Urban gardening produces sprouts

Farm Your Way to Health, Happiness, and Savings

Lola Cain, Staff Writer

Who knew that young entrepreneurs around the world are flocking toward farming?

We did! There’s been a lot of discussion around the water cooler regarding sustainable living. You’ve probably seen plenty of articles that describe how people are using various techniques to become a bit more self-reliant when it comes to food and energy. And there are many-o-blogs out there that will tell you how to set up square foot gardening in your backyard to feed a family of four. You may have even seen tutorials on rewiring some things on your house to be powered by the sun...

Let’s take a step back and think about those who aren’t fortunate enough to be able to purchase enough food to eat every day. Of course, we know that there are public and private sectors that run various programs to help offset the hunger issue but let’s not stop there.

According to WesternWaterSheds.org, the U.S. alone has about 1.9 billion acres (that’s nine zeroes, ladies and gentlmen) of unused land that is suitable for agricultural production. Think about all the grass lawns and empty lots you pass by on your way home every day - that’s a lot of potential for growing food! Many varieties of fruits and vegetables can be planted in extremely small areas, creating not only a beautiful landscape, but a happening spot for any pollinating wildlife that seek out your flowering plants (remember, CCD is still killing off our honeybees)! Plus, getting outdoors and participating in communal events and activities helps promote a healthier, happier individual. And, you can save a lot of money in the long run by growing your own food (below, you’ll see how to make a little extra if you have a surplus).

Now, let’s take a look at the newest trend in agriculture: Urban Farming.

Square foot gardening produces vegetables

Before you can even think about growing anything, you need to find a place to plant. Some of us are in luck because we have a bit of land already in our possession in the form of a front or back yard. You can plant quite a bit in a small patch if you do it right.

For those of you who aren’t so lucky in that department, try asking some friends or family members if they wouldn’t mind you coming over and maintaining a garden on their property. Talk to local restaurants and small businesses that may have a 4’ x 4’ space for you to work in. You can offer them some of the harvest in return for allowing you to use their property. Of course, every person or business is going to be different, so ask around - you’ll never know until you do. Who knows? Maybe after people start seeing how great it can be to work with nature and produce something so beneficial, they’ll want to start doing the same thing!

Now that you have a place to plant, you need to figure out what to grow. The United States Department of Agriculture provides a Plant Hardiness Map so that anyone who wants to grow their own food can get an idea if the area they live in is too hot or too cold for various plants. A quick Google search can also provide you with your local area information.

Once you know the temperature range you’ll be working with, it’s time to pick out your plants! Take a trip to your local grocer or farmer’s market and see what they’re selling (remember to price everything out). You may be able to decide based off of your ability to grow if the produce the market is currently selling is something you could offer at a lower price (depending on your surplus, if any). Or, you can decide to grow produce that might be limited in stock. Keep in mind that fast growing crops will allow more time to grow a different type of crop within the same growing season.

Depending on how much you begin with, you may find yourself with an abundance of fresh herbs and veggies that you don’t know what to do with. Don’t worry, this isn’t a bad thing! Some people take to preserving their harvest for the winter. This includes dehydrating and canning, so your home-grown sustenance can be stored away for colder months. Others may decide that they don’t have the time for preserving their food and will contact their local charities and churches to see about donating what is left over. And young entrepreneurs may decide to make a business out of it.

Farmers market employee assists woman with produce

A man by the name of Curtis Stone is just one example of how an individual with no large amount of money or property decided to use quick-growing, high value annual vegetables on small plots of land owned or leased by friends and families. He began “paying rent” for the spaces by giving a good percentage of what was harvested and the rest he sold at local farmers markets and restaurants. He has written all about his experiences in a book titled “The Urban Farmer: Growing Food for Profit on Leased and Borrowed Land” and provides consulting services to those who wish to do the same.

Curtis’s farm has been recognized internationally as an example of how beneficial urban agriculture can be to your bank and your community. He is proof that it’s possible to change the world with a few small inexpensive steps that anyone can undertake. So here is my challenge to you, dear reader: Start planting, get your community involved, change lives. I believe in you.

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