Friday, March 21, 2008

Notes from the Organic Growers School

A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to attend the Organic Growers School here in the Asheville Area. It was an amazing experience. I took three classes in the URBAN GROWING section. Two of the classes were about urban orchards and trees. These classes included specific varieties that are successfully grown organically here in Western North Carolina. I know that I will refer to these notes for years to come as they are filled with great information that I will guide my choices as I add fruit trees and fruiting shrubs to my edible landscape.
The third class was Cultivating Urban Abundance. Monica Williams was the presenter. She lives in West Asheville and gardens there on her urban lot. The course description: Urban home gardens have great potential for yielding abundant food, medicine, inspiration, and beauty. Even the most degraded lots can thrive by using the simple soil building techniques and sustainable practices presented in this session.
She encouraged us to begin with setting our intention. Her example was "My purpose is to create an abundant garden with a prayerful and grateful heart in order to heal our wounded soil." The setting of an intention helps to guide us through the choices we make throughout the life of our garden projects and shapes our vision. It can become the touchstone in times of doubt and frustration.
Next we looked at the "Blessings of the city".
  1. Moderate Climate
  2. Many Niches and Micro-climates along buildings and edges
  3. Abundant Resources.

Under Abundant Resources we explored both the people around us and the materials to be found in the city. The vast numbers of people located in the city offer us opportunity for networking, co-operative efforts, shared labor and costs.
And material resources abound.
  1. Compost-ables... leaf bags, wood chips, coffee grounds, restaurant compost, etc
  2. 5 gallon buckets
  3. firewood
  4. fencing
  5. straw
  6. construction material
  7. etc

Specific Techniques and practices for cultivating abundance:
  1. Compost
  2. Mulch beds
  3. Water catchment
  4. Winter gardens
  5. Diversified gardens
  6. Small Animals
One thing that I think that we all have in common, is the need to feel validated. This course really validated for me that I am on the right track with my garden project. The only technique listed above that is not already happening, is the bit about having small animals. Although, I have been thinking about how a goat and a few chickens would really round out the vision. I am not ready for them yet.
But everything else on her list is well underway in my urban plot.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Quote of the day

Broad acres are patent of nobility and no man but feels more of a man in the world if he have a bit of ground that he can call his own. However small it is on the surface, it is four thousand miles deep; and that is a very handsome property.
~Charles Dudley Warner (1829-1900)

Friday, March 7, 2008

Do Away With Your Lawn

Earlier this winter I was looking for another book on gardening from Amazon and stumbled on the book FOOD NOT LAWNS. It's title really grabbed me and the subtitle sold me on it! "How to turn your yard into a garden and your neighborhood into a community". This book embodies my own personal goals. I waited with excitement for it to come in the mail and when it did arrive, I simply fell into it. I had already implemented so much of what this book talks about and yet H. C. Flores still has shown me even more ways of looking at lawns and their effect on our environment. She has also given me new resolve on the importance of what I am doing in my own front yard...not only the food I grow but the opportunity I have to show the people whose lives mine touches another way to think about the part we each play in our environment.
from the book
Whether you live in an apartment, in the suburbs, on a farm, or anywhere in between, growing food is the first step toward a healthier, more self-reliant, and ultimately more ecologically sane life. Gardening may seem like just a hobby to many people, but in fact growing food is one of the most radical things you can do: Those who control our food control our lives, and when we take that control back into our own hands, we empower ourselves toward autonomy, self-reliance, and true freedom.

Reading this book has sent me on an internet research quest to find out more about this phenomenon we call the urban lawn. I have come up with lots of interesting stuff which I will share here with you..


Turning our yards back into utilitarian spaces may be one of the most important things we do to combat the industrial food machine. It is the very best example of eating locally and has a positive impact on us by cutting down food miles and educating people (most importantly youth!) about the origins of ingredients.

Some amazing facts about lawns gathered from various sources:

* Nearly 50,000 square miles of America is covered in lawns.
* Americans spend $27 billion per year caring for lawns.
* A 25' x 40' lawn needs 10,000 gallons of water each summer.
* 30-60% of all urban fresh water is used for watering our lawns.
* Pesticides and fertilizers used to maintain lawns can increase water nitrate levels.
* Run-off from watering lawns pollutes our streams and rivers.
* Ground water nitrate levels are one of the largest landfill contributions to the greenhouse effect.
* A conventional mower pollutes as much in an hour as driving 100 miles in your car.
* Annually in the US, we use 800 million gallons of gas to fuel our lawn mowers.
* Mowing grass depletes fossil fuels as it emits high levels of carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxide and volatile organic compounds.
* According to the EPA, 17 million gallons of gasoline are spilled each year while refueling lawn equipment. To put that into perspective, that is more than all the oil spilled by the Exxon Valdez.
* We send over 160 million tons of lawn clippings as solid waste to the landfill each year.
* Americans annually use 67 million pounds of synthetic pesticides on their lawns.
* The average urban lawn can produce several hundred pounds of food a year!

The most amazing thing that I turned up is the Urban Homestead site of the Dervaes family in Pasadena, CA. Another great example of what you can do on your city lot. They grow 6000 lbs of food on a 1/10 acre lot! This site alone has made me realize that I want to weigh everything that we harvest this year to see just how much I am growing. Inspirational~!

Once again, the driving force behind Path to Freedom , Jules Dervaes, has led the way with a radical challenge. Can we urban homesteaders deliver? PTF will be trailblazing a new path as we ask: How much food can be grown on such a small scale?

Back in 2003, we at Path To Freedom first shocked ourselves and “the world” by growing 6,000 lbs (3 tons) of fruits, vegetables and herbs on our 1/10 acre growing space and proved that we could approach a high level of self sufficiency both directly and indirectly from our city lot.

Can 1/10 of an acre (about 4,300 sq ft) grow a cornucopia of 10,000 pounds without using ANY organic NPK fertilizers? We are talking about a piece of land equivalent to 66′x66′! Such an urban food production feat has not been undertaken and documented with stats to prove its possibility. Are we crazy? Crazy, you say? Yes siree, bob. Whether or not this happens all depends on the weather. God willing, we hope to be blessed with abundant rainfall and good weather to reap a bountiful harvest! Stay tuned to this journal for the out-of-this world developments.