Welcome to the Urban Farm Revolution

How You Can Celebrate Earth Day Every Day Subscribe Email Print

How You Can Celebrate Earth Day Every Day
By Tayler Jenkins

The first Earth Day celebration took place in 1970 and 20 million people participated. Ever since then it has been celebrated annually as a day of conservation and consciousness. This year’s Earth Day is a week away (on April 22), but why wait to make a difference? There are so many initiatives you can take that require little effort on your part, yet will make a huge difference in reducing your environmental impact.

Reduce Waste

According to the EPA, about 80 percent of what we throw away in the U.S. is recyclable, yet our country’s recycling rate is only 28 percent. Recycling is vital for decreasing your impact on the planet because it diverts waste from landfills and also prevents new materials from being created. Better yet, consume less in general. Don’t buy what you don’t need, or buy it secondhand. A fun and creative way to consume less is to try reusing or upcycling your old things. You could turn wine bottles into DIY decorations, or revamp an old T-shirt by cutting it into a tank top. If you need some inspiration, my personal favorite place to look is on Pinterest.

Remember Greg’s article on saying goodbye to plastic single-use items? I want to reiterate that here because it is such an easy way to make a difference and doesn’t take much effort. If you don’t already have one, invest in a reusable beverage container and reusable utensil that you can carry around with you. Ever since I have started carrying my spork in my bag I have come across numerous instances in which I have been able to use that instead of taking a plastic utensil that I would surely throw away. I cannot express enough how easy this is to do and how much it has helped me to reduce waste.

Did you know that 40 percent of our food is wasted?  That’s 20 pounds of food per person per month (NRDC)! We can drastically reduce this number by only buying what we know we will eat, saving our leftovers and composting what we won’t eat. Compost is great for your garden, or if you don’t grow your own food you can give it to a friend or neighbor who does.


Speaking of food, there are many more food-related choices you can make to reduce your impact besides reducing food waste. The Environmental Working Group completed life cycle assessments for different types of meat and other foods and found that meat and dairy production have a greater environmental footprint than production of plant-based foods, with lamb and beef having the highest carbon dioxide emissions by far (Read more about their study here).

Kilograms of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere per kilogram of food. From EWG.org

Try making this Earth Day a meat-free day, and if it resonates with you, you might think about shifting it to a weekly ordeal. If you don’t want to give up all meat, consider cutting out just red meat. Minimizing meat intake is one of the best things you can do to reduce your impact on the environment and it also comes with a wide array of health benefits, so consider it a win-win for you and the environment.

Also, pesticides from conventionally-grown food can have negative environmental impacts since they can run into streams and bodies of water. Buying organic food or growing your own food without the use of pesticides is another way that you can support practices that are beneficial to the environment rather than detrimental. Additionally, eating locally is a good way to reduce emissions that come from food miles, or the number of miles food travels to reach your plate. 

Growing herbs is a great place to start if you are new to gardening.

Energy/Carbon Footprint

Carbon emissions from burning fossil fuels are a major contributor to greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, which contribute to climate change. This Earth Day, try riding a bicycle or taking public transportation instead of driving to the places you need to go. Automobiles are among the largest sources of carbon emissions, so choosing an alternative mode of transportation is a great way to make a significant difference in reducing your impact (not to mention saving money from going down your gas tank).

Bicycling instead of driving prevents carbon dioxide emissions as well as promotes a healthy lifestyle.

Did you know that your appliances use energy when they’re plugged in, even when they are turned off? This is called “phantom load” and you can prevent it by unplugging electronics when not in use. Another super easy way to reduce your energy impact is by simply making sure you turn off the lights when you leave the room.

If everyone lived the way you do, how many Earths would it take to sustain the human population? This measurement is called your carbon (or environmental) footprint, and you can actually calculate it yourself through an assessment of various aspects of your lifestyle. A great tool for this is the minibuk How Green Am I? which you can find here.


The excessive amount of water we use in cities can be stressing to the water supply, especially in dry climates. I live in the Sonoran Desert in Arizona, where we are withdrawing river water and groundwater rapidly, so I find water conservation to be especially important. Little things like taking shorter showers or turning off the water while soaping up or brushing your teeth can save gallons of water every day. In fact, showering with a normal shower head uses 7 gallons of water every minute, and running the faucet in your sink uses 3 gallons of water per minute. That’s a lot of water! Switching to a low-flow shower head reduces the water usage from 7 to 2.5 gallons per minute (Franklin Institute). If you live in a dry climate, you may ponder how much water is being used on your lawn and rethink your landscape options. If you grow food, it may be a good idea to invest in crops that are not water-intensive, such as fava beans or another native desert plant. Most of all, just try to notice when you are using water at times or in places that it isn’t necessary.

Earth Day is next Tuesday, but why limit yourself to only one day per year of eco-consciousness? There are so many ideas listed here that can be done on a daily basis, so choose a few that really speak to you and try them out. It’s all about creating habits—the ones that work for you will stick. Make riding your bike to work a regular routine. Vow to shorten your showers by a few minutes every time until you have them as short as possible. Bring that sleek tumbler with you when you go out for your daily cup o’ Joe, and keep building up that deliciously nutrient-rich compost. This world needs more people who are bold enough to break the status quo. So, let Earth Day be your kickoff point for a long, fruitful journey in environmental awareness. Your actions DO make a difference. 


TaylerTayler is a passionate undergraduate honors student in Barrett at Arizona State University, studying Sustainability. Inspired by Mahatma Gandhi, Tayler tries to embody in herself the changes she hopes the world will embrace. She is a self-proclaimed “real foodie” and an activist in a student organization on her school’s campus whose purpose is to bring more healthy, local, and ethically-produced food to the university. In the summer of 2013, she spent two months on a permaculture farm in Nepal and conducted research on conservation farming. Tayler is currently the editor of The Urban Farm Lifestyle newsletter and hopes to use it as a medium for sharing knowledge and generating interest in urban farming. Tayler can be reached at   This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

Rising Lime Prices in the US: Why We Shoud Care Subscribe Email Print

Rising Lime Prices in the US: Why We Should Care
By Greg Peterson

What is the price of rice in China?  Or better yet, what is the price of limes in the U.S.?

One of the fun things that I ask Siri is"‘What IS the price of rice in China?"  She responds with, ”Hmm… I don’t see any prices.”  Wikipedia defines this phrase as “an idiom denoting the irrelevance of the current discussion. 3” The same could be inferred about the irrelevance of the price of limes is in the U.S…. or could it?

A recent article in the Arizona Republic delves into the lime shortages, speaking to drug cartel violence, blight and bad weather in Mexico having driven the price of limes in Phoenix from $14 to $120 per case.1 Hmm, I say, not seeing any relevance to the higher price of limes affecting my life (unless, of course, I was a drinker of margaritas or eater of guacamole).

Then, I found an article in the New York Daily News which states that “the U.S. receives more than 95% of its limes from Mexico…2” The plot thickens.  However, REALLY since I don’t drink margaritas and my guacamole is just fine without limes, what IS the big deal?

Well, 95% of anything is a significant amount of any one thing to import.  What if I told you that, according to the FDA, “Nearly two-thirds of our fruits and vegetables--and 80% of seafood--eaten domestically come from outside the U.S. 4”?  OK, so now we are not just talking about limes—we are talking about 66% of ALL of our fresh fruits and vegetables coming from somewhere other than our own fertile U.S. soil. 

Consider this: the article “Mexico Dominates U.S. Produce Imports, 5” posted on ThePacker.com, cites U.S. Department of Agriculture showing Mexico as the largest supplier of fresh fruits and vegetables to the U.S., which in 2012 accounted for 69%, or $4.05 billion of the U.S. fresh vegetable imports and 37% or $2.86 billion of the U.S. fresh fruit imports.

According to the Congressional Research Report “The U.S. Trade Situation for Fruit and Vegetable Products,6” dated January 15, 2014, the major U.S. imports from Mexico include:  tomatoes, avocados, peppers, grapes, cucumbers, melons, berries, onions, asparagus, citrus and assorted vegetables.

All this could make you pause and question…if a little bit of disharmony in Mexico can cause the price of limes to rise almost 800% in just a few short months, what might a little more disharmony cause?

  • Tomatoes & citrus that are currently $2 per pound would be $16 per pound
  • Cucumbers that are currently $1 per pound would be $8 per pound
  • Melons currently at .39 per pound would be $3.12 per pound.
  • Grapes currently at $1.79 per pound would be $14.32 per pound.
  • Other fresh vegetables that currently sell from $0.29 to $3.99 per pound would be $2.32 to almost $32 per pound.

These are significant numbers and if even 25% of our food coming in from Mexico were to increase to these prices it would put a considerable strain on most of our pocketbooks.

So am I saying that it is bad that we are importing all this food?  Absolutely not, in fact at this point this is how we are feeding our culture.  But there is a better way and it is time to reconsider these statistics and start making some changes.  The simplest step is to start growing our own food and, interestingly, most of what we import from Mexico can be grown in our own back and front yards. 

The benefits of growing your own food include: 

  • You know what is in it and if you want to grow completely organically you can.
  • It is fresher and more nutrient dense.
  • Reduction in food miles.  Food miles are the distance food travels from farm to plate and in the U.S. the average food miles is 1500.  That is just the average.  If you are consuming something from Chile it travels almost 5000 miles.
  • You get to connect with nature.
  • Have the pride and satisfaction of growing your own.

“Hey, but I don’t want to grow my own food!” you say. That is OK, just start shopping locally.  In the article “Why Eating Local Matters, 7” food systems analyst Ken Meter calculates that if everyone in Southern Arizona spent just $5 more a week buying directly from local farmers, average farmers’ sales would nearly double, jumping from an annual revenue of $300 million to $587 million.  That is a huge impact for only $5 a week each.  So what can you do?

  • Find a local farmers market and befriend a farmer.  Give him or her your money directly.
  • Order a CSA share from a local farmer.  What is a CSA? It stands for Community Supported Agriculture and comes in many forms.  Essentially, you prepay a farmer for a set period of weeks or months, then each week you receive a basket of what they are growing in season.
  • Shop at a grocer that offers locally grown produce.
  • Find a restaurant that sources locally or better yet grows their own.

All of this is why the price of limes in the U.S. is relevant.  Although the mass of it may be complicated, your job is simple.  Grow your own or spend at least an additional $5 a week on supporting your local farmer.


1 - http://www.azcentral.com/story/travel/2014/04/08/airlines-drop-limes-service/7467175/

2 - http://www.nydailynews.com/news/national/lime-shortage-skyrocketing-prices-u-s-linked-mexican-drug-cartel-article-1.1741878

3 - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_price_of_rice_in_China

4  - http://www.fda.gov/downloads/aboutfda/centersoffices/oc/globalproductpathway/ucm259845.pdf

5 - http://www.thepacker.com/fruit-vegetable-news/Mexico-dominates-US-fresh-produce-imports-201449021.html

6 - http://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/misc/RL34468.pdf

7 - http://localfirstaz.com/news/2012/04/30/why-eating-local-matters/

Chicago's Botanic Rooftop Garden Subscribe Email Print

Chicago’s Botanic Rooftop Garden

The Daniel F. and Ada L. Rice Plant Conservation Science Center in Chicago has a rooftop garden a combining food, beauty, education, research, and conservation in what they call a “living laboratory.” There are two areas to the garden: one with local plants and the other with plants known for growing well in rooftop settings. The roof is 16,000 square feet in area with 40,000 total plants (of 200 species) being monitored in order to determine how well they perform in various areas such as cooling for the building, water absorption, etc. This rooftop garden is an innovative form of sustainable development, showing what is possible when we think outside the box and bring plants into cities. In fact, green roofs are amazingly beneficial for cities, providing beauty, retaining stormwater, enhancing air quality, bringing communities together, creating jobs, and, of course, providing delicious fresh produce (Green Roofs for Healthy Cities).

Want to learn more about Chicago’s Green Roof Garden? Check out their website here.

Questions From You: Feral Cats and Chickens Subscribe Email Print

Questions From You: Feral Cats and Chickens

Marshall Asked: Love the idea of keeping chickens in the city, but how do I deal with the huge amount of feral cats we have here in the central part of Phoenix where I live?

Greg's Answer: Great question.  I assume you are asking me if the cats will effect the chickens?  I would say it depends.  Typically an adult chicken is the same size as an adult cat and my two feral cats get along just fine with my chickens.  I have never seen an issue with adult chickens and cats. The depends part comes if you are raising chickens from chicks.  A cat will definitely take out a baby chicken.  So just protect your chickens till they can do it on their own.

Fowl Play: Your Guide To Keeping Chickens in the City Subscribe Email Print

Fowl Play: Your Guide to Keeping Chickens in the City

Keeping backyard chickens is becoming increasingly popular in urban areas, but for those who are interested it often seems impossible to know where to begin. Is my backyard large enough? Is it legal in my neighborhood? Why should I keep chickens? Fowl Play: Your Guide to Keeping Chickens in the City is now available at Your Guide to Green or through the new app Urban Farm Guides. This short yet thorough mini book includes an easy-to-read guide for everything from obtaining the chickens to their long-term maintenance and is written by urban farmers with plenty of experience in chicken-raising.

Why should you raise chickens in your backyard? Think fresh eggs, the thrill of the daily egg hunt, and the chickens tilling your soil, eating food scraps, weeds, seeds, bugs and providing great fertilizer. Also, “their great personalities offer endless hours of entertainment. My cats are entertaining too, but they don’t make me breakfast,” says Bess.

“You can learn so much about life from chickens,” explains Michele M, a busy nurse, wife and mother of seven. “I’ve learned that keeping chickens really is good for my soul!” Anyone can do it…no roosters required.

 The secrets to success easily unfold in the book’s pages. Inside, Bess explains in detail the key components of a thriving flock of chickens: obtaining the chickens, building a coop, learning chicken vocabulary, raising chickens from day-old chicks, gathering eggs, maintaining the flock, among others. Bess herself has plenty of experience raising chickens on her small farm which is also home to rabbits and quail.

The mini book is simple to read and is written in a playful and motivating manner from so that readers can learn quickly while being inspired to start their own flocks. It can be obtained through the new app Urban Farm Guides, available at the App Store for iPhone and iPad or at Your Guide to Green.

A Healthy Living Environment Subscribe Email Print

A Healthy Living Environment
By Paige R. Jacques

Originally published on Your Guide to Green.

Did you know that allergists claim that up to 50 percent of illness is caused (or worsened) by indoor pollution?

Also, did you know that the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) states that 65 percent of our homes or buildings are polluted – sometimes six to ten times higher than city air pollution?

Some health risks are avoidable because we know about them and make the choice to avoid the risk. Other health risks we simply choose to accept because to do otherwise would unacceptably restrict our ability to lead our lives the way we wish.

Then there are the risks we don’t know much about. We might choose to avoid these risks if we had the opportunity to make an informed choice. Environmental pollution is one of these. In the last decade a growing body of scientific evidence has shown that our homes and workspaces can be more seriously polluted than urban outdoor areas. Since we now spend about 90 percent of our time indoors, this pollution can present significant health challenges. This is by no means a “doom and gloom” scenario, but rather an effort to educate ourselves to better live full, fruitful lives.

The International Institute of Building Biology and Ecology (IBE) was founded to address the vast need for informed choices about worsening indoor environment health concerns. Today, Building Biology is an important aspect of European design and architecture. It is now becoming popular in the United States as we struggle to provide healthy environments in an ever-evolving indoor lifestyle. A certified Building Biologist has studied the relationship between the built environment and health, and applies this knowledge of living and working spaces to natural solutions that foster a healthy environment.

The following are some fundamental ways to promote a healthy living environment:

7 Ways to Better Indoor Air Quality (IAQ)

Reduce dust mites and animal dander:
• Wash sheets weekly in 130°F
• Vacuum mattress, chairs and carpeting
• Replace pillows every five years
• Install solid surface floors in bedrooms 

Control moisture sources:
• Vent bathrooms, kitchens, clothes dryer, stove hood and toilets directly outdoors
• Fix water leaks and clean up after floods
• Ventilate in cold weather

Eliminate combustion gases:
• Use outdoor air supply for fireplaces, wood stoves
• Use outside vented stove hood when using gas stove
• Use sealed, power vented water heaters and furnaces

Eliminate toxic pesticides:
• Eliminate highly toxic pesticides
• Discard synthetics exposed to pesticides

Eliminate volatile compounds:
• Store toxic/volatile compounds out of the living space
• Use safe paints and sealers (No VOCs)
• Open windows to handle high polluting events, such as the use of non-eco home cleaning products, hobbies, painting

Reduce particulates:
• Replace filters regularly – use as high an efficiency filter as possible
• Use hard floor surfaces rather than wall-to wall carpet
• Use a true HEPA filter equipped vacuum cleaner

• Open windows daily
• In highly polluted areas, provide a minimum amount of outside air by using whole house mechanical ventilation
• Much of an indoor environment may emit gasses due to chemical construction from cabinets, furniture, carpet made of synthetic toxic compounds (formaldehyde, PVC, etc.)


7 Ways to lower Electromagnetic Radiation (EMR)

Radio frequency waves in your home:
• Minimize cell phone usage; use air-flow hands-free device
• Eliminate cordless phones that constantly transmit
• Turn off or eliminate wireless connections – home automation, baby monitors
• Eliminate microwave ovens

External sources –Radio Frequencies:
• Increase distance from cell, radio and TV towers
• Use HF shielding materials

Reduce electric fields:
• Unplug electrical devices within 6 feet of bed.
• Eliminate electric blanket, pads, and waterbed heaters
• Eliminate extension cords, power strips near bed
• Turn off circuits that raise Body Voltage

Reduce magnetic fields:
• Unplug electronics
• Use flat-screened TV’s and monitors
• Keep distance from sources

Static electric fields:
• Avoid using Teflon, PVC and plastics like Saran wrap
• Wear natural fiber clothing

Geopathic Magnetic Fields:
• Avoid metal bed springs
• Sleep in the N-S direction with head to the north
• Do not sleep in Geopathic stress zones

• Increase natural light (20 min per day)
• Purchase special full-spectrum lights.

Sources: The International Institute of Building Biology and Ecology (IBE) and the Environmental Protection Agency

Paige R. Jacques is a Certified Environmental Consultant and practicing Building Biologist. He has lived in Boulder, CO for 20 years and practices what he preaches. He has earned both a BBA and MBA. To learn more, visit: www.ecoinspection.com.

Why We Should All Keep Chickens Subscribe Email Print

The Line in the Grass:
Why We Should All Keep Chickens
By Greg Peterson

Before vacating the Urban Farm almost a year and a half ago, I set up the backyard to be the chicken run.  This entailed installing a temporary four-foot-tall wire fence that blocked the chickens’ access to the back patio gardens and opened up two-thirds of the back yard for the chickens to graze.  So, for much of the past two years the Urban Farm has had a herd of chickens running wild in its midst, doing all the things that a good urban permaculture chickens do.

Chickens at the Urban Farm

When I arrived back here at the Urban Farm last month, we decided it was time to shift things up and push the chicken run back a ways.  So I removed the fencing, used a stake jack to remove the posts, and mowed the grass to clean up the area. I was pleasantly surprised with what I found: a perfectly formed green line running the length of the fence that was deep green on the chicken side and light winter grass tan/brown on the other.  Ahhh, the magic of chicken manure and the magic of the permaculture chicken.

Stake jack used to remove fencing

In permaculture, there is a concept called stacking functions.  Basically, it means that we use a resource to do as many things as possible.  This concept can show up in many parts of your life and can be as simple as stacking your trips when you go out for a car ride by visiting the plant nursery, grocery store and doctor in the same trip. It just takes a little planning. 

Another way stacking functions can show up is by keeping backyard chickens. When we look at the industrial chicken, it primarily serves the purpose of providing protein in the form of meat and eggs. We call this monoculture, and in this model that is often all the chickens are good for.

The permaculture chicken does so much more. First of all, you can see by the greenness of the winter grass in the picture that they fertilize. Additionally, the chickens eat bugs and weeds, they make great tillers of the soil, provide a nice supply of fresh eggs and are fun to watch, as they make great entertainment. I believe that anyone who has a yard should be a keeper of at least a chicken or three.  This is the perfect representation of stacking functions - one chicken and so many things that she provides.

The line in the grass.

In my backyard, the hens also did a great job of mowing the grass in their chicken run.  Along with fertilizing, they kept the grass under control.

Now there is a downside to turning your chickens over to roam your yard.  The biggest drawback is the squishy chicken poop that sticks to the bottom of your shoes and other parts of your bare feet. Yuck. Plus, if there are gardens in your chicken run they will do a pretty good job of eating all your new transplants and seeds, so pay heed.

I am not proposing that this is a solution for everyone and it takes preparation and planning to get your own green line in the grass, however it can be a very effective way to grow healthy chickens and manage your yard.  In the meantime, I will be enjoying the nice healthy green grass in my backyard.

To learn more about keeping chickens in your yard you can purchase our book called Fowl Play, Your Guide to Keeping Chickens or download our app which has the book built into it.

Happy Farming

Why Keep Bees? Subscribe Email Print

Urban Beekeeping and Why You Should Keep Bees

Bees play a vital role maintaining healthy ecosystems and they are immensely important for humans and indeed all of Earth’s life forms, as they pollinate the plants which feed us. In fact, we can thank bees for pollinating about one-third of all the food we eat (USDA). You might have heard of “colony collapse disorder,” the mysterious phenomenon that describes the large numbers of bees dying lately. Why they are dying is not known for certain, but some potential causes are pathogens, parasites, nutrition, environmental stress, and pesticides (USDA).

How can we help? With bee numbers rapidly declining, the adventurous among us should consider urban beekeeping, or raising bees in cities. Obtaining beehives is beneficial for you, too: they not only increase the number of pollinators for plants in your area (including your own crops), but also provide you with delicious honey. Bees are truly fascinating creatures to watch and learning about them in such an in-depth manner can be an enriching experience.

Interested in learning more? There are organizations all over dedicated to helping people start beekeeping. Do a quick internet search for one near you and they will be happy to answer your questions and help you start your first beehive. 

Permaculture: Pathways to Sustainable Communities Subscribe Email Print

Permaculture: Pathways to Sustainable Communities

By Bob Ewing

A society is defined, in large part, by how it grows and transports food from the farm to the kitchen.

Food production, otherwise known as agriculture and food processing, can create sustainable employment, healthy neighborhoods and a strong local economy. But that is not what is happening in 21st-Century America.

Fast food is becoming our most popular food delivery system, and it is one of the most environmentally unfriendly. It is not sustainable to use so much energy to produce the paper, plastic, Styrofoam and cardboard that we all-too-often find on our highways, sidewalks, and city streets.

How many miles of transport are behind that "special" meal before you eat it? Food - organic and non-organic - travels hundreds and thousands of miles to reach your plate.

With gas prices and air pollution on the rise, isn't it time to bring the field closer to the kitchen?

Permaculture is a great way to make this move.

The word permaculture is essentially a contraction of "permanent" and "culture," meaning a culture that can survive and thrive permanently because its self-destructive practices have been replaced by healthy ones. It is a life-design system developed by Bill Mollison and David Holmgren and proliferated all over the world through a formalized education, training and certification program.

On a practical level, Permaculture may best be defined as, "consciously designed landscapes which mimic the patterns and relationships found in nature while yielding an abundance of food, fiber and energy for provision of local needs."

Permaculture design can create urban agricultural enterprises that promote community health, economic profitability, and social and economic equity. Indeed, it is the balance between these elements that makes a community sustainable.

Permaculture is an ethically-based design system. Permaculture designers study nature and use a holistic or ecosystem approach to understand how urban areas can become productive agricultural spaces while also meeting the non-agricultural needs of their residents. We must see the city as an ecosystem, or rather a series of interconnected ecosystems, which can be designed or redesigned to sustainably support the people and all the other beings and activities essential for those ecosystems to thrive.

Urban agricultural enterprises can revitalize low-income communities. Brownfields (vacant industrial areas) and other vacant lands that are suitable for urban agriculture are often located in low-income areas. These sites can be reclaimed by the community businesses and become attractive, productive enterprises rather than empty eyesores.

The establishment of urban agriculture enterprises in low-income communities not only provides the residents with access to affordable fresh fruit and vegetables, but also creates employment. On-the-job training can be incorporated in such enterprises.

Urban agricultural enterprises can help jumpstart the re-localization of a community's economy through new business startup and job creation.

Re-localization has evolved as a positive response to the negative consequences of globalization, the pending end to the oil economy, and the destruction of local communities by multinational chain operations and other forces. In many cities, residents are reclaiming their community by creating infrastructure, such as locally owned and operated businesses, including small farms.

Thus permaculture design provides an all-purpose antidote to our modern malaise - it can grow food, build businesses, protect the environment, and create community.


Originally published at Your Guide To Green

Bob Ewing is a permaculture designer living and working in Campbellton, New Brunswick, Canada.

What is Aquaponics? Subscribe Email Print

Aquaponics? I Just Want To Raise Some Fish
By Greg Peterson

For whatever reason when I came into this world I was very fascinated with fish.  I liked pretty much every kind of fish imaginable and by the time I was 12 I had a paper route to make money and a nice selection of fish aquaria that I spent it on. I played with freshwater and saltwater aquariums, and by the time I was 15 I was regularly hanging around the ponds at the local fish store and cleaning people’s fishponds around Phoenix. Oh yes, I liked mucking out the bottom of long-forgotten fishponds. 

Then it hit me that we could actually grow fish for food, so I started growing my own fish to eat. By 1979 I was working with others to design and build backyard aquaculture systems and convert people’s pools into aquaculture ponds.  The thought of combining aquaculture and hydroponics crossed my mind - in fact I spent some time down at the Environmental Research Lab in Tucson, AZ where in the late 70s they were experimenting with this notion.  I even went as far as building a simple aquaponic system in 1981 before becoming distracted by another project.

So let’s begin with a description of what it is:

Hydroponics is a process of growing plants using a mineral solution rather than soil. Typically, there is a basin of water and nutrient solution, which is periodically pumped over the roots to keep them nourished and hydrated.

Aquaculture is the farming of aquatic animals and plants. These can include fish, crustaceans and mollusks as well as a wide array of aquatic plants.

Aquaponics is a combination of both, using the fish wastewater to nourish the plants and the plants to purify the water in a symbiotic relationship.

An aquaponic system can be as simple as a fish aquarium with floating plants on the surface or as extensive as recreating your entire swimming pool into what Dennis McClung has created with his GardenPool concept. If you haven’t checked it out yet, the Garden Pool is one of the most brilliant pieces of urban reuse that I have ever seen. 

A few years ago, I wrote a book called Grow Wherever You Go! As many of you know, I am a storyteller and I feel like the real life stories of others are a great way to inspire. So, at the end of the book I included some real-life stories about what others have done. I reached out to the planet and made a request for cool stories and Matt Johnson responded with his aquaponics story below.

There are many ways we can garden and grow our own food and aquaponics is just one of them. What is your way of contributing to the local food economy and growing food for your family?


Balcony Fish Farming

By Matt Johnson

Kakaako, HI

When I moved into my condo three years ago in Kakaako, Hawaii, everything was great.  I had easy access to a pool, hot tub, gym, mini-marts, bars, and the beach. Who could ask for anything more? Well, I decided that these modern conveniences were not enough and, in fact, I did need more. More green, more life, more non-concrete creations. A fortunate part of my living situation is that my condominium has a 400-square-foot patio. I decided to use this space to try my hand at urban farming with the goal of growing an entire meal just 20 feet from my kitchen. I am happily a carnivore, so I knew that in order to make a meal that I would truly enjoy I would need to have some type of meat. Chicken, beef, pork, and goat were out the question, even though I did think about it. However, there was no way to get around the condo by-laws that stated “no farm animals.”  I decided fish was my only option.  I also wanted greens to make a salad.  So, with my end goal of a dinner of fish and salad in mind, I decided aquaponics was exactly what I needed.

As defined by Wikipedia, aquaponics is “the symbiotic cultivation of plants and aquatic animals in a recirculating environment.” Basically, it’s combining hydroponics with aquaculture in a closed-loop system that uses the fish-fertilized water to fertilize the plants. The plants then filter the water, which is deposited back into the fish tank.

Fortunately, my business allows me to work with all different types of farmers on Oahu; luckily, one of them is an aquaculture expert and another grows hydroponic lettuce. Both were willing to help me along the way. I found someone who was going out of business and was able to pick up a couple of 60-gallon fish tanks for $50 each. Granted, you could use something as simple as a five-gallon bucket, but I wanted something bigger. Next, I took hydroponic growing tubes and put them above the fish tanks, pointing down so that water flowing through the tubes would pass over the roots and fall in to the tanks at the end.  The third part of the system is the sump tank, located underneath the fish tanks.  As water enters the fish tank from the hydroponic growing tubes above, it causes the water to overflow into a three-foot-long pipe located at the middle of the tank. The pipe gravity feeds the water to a sump tank located underneath the fish tanks. In the sump tank there is a 1.5 HP (Hayward Pump) water fountain pump that shoots the water up through a hose four feet where it connects to one half-inch PVC pipe. The pipe distributes water to each of the hydroponic tubes through skinny straws. This completes the closed loop system.

After I finished building the tank stands out of four-by-fours and plywood (total cost of $50), it was time to find some fish.

Tilapia is the most commonly used fish due to its ease of raising. I started with six per tank that I harvested from a friend’s pond in Hawaii Kai, 20 minutes from downtown Honolulu. When putting fish into your tanks you need to make sure you have enough fish to create enough nutrients, but also not so many that the water becomes toxic to the fish. A rule of thumb to try to follow is two pounds of fish per cubic foot of water. 

Another factor to consider is aeration, which helps the fish with breathing since they are enclosed in a relatively small area. I use an air pump that allows me to attach two hoses, one for each tank. I attached an air-stone to each hose and then dropped it into each tank. To propagate the seeds, I use a sponge-like medium, insert seeds into the growing medium, add water and in a few days, I have baby Swiss chard.

To date, I have successfully grown manoa lettuce, mesculin, Swiss chard, kale, parsley, and arugula. Within sixty days, most of the different types of lettuce are ready to harvest. Depending on the amount of feed given to the tilapia, the fish can be ready to harvest in 3-6 months.    

After about three months of trial and error — lettuce dying because of not enough water and a few tilapia dying because they jumped out of the tank — my dream of eating an entire meal that had been grown on my balcony came to fruition. I harvested two heads of butter lettuce, some Swiss chard, and caught two tilapia.  Before cooking the fish, they spent a few hours in clean water to help rinse them out before cleaning. I rolled the filets in flour and threw them in a hot pan with butter. The lettuce was rinsed and I added yellow-pear tomatoes that I harvested from a recycled bath tub that I use to grow various produce. My girlfriend brought over some wine and we had an enjoyable dinner for two. 

Urban Farm Answers: Compost Subscribe Email Print

Urban Farm Answers: Compost


Allison asked: What is your best advice for composting?

Answer: My first question for you is what do you have to compost. If it is just kitchen scraps the traditional ways of composting are not quite adequate. My favorite method of small composting like that is worm composting. Hassena Kassim is the expert on that. She builds complete systems that you can purchase very reasonably. I'm currently running two worm composting bins here at The Urban Farm and love them. Or, if you have the space and protection from critters, I am always a fan of having my chickens doing the composting work.

Urban Farm Answers: Weeds Subscribe Email Print

Urban Farm Answers: Weeds


Victoria Asked:  Hi Greg, I've pulled a lot of weeds in my garden, and there are plenty of seeds that dropped to the ground. I am looking for a safe product to use that will keep the weed seeds from germinating and not harm my hens.

Answer: Victoria the first place I like to go with this question is that I love weeds in my yard.  WHAT!?! You say. 

Weeds are pioneer species in nature - that means that they are doing a lot of the soil breakup and mining of minerals that help build healthy soil.  Then I take my favorite garden tool - the carpet knife - and use it to cut the weed off just below the soil line.  This kills the weed, gives me the top of the weed as chicken food and leaves the root in the ground to add compost directly in the soil so I don’t have to do as much digging.

That being said if you are not convinced I found an interesting solution to your seedy problem…corn gluten.  It is the natural byproduct of milling corn and offers a nontoxic solution as it acts as a natural weed suppressant pre-emergent, essentially drying the weed seed out once it germinates.  Gotta love that.  Check out this link for the complete story. 


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Urban Farm Answers: Worms Subscribe Email Print

Urban Farm Answers: Worms


Ursula asked: I need to find a good place to purchase some worms for my garden.

Answer: I read this as you needing worms for the soil in your garden? This is not necessary as when you build healthy soil in your garden the worms will arrive.  So your job is to grow healthy soil by adding lots of organic material.

If you are looking for composting worms that is a different kind of worm.  You may know them as the red wigglers, compost, manure worms or tiger worms - their scientific name is Eisenia fetida.  This is a process called vermicomposting and is done not in your traditional compost bin or your soil, but in a bin.  Look for our MiniBuk and app out on this later this year.


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Urban Farm Answers: Pruning Subscribe Email Print

Urban Farm Answers: Pruning


Jan asked: I have a 40-year-old Arizona sweet orange tree that has delicious fruit. I feed and water and it is shaped like an empty umbrella. It has however grown too tall.  Would it be wise to prune the top off the umbrella, which will expose the trunk of the tree?

Answer: Jan to begin with you never want to cut open spaces in the tree canopy to expose the trunk to sunlight.  The bark of citrus is highly susceptible to sunburn and that can kill your tree.  Therefore it is best to remove/downsize your tree only about 15% per year to reduce the size.

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All About Time Subscribe Email Print

All About Time
By Greg Peterson
Chinese Proverb: The best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago.  The second best time…now!!!

I just finished reading Elizabeth Gilbert’s new novel called The Signature of All Things.  It is a very interesting read about botany, human relationships with nature and time.  I was particularly struck by the main character Alma's view on time.  She spoke of ‘human time,’ ‘moss time’ and ‘divine time.’  To discover more on her specific thoughts I encourage you to read the book. 

Her distinction in time made me think, as for many years I have distinguished between human time and geologic time.  This is a pretty straightforward way of thinking about it, with human time being the lifespan of a generation and geologic time being the millions of years of lifespan of this rock we live on called Earth.  But what about the in-between time?

For Alma, it was the ‘moss time,’ or the time it takes colonies of moss to live, move and transform.  Interestingly, the felling of a tree that exposes the moss to full sunlight quickly transformed an ideal moss-growing space into a place almost uninhabitable.  Hmmmm… metaphorically speaking, what happens when our cultural tree falls?

For me, one of the in between times is ‘fruit tree’ time.  During the time I read Gilbert’s book I taught many classes on fruit trees and had the realization that I have been planting fruit trees in Phoenix long enough to see their entire cycle from planting and fruiting to the end of their life. 

The first tree I planted in Phoenix, AZ was a peach tree at the Weldon house, a half-acre flood irrigated property that we moved into in 1975.  I was 14 and for whatever reason very interested in growing food and planting fruit trees.  To this day I can’t explain why I was interested, except that on a deep level I understood that they way we are living on the planet and growing our food is somehow wrong.  I needed to change that.  By the time 1979 rolled around I was harvesting peaches and actually learned how to ‘can’ them from my friend Tim’s mom.  The tree was still thriving when my parents sold the house in 1987.

During the years that I had no dirt to plant in, I spent my time playing with and making my living on an Apple (curious I know) computer and learning a whole lot about technology.  Then, in 1989, I purchased what is now the Urban Farm, a one-third-acre flood irrigated property in North Central Phoenix.  At the time, there were 50 or so trees on the property and only about 10 of them were food-bearing.  Pines (at least 10), eucalyptus, mulberry (males), ash and other generic non fruit-bearing trees adorned the space, and I had no idea how or why they were planted here. 

However…To my delight there were six ancient citrus trees.  You see, the Urban Farm sits on the skeleton of a 1930s citrus orchard.  Four yellow grapefruits and two Arizona sweet oranges were doing their best to hang on.  The grapefruit trees lived their lives out here and the remaining structure of one of them (which died a few years ago) holds up the grape vine that shades my outdoor kitchen.  The two remaining Arizona sweet oranges grace the back of the property and still produce a nice amount of fruit each year even at the ripe ol’ age of eighty-something - that is some impressive fruit tree time.

In 1989, when I moved into the Urban Farm, I immediately started planting fruit trees in an effort to dine from the yard.  The first three trees I planted were a peach tree and two apple trees, two of which are still reliably producing while the third met its maker primarily due to old age.  Doing the math, the two remaining trees are bumping up against 25 years of age and while both are showing their age I would suspect they should last another five or ten years.  However, the one that died did so very quickly; it produced apples in the spring and promptly died over the summer at the age of 23. 

Over the years, I have planted many fruit trees here at the Urban Farm and in several locations around the Valley and, of all the trees I have planted, many are still alive. For those that are not, a ‘tree time’ pattern is forming that looks like this:

  • Apricots seem to have the shortest lifespan, living from eight to twelve years.  They start strong and produce a nice amount of fruit throughout their life.
  • Apples have a track record of doing a little better, living 10 to 25 plus years.  The apples that have died in my care dropped quite quickly from what appears to be root rot.
  • Peaches seem to be the winner as I have yet to have any of my planted peaches expire from natural causes.

One thing that always has me take notice is when I see someone removing a perfectly good fruit tree that is still full of life.  This week, one of my neighbors had a backhoe in their yard and were removing some of the ancient citrus trees that live here.  Now I don’t know the specifics of their situation or that of the tree, but it made me pause to reflect on the value of the trees we plant, and I am not just talking about dollars.  Although money plays into their value, there are also the environmental benefits they provide in cleaning the air and water, the aesthetic value of how they look and the long-term value of the food that you can harvest.  It is important to weigh these values from the moment we decide to plant a fruit tree until the end of its life. 

Fruit tree time is approximately that of a human lifespan, and I’ll spend the rest of my days keeping up my observations and research. If you get back with me in 25 years or so I am sure that I will have some improved data for you and, with any luck, I will still be harvesting fruit from those two Arizona sweet orange trees.

Lessons from a Farm in Nepal: Love, Community, and the Pursuit of Permaculture Subscribe Email Print

Lessons from a Farm in Nepal:
Love, Community, and the Pursuit of Permaculture
By Tayler Jenkins

Humble Beginnings

In the enchantingly beautiful foothills of the Himalayas, there is a little rural village where Surya Adhikari’s permaculture farm is thriving. It hasn’t always been this way—years ago, his neighbors laughed at him for thinking that he could farm on such a steep slope in such poor soil. Times were desperate financially, but he and his wife risked everything to start their permaculture farm. Today, with over 180 species of plants, Surya’s farm has become so successful that aspiring students from around the world flock to his farm to soak in his wisdom.

I was one of those eager students, traveling from the USA to the opposite side of the world to learn about permaculture. In the three months I spent in Nepal, I gained not only insights and inspiration about farming, but discovered a culture rich in love with a deep sense of community that is reflected in their land ethic.

When Surya first began farming on this land, the area was in poor environmental condition because of soil erosion and a loss of biodiversity from too many trees being cut down. A local NGO (non-governmental organization) intervened and began a project to reforest the area. They also offered to help Surya start his permaculture farm. Surya and his wife worked hard and learned about the importance of things like polycultures (planting multiple kind of crops in an area), biodiversity (having a variety of different species), and plant breeding. Despite these humble beginnings, Surya and his wife Saraswati now have a successful farm and have been hosting international students for more than ten years now.

A small area of Surya's farm

A Farm in Disarray

Their farm is truly a sight to see. The first striking feature of it is that it feels more like walking through a forest than a farm.  There are an abundance of trees scattered about and nothing seems to be in any apparent order. Little did I know, there was a method to the madness. Here’s the logic: permaculture is intended to mimic nature.

Every plant has a unique purpose in the ecosystem

Have you ever seen neat, orderly rows in nature? Neither have I. And yet, natural ecosystems thrive in disarray. It turns out there is a reason plants grow where they do, and Surya seems to have it largely figured out. In the forest that is his farm, a somewhat dense array of scattered trees provide shading for the smaller plants beneath. Species of differing root depths are interspersed in the same area in order to reduce competition for nutrients in the ground, and some plants act as natural pesticides, keeping away bugs that would otherwise feed on the crops. The plants cooperate and sometimes co-depend on each other, increasing not only yield and survival of the individual species but also biodiversity in general.

Surya showing me one of the trees on his farm


In fact, each and every one of the 180+ plant species on Surya’s farm has an important use—fruits, vegetables and legumes are planted for human consumption, fodder trees provide feed for the animals, and other trees are used for timber or firewood. Many of the plants are used in religious ceremonies, and over 40 of the plant species are medicinal. People in the village call the farm “the coffeehouse” because Surya also grows an abundance of coffee which he sells for profit. Some of my personal favorite things growing on the farm were pineapple, papaya, tree tomato, banana, tulsi or holy basil, and taro, although there were many other interesting plants which I do not know the English names for. This kind of biodiversity is important in permaculture because it helps keep the ecosystem healthy and able to adapt gracefully in the event of a disturbance (NWF.org).

Tulsi, or holy basil, is known for its medicinal properties (it also makes a delicious tea)

Beautiful corn harvested from the farm

Of course, plants aren’t the only essential element of a holistic system—humans and animals play integral roles as well. Surya’s animals include water buffalo and goats, which eat the fodder grown on the farm (the buffalo also graze on grass). Then, the buffalo feces are used for two different purposes: compost and to create biogas. For the compost, the feces are mixed with dead leaves and food scraps which, after breaking down for some time, are used to nourish the crops. As for the biogas, buffalo excrement goes into a contraption that converts it into biogas, which powers their stove. How’s that for renewable energy?

The buffalo eat fodder from the farm, and then their excrement is used for compost to nourish crops

Buffalo waste is also placed in this contraption, which is cranked to create biogas

Simple Sustainability

Beyond permaculture, Surya and Saraswati live an impressively sustainable lifestyle. They collect rainwater (and let me tell you—Nepal gets a LOT of rain during their monsoon) in huge barrels that is used for bathing, washing dishes, and drinking. Their home, like the homes of many of their neighbors, is made largely from the manure of their buffalo and clay gathered from the hillside. There are few non-local inputs and repairs on the house are made by simply gathering more clay and manure. Much of the food they eat is harvested from their garden, and leftovers are either thrown back into the garden or fed to the goats. There is a huge disincentive to generate waste because there is no trash collection in their area (unfortunately, most of Nepal is lacking proper waste collection and disposal, let alone recycling).

Rainwater is collected into these tanks. During the monsoon, water is so abundant that the tanks often overflow!

Lessons from a Permaculture Farm

Despite their simple living conditions, Surya and Saraswati are some of the happiest, kindest, most loving people I know. They are in tune with the natural environment and close with their neighbors. I ventured to Surya’s farm for knowledge, but left with so much more. In one of the poorest countries in the world, I found a culture so rich in love and community values that I became certain that real wealth has nothing to do with money, and everything to do with genuine relationships with other people and the land.

That’s where permaculture comes in. To me, it’s more than just another method of farming—it involves developing a land ethic that, as ecologist Aldo Leopold describes, “tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community” (from A Sand County Almanac). It requires the understanding that we are an integral part of nature, even if we live in a city. Equipped with this wisdom, we can interact with the land with a deep underlying appreciation for the natural processes that sustain not only humans, but all of life on Earth.

Surya and Saraswati being their usual joyful selves

P.S. If you are interested in staying on Surya’s farm or another permaculture farm, check out WWOOF.net. WWOOF (Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms) is a database of organic farms around the world that are looking for volunteers to help out on the farm. In exchange for your work, you get free or VERY cheap food and lodging, plus priceless knowledge and hands-on experience in farming. For more on my personal experience, check out my blog.


TaylerTayler is a passionate undergraduate honors student in Barrett at Arizona State University, studying Sustainability. Inspired by Mahatma Gandhi, Tayler tries to embody in herself the changes she hopes the world will embrace. She is a self-proclaimed “real foodie” and an activist in a student organization on her school’s campus whose purpose is to bring more healthy, local, and ethically-produced food to the university. In the summer of 2013, she spent two months on a permaculture farm in Nepal and conducted research on conservation farming. Tayler is currently the editor of The Urban Farm Lifestyle newsletter and hopes to use it as a medium for sharing knowledge and generating interest in urban farming. Tayler can be reached at  This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


What is Biogas? Subscribe Email Print

What is Biogas?

Did you know that feces can be made into a gas that provides electricity? Yes, you read that correctly. Biogas is what’s created when you take manure or other organic matter (even wastewater solids will work) and put it in an anaerobic digester. It can even be created by capturing methane produced by landfills. This makes the matter into a gas which is used for electricity, heat, and even for powering vehicles. Biogas is a promising source of renewable energy because it uses inputs that may otherwise be waste and reduces emissions by diverting methane (a powerful greenhouse gas) from landfills. Even the waste of the waste is useful—it becomes a most excellent fertilizer.

Read more from the US Department of Energy

Want to Make a Difference? Say Goodbye to Plastic Single-Use Items Subscribe Email Print

Want to Make a Difference?
Say Goodbye to Plastic Single-Use Items
by Greg Peterson


Stop…think for a moment about that item you just tossed in the trash. Often it is a cup, lid, straw, or plastic bag that you used only once, for a short period of time, then tossed “away” to some unknown place called a landfill. Fast food restaurants buy them by the gross for customers who then dispose of them. Then, the restaurant wraps them all up in a bigger plastic bag and hauls them to the dumpster. Watching this process countless times through the years made me start thinking about items we use only once.

The reevaluation of my consumption habits began in earnest when I found out that Americans use an average of 1267 plastic bags per person per year—that’s 3.8 billion bags per year in the U.S. alone! That’s when I made an agreement with myself that I would no longer use any plastic grocery bags for anything…period. So now if I arrive at the store and don’t have any of my favorite cloth bags in the trunk, I can only buy what I can carry out.

This decision has made for some interesting shopping adventures. Just the other day, I had the checker pack all my groceries back into the cart and I loaded them individually onto the front seat of my car. It really wasn’t a big deal, and while it probably took a couple of extra minutes and looked a little weird, a commitment is a commitment!

Once I started, I had to look deeper and more carefully at all of the single-use items in my life and I couldn’t believe the sheer volume that I went through on a weekly basis. Initially, I wasn’t as concerned because I’m good about recycling, but then I learned that up to 85% of these items don’t get recycled at all and still end up in the landfill.

That was it—my journey to lighter living was elevated to passionate. Now I am much more aware of the many ways that I can personally reduce my use. What started with plastic bags has spread to my entire lifestyle.

To replace the pesky plastic bottle, I purchased a stainless steel container that I fill from my home water purification system, eliminating hundreds of plastic bottles that I had used annually. And I’ve found that many restaurants will fill my bottle, which is helping to save numerous cups, straws, and lids. I also enjoy the added bonus of knowing there is no risk of chemicals leaching into my drinks from stainless steel.

The important thing to remember is that you do not have to suffer to make impactful changes. If you always use a straw or lid for your cup, and that is something you need, keep doing it. On the other hand, if the wait staff is bringing you a new straw every time you get a refill, you might ask them to stop. You simply have to be aware of what works for you.

Making these kinds of changes has required little effort on my part but has made a huge impact on reducing the number of items I use. In turn, my effort is helping to decrease the potential negative impact on the environment and my health.

These changes may seem small on an individual basis, but collectively they make an enormous difference. The most important change we can all make is to be aware of the impacts that our choices generate. Then, we can evaluate different choices and select the ones that make sense in our worlds.

Urban Foraging Subscribe Email Print

Urban Foraging

What if food lined the streets in your neighborhood or town and as you strolled through you could pick and eat to your heart’s content? That’s what urban foraging is all about, and it’s gaining popularity. Urban foraging is harvesting plants growing in urban spaces. Whether you are picking fruit from a designated park or food forest or hunting for wild mushrooms, it is a great way to connect with nature in an urban environment and obtain fresh food for free. Want to try it out but unsure of where to start? Foragers Caleb Phillips and Ethan Welty have created a world map that shows where you can forage for fruits and veggies around the world, right down to your specific area. Check it out at fallingfruit.org!

Geos: A Sustainably-Designed Neighborhood in Colorado Subscribe Email Print

A Sustainably-Designed Neighborhood in Colorado

Have you ever wondered what a sustainably-designed neighborhood looks or feels like? Geos Neighborhood in Arvada, Colorado is a promising net-zero energy development in the making. The developers have planned for this walkable neighborhood to have plenty of edible landscapes (think community gardens and fruit trees lining the streets), parks, and even businesses right in the neighborhood. Homes will use no fossil fuels and instead be equipped with solar panels and create as much or more energy than they actually use. Development is set to begin this spring.

Intrigued? Check out their website here: http://discovergeos.com/