Food soverginty in the burbs

Corn grown in a SFG at the Toy Box Sub-Urban Farm

Corn grown in a SFG at the Toy Box Sub-Urban Farm

So you want to take control of what your family eats but you do not have the land for it? You can start where you are at. Even apartment dwellers with widows can do a few things.

Knowledge is your base. Read. Books, blogs, dedicated facebook pages, Seriously, read. I got my start at the library. Even before I bought my first shovel, I bought books. My dream started with the book Two Acer Eden. Back in the 70’s the title of this book made me realize that I could feed my family on a lot less land then I originally believed. Before there was a web, there was Organic Gardening from Rodale Press. Back when the magazine was the size of Readers Digest, before it took on the look of Glamour it was full of solid information instead of fluff. Find a newsy blog or forum and learn. Most of us know that knowing about a subject and experience with a subject have to marry to be of use.

Get out of the grocery store and get to know a farmer. Pull into the driveway when you see those signs telling you there is corn for sale. Raw milk, tomatoes, eggs, strawberries. You are going to get a deal in most places. The headline food is often just the tip of the ice burg. But the real investment comes from chatting it up with the farmer or his wife (or her husband). Most of us want you to be successful with your beans and broccoli. We want to pass on what we know.

Go to the Farmers Market. Most of the time you will not find a “deal” at big markets but you will find mostly local food and crafts. Be aware that farmers have to pay a fee for space to sell their goods. They also have to get up early, invest in items that keep food fresh and pay outrageous prices for gas, real-estate tax and permits of all kinds. The price you pay at the market is probably closer to what it really costs to buy food (think about that next time you complain about high taxes). I have noticed that Snohomish County farmers markets seem to have set prices for different food items. Even if there are six booths from six different farms selling strawberries, they are all going to charge the exact same price for a box or half-flat of fruit. No deals here. Even so, that bag of sugar snap peas is going to be miles and days fresher then the cello-bag of snap peas you pick up at your favorite organic grocery store. One bite and you will remember what it is you love about fresh food, be it snap beans, apricots or the humble radish. Don’t know what to do with boc-choi, ask the people selling it.

Plant a pot of herbs. One of the best ways for a busy working mom to start taking control of her kitchen is to plant a basket of herbs. Oregano puts up with all kinds of abuse. Sage is another herb that is very forgiving. Even pretty rosemary puts up with a lot of rookie mistakes. If all you have is parsley, use it! Beloved basil may be the most difficult to grow in the PNW, so if you have it, use it. Clip it up, toss it in. Basil is an annual so it only lives for one season anyway. Plant lavender in your flower bed, use it! Thyme will give and give. How do you use fresh herbs? Remember to read. Use your nose, rub some fresh herb between your palms while you cook. If the scents of your stove and the herb in your hand makes your mouth water, you may have a winner. Some say, be careful, a little goes a long way. Me? I like to go a little crazy.

Plant a tomato in the flower Garden. This spring, when you are buying snapdragons, pick up a tomato start. If you can grow a petunia, you can grow a tomato.

Build a Square Foot Garden on your lawn. Square Foot Gardening may be the easiest and safest way to turn your lawn into food. You can start small and add as you feel more competent. SFG does not use your native soil. You make a growing medium from peat, vermiculite and bagged compost that you pick up at the place you buy your beauty bark. You do not need to commit to tearing out your whole lawn to SFG. If you have any doubts about the history of your yard (Many yards in my home-town of Everett, Washington are toxic from our history as a mill town) then Mel’s Mix (the growing medium named after Mel Bartholomew, author of Square Foot Gardening) is a safe way to get started.

Get Really Radical, compost your bio-garbage instead of sending it to a land fill (your garden will love it!). Every city has different regulations, but you can raise chickens, bunnies or mini goats in the burbs. Did you know you can raise fish in a barrel? It is called aqua-ponics. Collect rain water, plant fruit trees, build a mason bee house. As long as you keep your neighbors happy and check with the city before starting a project you can do just about anything. Learn which flowers in your garden you can eat. Just get started.

Debs….. who started with a tiny pot of oregano in her bedroom window, then learned to make pizza sauce. Everyone begins somewhere.

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Filed under Chickens, Fresh from the garden, Square Foot Garden, Urban Farm

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