with garlic, leeks, and mint (which threatens to take over my strawberries and basil). Kale, chard, spinach and watercress are adoring our cool, rainy weather this year (I live in Portland, Oregon).

Will the farmer's market soon be your neighbor's front yard?
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