I’m pleased to have Christy from Right to Thrive guest posting today!
I not only grew-up in the country, I grew-up quasi-trailer trash, part country bumpkin, and all redneck. And, my childhood could not have been more glorious. Hours (days, sometimes) lost riding my horse in the woods behind our small farm, a direct relationship with the natural world and all that was in it, and respect for plants and animals as my food sources. I lived deeply in touch with life processes and the forces of nature; it was a beautiful time. With a childhood as wondrous as that does it come as any surprise that as an adult, living in the city, I would recreate those experiences in both large and small ways? It comes as no surprise to me.
I spent the first 30 years of my life in the Cascade foothills of Oregon (that’s me below on the left with my first rabbit, Buttercup). My family had a small country home with a little land. My father had always fancied himself a mountain man much to my grandmother’s chagrin. As such our family dabbled in all things homesteading. My parents worked the garden and miniature orchard together with my sister and me, we raised rabbits, ducks, and goats for food, kept horses for leisure, and always had dogs, cats, and other random pets roaming the parcel. My dad would secure firewood for the winter (our house had only wood heat – made for cold mornings and a strong constitution), my mom would make homemade bread and yogurt, and our honey and milk came from down the road from our neighbors. My mom was also a founding member of a family natural food purchasing co-op in the early ’80’s, and my dad was an expert flint napper. In the summer I bucked hay, in the winter I chopped firewood, and year ’round I cared for animals and livestock; my life is much the same now.
This is not to imply that we were a self-sufficient homestead – we were not. We dabbled, we learned, and we often failed. Homesteading is a lot of work (yeah, like you don’t know THAT already), and we were not as committed as we could have been. Our garden did not produce well, the ducks retreated to the neighbors pond making collecting eggs nearly impossible, the goat was a devil in disguise, and the demise of raising rabbits for meat is a story all its own (long story short – my dear, sensitive sister would sneak out at night and let the baby rabbits loose because she could not stand the thought of my father butchering them). In other words, my family’s homestead was a flop, really. But those experiences gained in childhood have stayed with me and are the foundation for the urban homestead that my husband and I now manage.
Like many of us these days, my husband Ben and I have been taken by the nagging sensation that all is not well in the realm of food production. As such we decided to take matters into our own hands. We have a generous city lot and became convinced that we could at least make a dent in our food bill, gain some control over what was going into our food, and serve as an example for neighbors and others. We did the typical research and came up with the typical list of things to try – backyard chickens, meat rabbits, honey bees, aquaponics, miniature orchards and vineyards, and gardens. “Wait a minute, some of this sounds vaguely familiar… Hadn’t I done the very same thing as a child? Yes, of course! This was going to be easier than I thought.” And there, of course, was my first mistake – underestimating the amount of work required to transform any landscape (urban or rural) into a food producing oasis.
Ben and I have been hard at work transforming our urban lot into a city farm,
and in many ways we have succeeded. We have managed to create a small farm where we sell vegetables, eggs, and honey. We produce a portion of what we need, and are always looking for ways to eek a little more out of the landscape. As urban farmers we have had our share of disasters, but all in all we are making strides to provide a significant portion of food needs. I have learned that there are some similarities and some differences between urban farming and rural farming, with the upshot being it is more difficult to effectively farm in the city on a small lot than in a rural areas on a larger piece of land.
Please don’t misunderstand, farming in either an urban or rural setting is difficult. Seed is expensive, competing with the price point of produce shipped in from oversees is nearly impossible, and yields are never a “sure thing.” These issues are universal to modern agriculture, but urban agriculture has another, unique set of problems.
The most obvious are the urban restrictions – zoning & set-backs, banned animals, unappreciative neighbors, limited space, and maintaining “curb appeal.” Agricultural activities were deliberately removed from the cities nearly 100 years ago – trying to get these practices back in is proving to be an exercise in educating city officials and city dwellers. So why bother, right? If it is so hard, why fight that uphill battle? Simply put, because there is not enough room in the rural areas for all of the folks who currently live in the cities, which means we are going to have to find a way to produce food in the cities. The price of oil will only go up, taking with it the price of food. For the sake of fresh fruits and vegetables staying on our tables we in the cities must start producing our own. This fruit and vegetable production in cities also necessitates the presence of livestock, to include poultry, miniature goats, and honey bees. Without the animals the soil will be stripped of nutrients (requiring the addition of fossil fuel based fertilizers, which is bad) and the fruit set will be poor. The livestock argument, front yard gardens, and set-back issues are where the Garden of Eden idea starts to break down with city planners and highfalutin neighbors alike, making urban farming at best contentious and at worst impeded.
As for Ben and me, we will continue to farm our little plot of land. We enjoy the rhythms of the year (hay in the summer, fire wood in the winter, and livestock the year ’round), love the fresh produce, eggs and honey, and are always happy to share what we’ve learned along the way. We have inspired other folks, made some lasting friendships, cared for the land, and helped to feed ourselves. And when it is all said and done, whether in the city or out in the country, isn’t that what it’s all about? We think so, and we wouldn’t have it any other way.
Christine Faith and her husband Ben Gleason manage Ivywild A & N Farm in Colorado Springs, CO. Christine also manages the blog, Right to Thrive, Backyard Farming on the Front Range.