Urban Farming, Chapter 1: The Site Evaluation



Welcome to what is intended to be the first installment of a feature chronicling the transformation of my small urban property into a farm-let. Our story begins in my practically non-existent backyard, where precious little sun pierces the canopy of my neighbors' trees, where the soil can best be described as construction fill, and where I am determined to grow food.

After last year's failed attempt to nurture corn on my shady quarter-acre, I decided to call in professionals. Enter Marcus Kerske and Peter Anderson of Gardens of Babylon and the Personal Farmer.

Peter and Marcus (pictured above) approached the project as if transforming a postage stamp of property into a haven of agricultural activity were the most natural thing in the world. Armed with a compass and an uncanny grasp of the sun's patterns, they paced the yard front and back and asked what I wanted out of a garden. In the process, Peter, who just moved here from Colorado, caught a snake.

Primarily, I want to teach my kids that vegetables come from the earth. I'd like to grow food to cook and share with our neighbors and possibly even save a little money along the way, at least in the longer term. Off the top of their heads, Peter and Marcus suggested we start with a "pizza garden," with onions, garlic, chives and scallions and a patch of salad greens. We also considered a sunny patch of blueberry bushes and herbs. We're going to replace hanging petunias with hanging tomato plants and possibly trade a spirea for a blueberry bush. In a useless strip of grass that runs under a bay window, we're considering a tiny hoop house, where I could grow greens in the winter.

The most intriguing part of the plan is the proposed cornfield in the planting strip between the sidewalk and the street, which is the sunniest real estate we've got. I don't know how my neighbors are going to like that, much less my husband. One friend has advised me that "corn is for the back 80." Unfortunately, my back 80 is in the middle of 440.

We talked about a lot of options, including composting and raised beds. Marcus hinted at live chickens. We'll see about that. Now Marcus and Peter have taken their sketches and photographs back to Gardens of Babylon at the Farmers' Market, where they will work up an estimate for the various parts of the project, including soil, compost, fertilizer, labor, plants and seeds, all of which they can provide.

Since hanging out the Personal Farmer shingle this year, Gardens of Babylon's phone has been ringing off the hook. Clearly, I'm not the first person to exhibit these survivalist/agricultural tendencies. Consequently, it will take a week for the guys to put an estimate together and another week to start the installation. That gets us to mid-April, which is an ideal time to start planting. I'll keep you posted.

Gardens of Babylon and the Personal Farmer offer site evaluations for $35, which is deducted from the cost of services and products purchased. To schedule a site evaluation, call 244-8949.

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