The rise of urban farming
Urban farming's trendy frugality is drawing converts in an age of economic uncertainty.
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•Peterson estimates that between 2,000 and 3,000 urban farmers are raising food from Phoenix soil.Skip to next paragraph
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•On bucolic Bainbridge Island, off Seattle's coast, keeping chickens has become something of a fashion statement. In July, the island hosted its third annual "Tour de Coop" where visitors could tour participating backyard pens trimmed with artistic touches and, in one case, there was even piped-in classical music.
•Chicago will vote in September on an ordinance that could make growing and selling produce within city limits much easier, potentially giving new purpose to the city's estimated 14,000 empty lots.
These advances come in the midst of a struggling economy, a changing climate, a global food system in peril, rising food prices, concern over lax food safety, and dwindling resources. For homesteaders, cultivating a corner of the yard or the back deck into a tangle of edible things has become one small way to regain purpose and control in an unpredictable time.
While self-sufficiency was once a necessity on the American frontier, transforming an entire yard into an urban minifarm takes considerable time and effort. Harriet Fasenfest in Portland, Ore., who calls herself a "householder," says the key lies in small, incremental steps.
"People want to live this life as a householder but they don't really know what that involves," says Ms. Fasenfest, author of "A Householder's Guide to the Universe," which offers tips and instructions on everything from creating a garden plan and budget to the alchemy of jammaking.
Beyond endless weeding and battles with slugs and nibbling wildlife, urban farming isn't as easy as deciding to dig up your lawn. Zoning laws can restrict ambitions by ruling against the appearance of "messy" lawns and running farm stands out of the front yards. In Oak Park, Mich., Julie Bass made national headlines in July when she faced jail time for breaking city codes by constructing raised vegetable beds in front of her suburban house. Among the charges: The beds were "not common to a front yard." (The charge was later dropped.) Probably most challenging, however, is the fact that long hours of work can sometimes yield very little in results.
Andrée Collier Zaleska of Jamaica Plain, Mass., is homesteading on 1,000 square feet behind her energy-efficient house. It took her two years to rid the backyard of an invasive, creeping vine. But the effort was worth it. Her garden supports two families during the summer months. Terraced beds in late August were plump with kale, parsnips, cabbage, carrots, pumpkins, and broccoli. A chicken coop at the corner of the yard stood empty – the arrival of its would-be feathered residents halted by Boston zoning laws.