Welcome to the Urban Farm Revolution

The Secrets of The Funky Kitchen: How to Prepare Traditional, Wholesome Meals in 30 Minutes or Less a Day! Subscribe Email Print

The Secrets of The Funky Kitchen:
How to Prepare Traditional, Wholesome Meals in 30 Minutes or Less a Day

Monday, September 8th, 6 PM Pacific

 

If you think making nutritious homemade foods from scratch takes too much time or costs too much money, you need to know about this.

My colleague, Sarica Cernohous, an acupuncturist, mother and author of The Funky Kitchen, is hosting a FREE webinar where she'll reveal her favorite tips and tricks for making delicious meals using traditional food preparation techniques in less than 30 minutes a day, even on a tight budget.

Sarica explains how it’s not enough to shop for healthy food at the supermarket. The next step to truly vibrant health is to prepare that food in ways that make it easy to digest and absorb the most nutrients.

It’s easier than you think. Sarica will dispel the common myths and show you exactly how to get started preparing nutrient-dense foods just like your great-grandmother did. Your family is going to love this.

Register and reserve your spot for this complimentary training now by clicking here.

Sarica says: This will be an hour-long webinar  in which I'll introduce my 7-week online course, "Fresh, Fun and Flavorful in The Funky Kitchen!"  This program is an introduction to the basics of traditional food preparation as presented in my book, The Funky Kitchen: A Compilation of One Soccer Mom's Favorite Traditional Food Preparation Techniques and Recipes.  Enrollees will learn the tools for success in the kitchen, as well as high quality resources for ingredients.  Next we will embark on culturing and fermentation, fermented veggies, nourishing broths, soaking and fermenting nuts and seeds and low-heat dehydrating them, then using soaking and fermenting on grains and legumes.  At the end of each module, participants will be given "homework" to go out and put to use what they've learned, and there will be a 15" Q & A at the end of each module for questions and troubleshooting.  There will also be an entire module dedicated to Q & A, to ensure success.  In addition, there will be some great bonuses offered to those listening to the webinar that you won't want to miss!


Food Waste: What You Can Do Subscribe Email Print

Food Waste: What You Can Do

Did you know that 40 percent of food in the U.S. is never eaten? Much of it is tossed out before it even makes it to households, and the average American home throws out 14 to 25 percent of their food (an increase of 50 percent over the past 50 years, and also 10 times as much waste as Southeast Asians). Monetarily, this comes out to be about $165 billion of food wasted every year. It has environmental impacts, too: 25 percent of all freshwater and 300 million barrels of oil are what it takes to produce the food that goes to waste globally. Most of this ends up in landfills, contributing to emissions of the greenhouse gas methane. Indeed, landfill food alone is responsible for 23 percent of methane emissions in the U.S.

What can we do about this? A great way to make a difference is by composting food scraps. Currently, only about 3 percent of tossed food is composted, but we have the potential to do so much better! Additionally, before visiting the grocery store or farmer’s market, plan out what you will buy to ensure that you only take what you know you will be able to eat. Know what’s in your fridge and cupboards so that you can keep an eye on food that may soon go bad. Many foods can be frozen and then consumed at a later date. At grocery stores, the oddly-shaped produce is often left behind by customers and then thrown out. Purchase these and you are consuming something that might otherwise have been wasted. Also, when you go out to eat, be sure to take home leftovers to finish later.

Most importantly, spread the word. Tell others what they can do to make a difference. The more people know about food waste and the issues surrounding it, the more we can all work together to minimize our impacts and mend the system.

Sources:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2012/08/22/how-food-actually-gets-wasted-in-the-united-states/

http://www.nrdc.org/food/files/wasted-food-IP.pdf

http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0306919212000693

http://www.foodwastestats.com/


The Red Worm Subscribe Email Print

The Red Worm

By Dan Corbin, Wisconsin Worm Farm

“It may be doubted whether there are many other animals which have played so important a part in the history of the world as have these lowly organized creatures.”  -Charles Darwin

The first time I held a worm in my hand, I was surprised at how light it was, how harmless. It didn't slither around or try to get away. Instead, it lay curled in a near-perfect circle, as if it had already accepted its fate.

The worm I held was a red wiggler, Latin name Eisenia fetida.  It is in many ways an almost terrestrial worm, small and reddish pink, with faint stripes between each segment. It is a master composter, preferring a heap of rotting garbage to just about anything else. Dig around in pig, slop, barnyard manure, or a mound of damp leaves, and you'll probably find red wigglers, eating and laying cocoons in the mess. But the worms themselves are not messy; this one slipped out of the pile of rubbish perfectly clean.

I would like to awaken the idea that worms are not only partners but teachers, and instill a regard for the least considered and most important part of our green world.

The worm that I held came out of my worm bin, a small composting operation on my back porch in which I deposit scraps from the kitchen. I don't know how many of them live in the bin—ten thousand maybe. Sometimes, when I dig around in there, the worms are so thick that they look like ground beef set in motion, a mass of churning bodies.  It is hard to think of them as individuals, but when it came time to pull one out of the bin and set it on my palm, I did spend a minute looking down at them, trying to choose the right one. A good sturdy specimen was working its way up the side of the bin as if it was ready for adventure.

The reason I was choosing a worm to hold was that it occurred to me that in all the years I've kept them, I'd never really examined one up close. Strange that I would have such an aversion to letting one get next to my skin. How was I to learn anything about the dark and damp place where the plants in my garden put down roots if I wasn't ready to get intimate with this worm?

With one finger, I poked at the worm in my hand. It was completely limp. I could see a purplish vein running along the length of it, just beneath the skin. I curled my palm around the worm, folding it in half and in half again. It didn't react. I began to wonder how a creature this weak could do anything, even move through dirt. Then, a few seconds later, it seemed tired of this expedition. It raised one end up—the head, I suppose—and extended one segment at a time into the air. Now, finally, it moved and left a little slime in my palm. I shuddered but didn't drop it. This slime, this worm mucus, was its way of reacting to stress—stress that I had brought on, by pulling it out of its bedding and exposing it to light. The worm moved to the edge of my hand, and this time pointed its head down toward the bin, toward home. It was intent on getting back. Just then it looked like it was capable of doing something after all. It moved with purpose, seeking to escape, trying to return to its familiar habitat. I dropped it into the bin, where it ducked under a layer of damp newspaper and disappeared.

 

Dan Corbin-owner
Wisconsin Worm Farm
www.wisconsinredworms.com
608-647-2008


Featured Farmers: Greg and Dori Subscribe Email Print

Featured Farmers:

Greg and Dori, Foodscape Urban Farm

 

This week's featured farmer is actually two: husband and wife Greg and Dori Eddols of Foodscape Urban Farm in Prescott Valley, Arizona. What started as a quest to lead healthier lifestyles has led them to transform their entire backyard into a thriving organic urban garden. They were so amazed and impassioned by the results that they made it their mission to help others grow food and become more self-sufficient, a goal which they achieve by sharing tips and experiences from their farm on their blog, Foodscape Tips.

 

We wanted to learn more about what they are doing on their farm, so we asked them some questions. They responded by sending us this great video all about their farm. Check it out!

 

 

Want to learn more about Foodscape Urban Farm? Follow Greg and Dori on their blog.

 

 


Out to Lunch Subscribe Email Print

Out to Lunch
By Barry Estabrook

Note from Greg:

Most of you that know me know that I am committed to staying positive in the arena of food, however there comes a time when we need to dig a little deeper and it is not always a great look.  I believe that one of the issues that we have with monocrop food production is addressed here and that by taking our food production back to the urban farm level we can mitigate a lot of these kinds of problems.  Please don’t hear that I am against big ag, that is not at all the case (in fact, primarily we are able to eat today because of it), however I think that we can take back some of the control of our food system by growing our own.  I found this a few months ago and reached out to Barry, the author, and he gave us permission to reprint. It was originally published in OnEarth Magazine in Fall of 2012.  I hope this is a learning experience for you.  

July 17, 2014
Greg Peterson from The Urban Farm

 

All of his life, Paul Schwarz had been active and healthy. When his family imagined the various ways the decorated veteran of World War II might eventually die, they never imagined that the cause would be a piece of cantaloupe.

On Tuesday, September 13, 2011, Schwarz complained to his daughter Janice of abdominal pains and a slight fever. She took him to his doctor, who said it was likely a case of stomach flu. By Thursday the symptoms had worsened, and Schwarz had developed diarrhea. Janice took him to the emergency room. Once again flu was the diagnosis, and he was sent home. For a time, his condition improved. He called his son, also named Paul, that Sunday and cheerfully assured him that he’d eaten a big breakfast and felt a lot better.

But on Monday morning the younger Paul received an urgent phone call. His father had been rushed to the hospital by ambulance, unable to move his legs. In the coming weeks his behavior grew erratic, and he began thrashing in his bed, hollering, and behaving like a drunk. Usually gentle, he was combative with the nurses. "The devil has a hold of me and won’t let go," he screamed. During a lucid moment, after Schwarz’s condition had stabilized, two of his nieces visited and had an animated chat with him. But after they left, Schwarz, who normally had a sharp mind, turned to Paul and asked, "Who were those people?"

Within a month, Schwarz no longer recognized his son. By then the doctors had determined that he was suffering from invasive listeriosis, an infection caused by Listeria monocytogenes, a bacterium transmitted by eating contaminated meat, dairy products, and produce. The pathogen can lead to bacterial meningitis, an infection of the covering of the brain and spinal cord that causes headaches, confusion, and convulsions. It kills about one in six of those infected. Children, the elderly, people with depressed immune systems, and pregnant women are most vulnerable. On December 18, 2011, after a drawn-out decline, Paul Schwarz succumbed. He was 92.

 

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Learn How to Sheet Mulch w/ Greg Subscribe Email Print

Sheet Mulching with Greg Peterson

 

Building healthy soil is one of the biggest challenges in growing healthy food.  Healthy soil is a balanced mix of: dirt, which contains minerals from broken-down rock; organic material like leaves, sticks and mulch; air space, so your soil is not too compact; living organisms like worms and microorganisms and, of course; water.  My favorite and the fastest way to add oodles of organic material is by sheet mulching which, if you plan it right, can also be the most cost effective way to build the soil in your garden. 

Sheet mulching or lasagna gardening is the simple process of combining different organic materials, most of which are readily available on or near most urban and rural lots.  Not only does this process build incredibly healthy soil, it also adds a thick layer of mulch/organic compost to your garden beds to help retain water.  Sheet mulching consumes a LOT of organic resources—think the green and brown leftovers from your garden/farm—so it is always a good idea to keep your eyes open for organic material such as leaves, small branches and grass clippings that a neighbor might be disposing of. 

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Digging Into Aquaponics: #1 - The Plants Subscribe Email Print

Digging into Aquaponics:

#1 -The Plants 
By Sylvia Bernstein

Intro

Aquaponics growing environments can be home to a huge variety of plants. I’ve grown just about everything you can imagine, from the mundane, like herbs, lettuces, and houseplants, to the unusual, like cactuses, orchids, and dwarf trees. So, how should you choose your plants?

Top Performers

Your best growing plants are always going to be the nitrogen lovers, like salad greens, herbs, and houseplants.  Why?  Because aquaponic systems are especially rich in nitrogen, which is what causes plants to be green. 

And within that category of “green” plants the ones that like a wet environment and tend to hold a lot of water, like lettuce and basil, for example, will perform the best.

 

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The LFE Model Revealed Subscribe Email Print

Just what did I do in Croatia for two weeks?  Well, besides eating a lot of great food, seeing some sights and interviewing a lot of people I produced the following model of our local food systems. My hope is that it will serve as a platform to springboard our culture into more sustainable and even regenerative food systems.

Chapter 1
Defining sustainable agriculture

As a general rule sustainable agriculture is the practice of farming ecologically or organically.  From there the definitions vary widely.  Here are two:

“Must be resource-conserving, socially supportive, commercially competitive, and environmentally sound.” [John Ikerd, as quoted by Richard Duesterhaus in "Sustainability's Promise," Journal of Soil and Water Conservation (Jan.-Feb. 1990) 45(1): p.4. NAL Call # 56.8 J822]

Rather than focusing only on the economic viability of the crops, sustainable agriculture also involves using nonrenewable resources effectively, growing nutritious foods and enhancing the quality of life of the farmers [source - Department of Agriculture - http://www.nal.usda.gov/afsic/pubs/agnic/susag.shtml

In examining different definitions of sustainable agriculture and food systems the following emerge as core concepts:

  • Creating a healthy environment and communities,
  • High outputs relative lower to inputs,
  • Energy efficiency and low carbon impact,
  • No waste,
  • Organic processes,
  • Human scale (small to mid-size farms and aimed largely to regional markets),
  • Healthy for the land and for people,
  • Integrated into communities,
  • Supportive of a decent livelihood for farmers and rural villages, and
  • Fair and just in the distribution of costs and benefits.

The process of creating this ‘healthy’ and transforming to ‘sustainable farming’ starts with a conscious change.  To begin to distinguish how to access this conscious change we can look to nature for clues.  There is a worldwide movement called “permaculture,” and with it’s ethic of ‘Care for the Earth, Care for Life and Share the Surplus’ it draws on these natural systems to help inform the design of more sustainable human systems.

One example of this overlay of nature on human systems can be looked at through the nitrogen cycle, nature’s way of breaking down waste.  Permaculture looks at the nitrogen cycle and all the different ways that nature breaks down waste then replicates the processes by creating and integrating ways of composting, worm composting, sheet mulching and soil building.  Each of these methods is designed to break down biological waste into its usable constituents so they can be directed elsewhere for use - generally as fertilizer.

Permaculture informs this process of building a sustainable system through extended observation at a very basic level.  Steps in this process generally include:

  • Observe
  • Design - in small incremental steps
  • Implement design steps
  • Observe
  • Redesign, adapt and implement
  • Then start again

As a general survey here is a list of methods of growing food that lead to sustainable farming.  This is in no way an exhaustive list, just one to set the stage for what sustainable farming might be. They include:

  • Minimize the use of toxins
  • Farm organically
  • Allow fields to sit fallow
  • Increase and nurture biodiversity
  • Incorporate alternative energy
  • Increase crop, wildlife and microbial diversity
  • Crop rotation
  • Use IPM - Integrated pest management
  • Attract beneficial insects
  • Managed grazing
  • Conserve Water/Make best use of water resources
  • Growing to sell locally
  • Concentrate on building healthy soil
  • Grow to increase the nutritional value of food
  • Treat animals ethically and minimize suffering

 

Chapter 2
Defining a Sustainable Food System

What is a sustainable food system?  As a place to start let’s use the SAREP definition of sustainable food system (Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program, from the Agricultural Sustainability Website at UC Davis:  http://www.sarep.ucdavis.edu/sfs/def). 

“A sustainable community food system is a collaborative network that integrates sustainable food production, processing, distribution, consumption and waste management to enhance the environmental, economic and social health of a place. Farmers, consumers and communities partner to create a more locally based, self-reliant food economy. One of the most important aspects of a sustainable community food system is that they increase resident participation to achieve the following goals:

    • A stable base of family farms that use sustainable production practices and emphasizes local inputs;
    • Marketing and processing practices that create more direct links between farmers and consumers;
    • Improved access by all community members to an adequate, affordable, nutritious diet;
    • Food and agriculture-related businesses that create jobs and recirculate financial capital within the community;
    • Improved living and working conditions for farm and food system labor;
    • Creation of food and agriculture policies that promote local or sustainable food production, processing and consumption, and
    • Adoption of dietary behaviors that reflect concern about individual, environmental and community health.”

 

Chapter 3
Defining a Food Economy

Loosely speaking the food economy consists of the “farm to table” process of:

  • Growing Soil & Food
  • Harvesting
  • Collection and Distribution
  • Preparation
  • Eating
  • Disposal 

This food economy system is usually understood by the general public as a straight line starting with the producer and ending with the consumer.  A sustainable food system in contrast is one in which the cycle of food “waste” is not disposed of but used as a resource to grow the next generation of food crops.  In fact a key piece to making any process sustainable it to view the waste as an asset and use it as such.

 

Chapter 4
Defining a Local Food Economy

Generally we all eat, multiple times per day, which means that we are all participating in the food economy every day.  When viewed the food system from the macro level it is pervasive, touching virtually every aspect of our lives with the entire process being embedded in a larger set of economic relations.  Think of it this way: without food our entire system stops.  Given this we encourage communities to develop strategies for creating a prosperous and sustainable local food system.

A local food system or economy encompasses all of the parts needed to create and perpetuate: growing, harvesting, collecting, distributing, preparing, eating, composting, and recycling farm and food waste.  Below is a conceptual model called the LFE Model or Local Food Economy Model for framing out a local food system that Miguel Jardine and I have been working on.

Our model seeks to build the infrastructure and processes required to facilitate the movement of food from farm to table and back again while supporting and feeding the population in a defined area.  This process is inclusive of:  whole systems thinking; community engagement & inclusion; transparency & traceability; community empowerment & development; and community preparation.

The LFE is:

  • Based on a regenerative natural system and not the human-constructed unsustainable system that is currently in place.
  • A method to increase consumer access to a healthier, fresh and more nutritious foods.
  • A method to keep food, jobs, and kunas in the local economy
  • A collaborative process, especially in the beginning stages of transitioning from a competitive individualistic profit-dominated economy to a collaborative, community-centered economy. 
  • Designed to create a scalable and sustainable economic model for growing, harvesting and distributing locally grown organic products including; vegetables, fruits, meats, fish, beverages, botanical and medicinal products. 
  • A decentralized/open sourced model.  It becomes an asset of the local community and cannot be owned or controlled by any one entity.  In fact, the more players in the market the stronger the entire system becomes.  This distributed model replicates the web of nature, with more connections in place the stronger the system becomes.
  • A model of cooperation that includes some to many people contributing in each of the seven areas outline below.
  • A process that grows healthy food and creates jobs.
  • Inclusive of each of the seven parts as without one area the entire system doesn’t work.
  • Builds resilience and preserves the diversity of a locally adapted and heritage-based food system.  It treats food not solely as a commodity to be sold but as a tool for increasing the security, health and prosperity of the entire community. 
  • Reduces the use of fossil fuels for transportation and the carbon footprint of the food system.
  • Leads to greater food security, local self-determination, and food sovereignty.  http://www.foodsovereignty.org
  • A self-reinforcing process where communities will realize continued economic, social, environmental and cultural development by reinvesting in the local food system to support local farm jobs, families, environmental quality, and cultural heritage.

These are seven components to a Local Food Economy.

  • Education.  This includes offering farmers new crops, new markets, and new ways to farm, as well as teaching the community about their roles in creating a sustainable LFE.  Many types of educational programs can be implemented, such as practical training for farmers, school programs, field trips for students, cooking & gardening classes, and college degree programs.
  • Farming Methods.  A key piece of the LFE is distinguishing the different kinds of sustainable farming methods that work for each particular area. Possibilities include:  organic farming, greenhouse culture, hydroponics, aeroponics, aquaponics, aquaculture and wild crafting & harvesting.
  • Harvesting and Distribution.  It is often said that only half of farming is growing food, the other half is harvesting, cleaning, processing, packaging, marketing & distribution.  Having the local infrastructure to move the food from farm to plate is essential to building this model. 
  • Local Seeds.  Without seeds there is no food.  Building a strong seed saving system is imperative to building a resilient local food system.  This accomplishes two objectives: It builds a strong bank of seeds to support growing local food, and second as seeds are grown and saved over multiple seasons they adapt to the climate and growing conditions of the area, adapting them to be more resilient to climate change.  A perfect example of this is Podravka’s heritage seed preservation program.
  • Create Farmers.  Without farmers there is no food.  Creating a strong support system for recruiting new farmers, making farm production profitable, and building sustainable farming skills supports the LFE.  Typically student organizations, business and professional organizations, government agencies, social clubs, and family heritage, are instrumental in encouraging and training the next generation of farmers.
  • Culture.  Food is much more then a market commodity or sustenance; it reflects the history and defines cultural values of an area, builds social bonds and brings together the community.  This category is inclusive of:  Celebrating food through food festivals & events; food art in restaurants, muralists, musicians; food banks & programs for the underserved; specialty foods, wine & beer; physical & mental health; policy & governance; and the written word.
  • Value Added Products are the icing on the cake, literally.  This is the process of taking all the things that are being grown and making them into more valuable products that reflect local food and culture.  This often takes time, money, creativity, and collaboration with others. It is an ideal opportunity for those who don’t farm to become a part of the food economy.  Ideas for this include turning: kale into kale chips; fruit into jam or baby food; and peppers, eggplant, garlic, vinegar and salt into Ajvar.

 

The Local Food Economy Economic and Job Impact

The reach of the local food infrastructure is vast, literally touching every aspect of our lives.  In each one of these areas there are jobs created and money changing hands.  This bottom up model is one that can quickly create significant change by creating many new jobs.  These are examples that we have seen in Koprivnica that build and feed this model:

  • The Beekeeper
    • Employs himself
    • Purchases bee supplies for hives and bee health
    • Harvests honey, wax, bee pollen and propolis
    • Purchases jars and labels
    • Sells to end consumers and to Podrovkra
    • Podrovka repackages and sells to end consumers and resells to restaurants and coffee houses in packets.
  • The New Farmer Family
    • Employs family - two people
    • Purchases infrastructure items such as a 35,000 kuna soil tiller
    • Purchases seeds and plant starts
    • Purchases growing supplies and fertilizers
    • Grows food and sells at the daily farmers market
  • The Longtime Farmer Family
    • Employs family - 6 people
    • Purchases infrastructure, equipment, greenhouses, watering systems
    • Purchases seeds and plant starts
    • Grows for the daily market
  • The Chef Family - A husband and wife
    • Purchases locally grown food at the farmers market from farmers
    • Creates and sells a value added product by preparing and delivering meals
    • Purchases jars, produce and supplies to make Ajvar
    • Creates and sells Ajvar as a value added product
  • The Small Orchardist
    • Grows 20 metric tons
    • Employees family of four people for picking, packing, deliver
    • Purchased trees and orchard infrastructure including tree stakes, tilling and harvesting equipment
    • Purchases boxes and other packaging materials
    • Sells product wholesale to grocery store chain and farmers market
  • The Large Orchardist
    • Grows 40 metric tones
    • Purchased trees and orchard infrastructure including tree stakes, hail cover, vehicles, harvesting equipment
    • Purchases marketing infrastructure including shirts, vehicle wrap
    • Purchases boxes and other packaging materials
    • Employs people for picking, packing, deliver
    • Employees include accountants, graphic and web designers, office staff
    • Sells product wholesale to Jara.com.hr
    • Jara processes and packages apples into juice
  • The Home Gardener
    • Purchases plant starters
    • Harvests food for use at educational center

For the urban dweller participating in the local food economy begins here:

  • Level 1 - Buy and support local. 
    • Support the local Koprivnica farmers market and buy from a local farmer.
  • Level 2 - Farm, grow your own food, attend a community event, join a community garden, jump in and participate. See list of farmers and producers above.
  • Level 3 - Organize your own event
      • Udruga Kopriva is hosting a permaculture workshop on June 25 featuring Greg Peterson
  • Level 4 - Start your own organization
      • The Community Started Udruga Kopriva This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
      • Matija Hlebar This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. started the Association for Sustainable Development of Croatia): http://www.uzorhrvatske.hr/

Speaking to Kopriva Subscribe Email Print

During my visit to Koprivnica I connected and was asked to speak to Udugra Kopriva whose nonprofit runs the local community garden.  It was a different lecture for me as about every 3 sentences that I spoke I had to pause and wait for the interpreter to translate to Croatian.  This kept me from getting into my organic farmer preaching mode. 

The Garden    Koprivnica

About 20 minutes into the talk we had an interesting realization…they already do permaculture there.  It is just their way of life.  The funny thing is they were so interested to hear me speak because I came from the US where we do everything right.  The ol’ grass is greener syndrome and to come find out they have a healthier more vibrant local food system than we have had in many decades here.  Listen if you care to:


The Sad Part of the Trip Subscribe Email Print

So far my time in Croatia has been a trip of a lifetime. I've been visiting small (1 hectare/ 2.47 acres) and large (7.5 hectares/18.5 acres) farms, the large a far cry from large farms in the states (2025 hectares/5000 acres or more). The smaller of the smallest are more my speed. Yesterday brought a trip to a farm of a 75 year-old orchardist, growing 1100 peach & nectarine trees and 300 apples.  His name is Ivan and when he and his wife took retirement from their respective jobs in 2003 they purchased 1.7 hectares (3.46 acres).  Interestingly he is growing this project for his son and daughter-in-law, who are taking over the family business and are the crew that goes to the market. I love what Dave Ramsey says “A good man builds wealth for his grandkids” and this is exactly what Ivan is doing, and I told him so.

Ivan & Greg   Ivan

Ivan & Greg                                           Ivan sharing his peach tree

I luckily was able to spend two hours wandering with him through his orchard speaking different languages and pretty much understanding each other. As the Tomislav, the interpreter, was trying to decipher the unique orcharding words Ivan was sharing with me I was teaching Tomislav about what Ivan was sharing.  I love having known something for so long that I can understand it in almost any language (OK well at least in Croatian.)  

On Friday night, we visited the Petric vineyard. But before I go any further let me tell you about his teeny vineyard. The Petric family were the perfect hosts and Danijela (pronounced Daniella) showed me around the Vineyard.  All told they probably had 300 vines on 5000 square feet of dirt. The weekend house, which consisted of a kitchen, bedroom and eating area, was all of 1000 square feet which included the wine cellar.  As the sun set around 8:30 pm we walked in the vineyard in between the raindrops and she pointed out their massive Kiwi vine, which was easily 20 x 30, several different kinds of grapes, some for eating and some for wine, a fig and several walnut trees.  Then the dinner bell rang.

Dinner begins with walnut and cherrie rakija (pronounced rokia) that is a kind of brandy, they tell us it is good for our digestion. Take a shot and it goes down smooth, with a follow-up bang...I haven’t done shots in years. It tastes great and interestingly I didn’t get a buzz from it. Hmmmmm. Then the food festivities begin with a white wine that I harvested myself from a 250-liter stainless wine barrel in the cellar. "Živjeli!" we all say (pronounced "shivilee," which loosely translated means "cheers") and we dive into a very tasty bowl of barley soup. I should tell you that everything that we ate this evening was ethnic Croatian food, was grown & created locally and was incredibly good, except for the fried pig fat (really) and the ultra smoked cheese, both of which I tried but did not have a taste for. The meat plate included four different kinds of pork; one so salt cured it was tasty but hard to eat and another a raw bacon that was mostly fat and very flavorful. The cheese plate went from a very hard smoked cheese to a curdled cream/cottage cheese.  Bowls full of tomatoes fresh from their garden adorned the table and what is any European dinner without freshly cut bread.  Man I feel the pounds adding up - it will be interesting to step on the scale when I get home…or not!

Next let me tell you about their farmers market. Koprivnica is a town and surrounding villages of 35,000 people. Their market is open 7am to 1pm…EVERY DAY.  For those of you that are familiar with US based farmers markets they typically are open 1 day per week. Then there were the farmers, easily 40 of them in the main market area selling fruits, nuts, fresh and cured meats, cheeses and honey. In the center are the fresh fruit and vegetable farmers at marble (yep marble) tables. On the periphery were permanent stores with refrigerators for all that needs to go in them. These periphery stores are purchased not rented…interesting. Then in the back are a series of 45 three hundred square foot stores selling everything from bras to bandanas and hardware to chicks and chicken feed.  You want it…it is here at their farmers market…I’ve never seen so many farmers, some with lots and some with not so much, every day.  

Needless to say we didn’t go a day without being exposed to some kind of Croatian delicacy, traditional food, fresh grown fruit or vegetable. Without exception every single farm we visited offered drink, rakija, and home made pastries. This trip is about food, discovering the food of a different country and the food system of a different country.  Food is everywhere, food culture is everywhere, food awareness is everywhere.  So what the heck am I sad about?

I look at the food system they have set up here and am sad to know that in a 5 days I have to go back to Phoenix. I am very excited to see the Urban Farm and my sweetie Heidi, the sad part for me is that Phoenix’s food system pales in comparison to what they have here. What I am experiencing here is what I want to experience where I live, every day. I could pack up and move to Croatia, it is an interesting place, but I choose to come home and continue the trek of building our food economy. In the meantime, please everyone support your local farmer, shop at your farmers market, grow your own garden, lets just get moving so we can transform (insert your town here).


Let the Interviews Begin Subscribe Email Print

Yesterday and today have been interesting getting to know the locals and their customs and learning about local agriculture. I've been discovering some really interesting things.

We met with the President of the Agriculture Association (Hrvatsko Agronomsko Drustvo) Josip Haranija whose organization has 4,000 members and regularly publishes scholarly reviews.  He shared with us that in the past farmers were more sustainable and could produce all they needed, as systems were more constant. With the introduction of commercial fertilizers and pesticides their systems were disrupted and their costs went up. Ya think?

With the advent of globalization and the corporate food model there are many new diseases, more monocultures and lower-priced products from countries like China, they are having a hard time competing. Hmmmm. There is good news coming.

Next we met with Podravka, the largest manufacturer of on-the-shelf food items in the country. They are one of our sponsors here and are deeply committed to revitalizing and creating their local food system. We met for two hours with the Director of Product Development, Director of Operations and interestingly enough the Director of Seed Preservation. Matija Hlebar, the Director of Operations would like to see:

"A future where people in Koprivnica consume almost exclusively locally grown food because it has the smallest environmental footprint and provides the the most local benefits.  He would like to see the waste from locally grown produce turned into compost and bio-energy with a philosophy of no waste regenerative farming."

Honest - his words and I did not pay him to say that. Literally, I was moved to tears.  I can work with this. Plus, he would like to see Croatia only growing organically. Hey, this is the Head of Operations for the largest food company in Croatia.  

Then, one of the more interesting meetings of the day was with the economic department of the town of Koprivnica.  In 2003, they were tasked with creating a subsidy system for farmers that would help them solve the problem of their land not being profitable enough. You see, many farmers had only a few hectares, with the typical farm size being less than three. (Hint - A hectare is 2.47 acres.)

I am often asked how many acres I have at the Urban Farm and my answer is always “I wish.”  The Urban Farm is 14,000 square feet, a mere 0.1300 hectare or 1/3 acre.  While I was an undergrad at ASU in 2001 − 2003 I farmed the Urban Farm very part time and brought in $300 to $400 each week growing and going to the market. What I could have done with a hectare.

It seems with the integration of the global food model farmers were pushed to grow corn, wheat, barley and sugar beets with these crops representing 2900 of the 3113 hectares of land being farmed in Koprivnica. With these kinds of numbers and the low value of these crops it is no wonder that the farmers could not compete.  The mayor in 2003 could see that, so he implemented a subsidy program for farmers to build infrastructure like greenhouses and participate in education programs so that over the long term the farmers could become less dependent on the system…not more dependent. Go figure. By the way, the subsidy program over 10 years paid out only $68,000 a year making it a program for small farmers and for every farmer that wanted it.

These days, in addition to the bulk crops listed above, the farmers are seeing that specialty crops are where the profit is, growing many different kinds of berries, tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, tree fruit and flowers.

One very interesting discovery…the farms are all so small - typically only 3 hectares (8 acres) - and are owned by many different people. Why is this interesting? It makes it very hard for a multinational farm company to come in and purchase big tracts of land. THIS is one of the best discoveries of the day.

Whew - that was an interesting day. I am trying to figure out how to get our mayor to sit down and listen to some of this.

Next on the agenda is interviews with local farmers and then visiting a dairy farm and orchardist. I am VERY excited to see the orchards. We have met a sweet succession of farmers including: A bee farmer, two vegetable farmers, a family that has been doing it for a long time and one that is just starting, two orchardists (one that grows on 7.5 hectares or 18+ acres and one that grows on 2 hectares or 5+ acres) and a dairy farmer.

The Beekeeper, Marijan: A 50-something farmer who claims to be a hobbyist derives his entire income and spends all his time managing his hives. Honey is big business here in Croatia with most of the product coming from the beekeepers, 4 beekeeping organizations and 70,000 hives staying right here in Croatia.  

The Organic Farmers, Zdenko and Nives: are husband and wife; he is an unemployed traffic engineer and she an unemployed teacher. They were gifted a family farm and have for the past year been growing organic produce for sale at the local markets. Their challenges are produce is difficult to sell and interestingly if they do sell to a grocer it takes them 400 days (yep confirmed) to get paid.  They just recently discovered compost tea and were very interested in how to do it. Who wants to teach them about this?

The Dairy Farmer, Antonio: Parents and a son all that seem very up on how to raise cattle for both dairy and meat. They started in 1985 and now farm 85 hectares (210 acres) and in addition to the cattle they raise corn & rye for cattle fodder and, as a rotation crop, rapeseed to sell on the open market.  From a land perspective they are large-scale farmers here in Croatia.

The Big Orchardist, Davor: By far one of my favorite places (no surprise there I suppose) as Davor is one of the high-end orchardists in the area. He produces a quality product and you could tell this by his level of presentation and his care for his orchard. Everything was nicely in place.  His company, Jara, has 7.5 hectares (18.525 acres) of orchards, 2 in peaches, 2 in sweet and sour cherries, and 3.5 in apples. With 4500 trees per hectare that is 33,750 trees. Whoa - I wanna do that!!!   

At 35 to 40 metric tonnes (1 tonne is 2,204.6 pounds) of apples per hectare they are harvesting around 285,000 pounds of apples. OMGosh can you imagine growing that many apples???


Croatia Pics Baby Subscribe Email Print

More coming...

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A Simple Flight Not so Simple Subscribe Email Print

I’m here, I’m here. After a bit of a harrowing two days of travel where each one of our flights was significantly late, causing a flurry of rebooking of flights, we are here, arriving just before midnight June 14. Waiting were three of the students that arrived before us and a wonderful family that had prepared an incredible midnight snack of chicken noodle soup and what I would call quiche. We were famished and very appreciative of the…well really, full-on dinner. Then to sleep.

Time does fly and a mere 10 hours later - wow I don’t ever sleep that long - I’m up with puffy eyes and wandering barefoot through the garden and discovering all the exciting cubbies of knowledge here at Sunacano Selo.

Sunny Village Croatia    Sunny Village Gardens

The Entrance                                  The Gardens where I got to pull weeds very similar to ours

The proprietors Helena, Davorin, Danko and Tanja have been very hospitable in sharing their space and the history of the site.  What appears to be about 20 acres and encompasses: a U-shaped compound that includes 3 sleeping areas, a central kitchen/gathering area, a large dining hall that seats at least 45, at least 4 workshop areas that are filled with antique tools of every kind, two large gardens, a barn filled with antique farming implements, a full sized house, acres of pasture and a swimming pool.  Think the compound in the movie Dirty Dancing.

Danko & Tanja    Helena

Danko & Tanja - Our Awesome Chefs                  Helena, Davorin & Grandkids

I’ve spent the last 26 hours getting settled in, exploring the space, getting past jet lag and eating great food. Day two culminated with a light lunch at 6pm of: cole slaw; dill, carrot and kohlrabi soup; ginger roasted chicken; and vanilla ice cream and fresh picked strawberries. Today (day 3) we are off to meet vice mayor of Koprivnica to discover the depth of our project.  

 

Croatia Bound Subscribe Email Print

Four years ago when Miguel Jardine and I created our model called the LFE (Local Food Economy Model) we were brainstorming about what a healthy local food system would look like.  Since then I have written, postulated, explored and written some more and what I have come up with is a whole lot of 'content' and not a whole lot of 'do'.  AND those of you that know me, know that as far as I am concerned talk is cheap and ‘do’ is where it is at.

I teach one class at Arizona State University (ASU) called Sustainable Food and Farms.  Love the class and typically I get 70 to 90 students per semester who all get to jump in and explore 'what real food is'.  Ever asked yourself 'what is real food?'  Ponder that for a while.

In the scope of my time at ASU this past semester I met a Professor named Paul Hirt who is teaching a graduate class on creating local sustainable food systems in Croatia.  I jokingly told him he should take me along for the ride and before I knew it I had a full ride scholarship to join the class for two weeks in Koprivnica, Croatia.  We are going over to explore their food system, learn what and how they are growing food for their communities and perhaps to impart a little wisdom of our own.  I suspect with their long history and deeply rooted local foods I will be taking away much more than I contribute.  

One of the many places I will be visiting is UdrugaKopriva whose mission is to:

Udruga je osnovana s ciljem okupljanja građana sa svrhom ostvarivanja sljedećih ciljeva:

  • promicanje, podupiranje i zaštita ideja civilnog društva te doprinos njegovom razvitku
  • poticanje na međusektorsku suradnju suradnja s tijelima lokalne uprave i samouprave kroz zajedničku organizaciju i provedbu određenih projekata u cilju poboljšanja kvalitete života lokalne zajednice 
  • civilni nadzor institucija države i lokalne samouprave
  • promicanje aktivizma i razvijanje volonterskog rada među svima društvenim skupinama a naročito među mladima na lokalnoj, regionalnoj i nacionalnoj razini 
  • osnivanje volonterskog centra odnosno društvenog kluba na području grada Koprivnice u skladu s posebnim propisima

Translated

The association was founded with the aim of bringing together people with the aim of achieving the following objectives:

  • promote, support and protection of the idea of civil society and its contribution to development 
  • encouragement of intersectoral collaboration cooperation with local authorities and governments through joint organization and implementation of specific projects in order to improve the quality of life of the local community 
  • civilian oversight of state and local government 
  • promote activism and the development of voluntary work among all groups of society, particularly among young people at local, regional and national level 
  • establishment of a volunteer center or social club in the town of Koprivnica in accordance with special regulations

Klub Kopriva 

Ivan - One of the Founders of Kopriva

OK this is going to be interesting - Maybe Like them on Facebook?  Hey if I would have known even a few years ago that I was going to Croatia, I would have at least tried to become a little fluent in Croatian. I once wrote a poem about a woman I met at a local coffee house that spoke no English and I spoke very little Spanish…that's an interesting story for another day though.

So let the adventure begin. Join me for my posts, videos, pictures, but most of all comment and interact on my posts.  I am excited for this adventure to begin and to see how it progresses

Join the Food Revolution.  Discover where your food comes from and begin participating in Your Local Food Economy.


Innovative Fog Fences Subscribe Email Print

Innovative Fog Fences

In Africa and South America, people are implementing a new, simple technology to capture water from fog—and it’s surprisingly effective. People in dry places may have already been collecting water from fog 2,000 years ago by capturing it when it drips from tree leaves, but today an innovative “fog fence” has been developed. A fog fence is made of mesh strung between poles, like a humongous, dense volleyball net. Water droplets in the fog collect on the mesh and then drip into troughs below. The fog fences have been particularly successful in a resource-poor community of 200 people in Lima, Peru, where they are able to provide the community with 75 gallons of water daily. This is fantastic news for rural communities in dry places which may have little to no access to water, and it will be interesting to see if there is potential for fog fences to be implemented on a larger scale, or in urban areas where there may be a greater demand for water. Read more here and here.


It's Not Black or White, It's in the Middle Subscribe Email Print

It’s Not Black or White, It’s in the Middle

By George Szaszvari

Human beings seem to like bandwagon causes to jump on to, and many are definitely worthy, but let's consider all sides of any given argument, for and against, without getting too carried away and pretending to have all the answers. I'd like to see residents here look more closely into ridding our environment of all unnecessary concrete and blacktop, which contributes to the Phoenix heat dome. There has recently been a clamor to do away with lawns, which seems like a good idea when we can plant such areas more productively, but we should be careful about completely doing away with all of our grass areas, as some seem to advocate. Don't throw the baby out with the bath water!

While reducing extravagantly large swathes of manicured lawns seems like a good idea in most cases, it isn't advisable to eliminate our lawns completely, especially in our hot climate. Lawns in or around one's residence or workplace provide essential energy savings by cooling and helps clean heavily polluted air in ways many don't yet seem to be aware of. Having a small lawn for a natural recreation and relaxation area for family and pets, provides essential stress relief in life, too.

I like the attitude for reducing the use of power tools in gardens since this diminishes noise pollution as well as the carbon footprint. Having livestock, I don't work on my lawn at all, other than annually digging up some volunteer "weeds" (mainly ones my wife is allergic to) since the livestock (equines in our case) are regularly turned out to graze on the grass. Grass is food for livestock! The property landscape has a natural and wild appearance, with hand tools used 99 percent of the time to prune only where absolutely necessary. When a chainsaw is necessary (for tree limb breakages, etc.), I use an electric one, which is not only infinitely cleaner and simpler than the gas type, but also has better torque.

When I moved here 14 years ago I made a point of planting and growing as many different kinds of plants as are possible to grow here, mostly fruit bearing trees, on a third of an acre, with lots more shrubs and other plants, creating an intensely diverse habitat as well as a year-round food supply (helped with container vegetable gardening) and summer shade, the latter providing extremely effective cooling for the dwellings. Note that dense shade also suppresses Bermuda grass growth.

Growing only native plants? For a desert landscape without flood irrigation, that is a great idea. I do grow drought tolerant plants on the property border edges, so not just native, but with flood irrigation (that uses the main canals originally built by a previous indigenous people) I like to have as much plant diversity as is reasonably possible.

I avoid the use of pesticides, bar the occasional NATURAL remedy for a specific gardening issue. Our fertilizer is the natural composted type from weeds, selected food scraps, and livestock waste.

 

George Szaszvari's Bio: Howdy, Pardners! Yours truly hails from across The Pond, born in 1950 of post WWII Hungarian emigres in London, UK, with travel experiences giving me a particular fondness for the cultures, music and cuisines of SE Europe. Subsequently, an admiration for the constitutional republic and the magic of the US Southwest drew me to Arizona where I married Vicki (a native zonie) in 2000, honeymooned in Monument Valley, to finally become a naturalized US citizen on Statehood day, February 14, 2014.

Moving to Arizona gave me, for the first time, a home with a small plot of land to play with and grow my own edible fruits that were only previously available from grocery stores or travels to Mediterranean climates. My wife, Vicki, who majored (U of A) in Ag Ed and Animal Sci has been a great help in this journey of exploration, and having flood irrigation is a God send too! Working in the landscaping business here for 4½ years gave me some invaluable experience on the practical side of things too (nowadays I try to stay out of the afternoon heat.)

Eventually I came across other people interested in gardening and home grown food, particularly our local Permaculture movement, led by the irrepressible Greg Peterson, providing fabulous encouragement and support for all gardeners and urban farmers in the Phoenix metroplitan area, as well as raising the public consciousness concerning green oriented quality of life issues in and around the Valley.  

Brought up as a "townie", with a love for the countryside, my introduction to "green" matters was via the UK Ecology Party in the 70s, and if human beings tend to like bandwagon causes to jump on to, and while many are worthy, let's also consider all sides of any given argument, for and against, without getting too carried away with the slogans and mantras, and pretending to know all the answers. Sure, there are obviously times we need to act and show solidarity with a common cause, especially in matters of health and survival (which also feed two of the largest global industries) but let's also stay awake as independent students of life always willing to learn. A good example of such diligent honesty is provided by James Lovelock, author of "Gaia", one of those voices that originally alerted the world to issues of global warming, who recently made this statement.

As well as gardening my other interests include hanging out with my wife, Vicki, and horseback riding with her (she's a lifelong rider, and she got me into it in 2000, when we met.) "Internal" martial arts training since 1974 for both self-defense and health. Attention to diet helps too, but a daily gentle exercise routine, or partner practice, which anyone of any gender, age 18 or above, can safely do using common sense, keeps me relatively healthy and fit enough as I approach my twilight years. (If curious, ask me about it.)

As a single man I rode motorcycles, played the game of chess, and engaged in other pursuits, but things had to change after getting married and moving to this big sky country with its promise of the outdoors. I've always been a history buff, particularly of the Old West lately, which goes in hand with enjoying Cowboy Action Shooting when I can. Noticeable in our home menagerie of 3 horses, several fowl, and 3 dogs, are also the cats that have either adopted us or been rescued by us. A few were born here too. I have a particular affinity for our furry feline friends and, besides having the freedom of the house, our property, with all its nooks and crannies, is designated as their "Secret Cat Garden".



China's Polluted Land... Our Polluted Food Subscribe Email Print

China's Polluted Land... Our Polluted Food
By Greg Peterson

I am continually on the lookout for valuable data to share in our Urban Farm Lifestyle Newsletter. In doing this, I watch several areas for information that significantly effects our food system and the general sustainability of our culture. I do my best to avoid the news; in fact, I turned off the TV almost two years ago and have not missed it a bit.

There are many reasons to grow our own food and build our local food economy, the biggest of which is to produce healthy food—food that we plant and nurture, and know exactly what goes into it.

What you may not know is that the average number of food miles (the distance food travels from farm to plate) in the United States is 1,500 (and that is just the average). The U.S. imports 4 billion pounds (4,000,000,000 that is a whole lot of zeroes) of food from China per year and China is 7,200 miles away from the U.S. For each and every one of those pounds, there are environmental impacts from being shipped that distance and being grown unhealthfully. 

This makes the April news out of China all that more interesting. 20% of China’s farmland and 90% of China’s water is contaminated with toxic heavy metals (1).  The red flag for me here is that China is a totalitarian communist regime, which would probably have a tendency to hide data like this. Why they let this news out is open to speculation but I assume that the conditions are probably worse than presented. This is farmland that is so polluted it cannot be used to grow food and, when it is used for farming, grows food that should not be consumed. 

This leads me to wonder what the other farmlands’ viabilities are and better yet the healthfulness of the nonorganic and even the certified organic food raised there.  Remember: getting an organic certification on a farm or product isn’t a spot test of the health of the food; it is just a certification of the process the producer uses. If there are heavy metals or other pollutants in the soil they are still there whether the food is certified organic or not.  For more information on this listen to Food Chain Radio Show 968 from a couple weeks ago.

Heavy metals included in the report include arsenic, cadmium, copper and lead.  These are quite toxic heavy metals and, according to the U.S. Department of Heath, can cause heavy metal poisoning:

“Heavy metal poisoning refers to an overexposure to lead, mercury, arsenic, cadmium, chromium or other high density or metallic element that causes irritation or damage to the body. Heavy metals can be found naturally in the environment, in homes, or at the work place. Sudden severe exposures as well as moderate exposures over time can cause toxicity. Depending on the exposure, metals can increase cancer risk, impair production of red and white blood cells, and affect physical and mental health.”  (2)

These heavy metals are the unintended byproducts of industrial processes and pesticide use over the past 50 years. I could go on to explain about the hidden ingredients such as preservatives, fillers, herbs and spices in a lot of our processed foods, the fact that 100% of our canned peas and 50% of our apple juice comes from China, or that 1/3 of our Certified Organic food comes from China—but let’s move on to what we can actually do.

  1. Stop buying all foods from China.  I know this is a little hard when it comes to all the additives in food, but if it says “Made in,” “Grown in,” “Processed in,” or even “Thought About in” China - Just say NO!
  2. If the label does say China, tell the grocer you are no longer willing to purchase the product and don’t buy it.  Vote with your dollars and tell them about it!
  3. Shop at a local farmers market—one in which you know the farmer and trust their method of growing food.
  4. Eat in season. By eating what is grown in season you are purchasing and growing more nutritious food, if for no other reason that when the food is picked it’s at its peak of ripeness (and therefore is most nutrient dense and best for you).
  5. Most of all, grow your own.  Start your garden! Even if it is just a pot on the front porch, jump in and experiment. Grow a tomato, lettuce, squash or a peach - believe me there is not much greater in the world that eating what you grew yourself.
  6. Watch the movie FED UP - “Everything we have been told about food and exercise for the past 30 years is dead wrong.  Fed Up is a movie that the food industry doesn’t want you to see…”

It is time that we take control of our food system. Join the revolution; learn where your food is coming from; make a different choice. The hard part is learning what we need to learn to make the changes. I found that once I do make the changes they actually come easier.

The old adage goes ‘we are what we eat,’ and the more our food system is polluted, processed and punked (look that one up on Urban Dictionary, I did), the more discomfort, disease and distaste we will see.  It is up to you.  I have found for myself that I am a whole lot happier when I make the change.

1.  http://www.theguardian.com/environment/chinas-choice/2014/apr/18/china-one-fifth-farmland-soil-pollution

2.  http://rarediseases.info.nih.gov/gard/6577/heavy-metal-poisoning/resources/1#ref_5837

Top 10 Chinese Food Scandals

 


Featured Farmer: Greg Rendek Subscribe Email Print

Featured Farmer: Greg Rendek


Tell us about your farm. What makes it unique?

My urban farm consists of several potted outdoor herb gardens, a 7'x11' outdoor raised-bed vegetable garden, and 3 fruit trees. I also am taking advantage of my southern-facing window in my room by growing tropical fruiting plants indoors.

What are you growing?

Right now, in the vegetable garden and potted herb gardens, I have 3 tomato plants, purple dragon carrots, pickling cucumbers, dinosaur kale, lemongrass, lemon thyme, thai basil, parsley, rosemary, "regular" basil, mint, collard greens, and watermelon radishes. I also have a valencia orange tree, a ruby red grapefruit tree, and a Desert Gold bonanza peach tree in the backyard. Indoors, I am maintaining a southern-exposure window garden consisting of two 1-year-old passion fruit vines grown from seed, two 2-year old pineapple plants (smooth cayenne and variegated pink), and a 2-year-old dragon fruit cactus with over 40 arms.

What initially got you interested in farming/growing food?

Growing and cooking with fresh basil is what got me interested in urban farming; there's no substitute for fresh-off-the-plant basil.

Do you use any organic, permaculture, biodynamic, or other methods? Explain.

I use no pesticides and I use companion planting to maintain good soil balance. Right now, I have aromatic herbs interplanted with the other plants to drive off pests.

Do you use compost?

 At the moment, I am not using compost. I used to dig food scraps, spent brewing grains, and spent brewing yeast cakes into the soil, but had to stop due to a pill bug infestation. In the future, I plan to set up a composter and do it the right way. I know the pill bug issue was due to having too many fresh food scraps in the soil. While I was digging in food scraps though, my plants were bright green and as happy as I've ever seen them.

What do you do with the food you grow?

I cook with and juice the food I grow.

What has been your greatest challenge in your farming endeavors?

My greatest challenge so far has been in not overplanting my garden, as past experiences in doing so have resulted in more pest issues (more hiding places for them). Considering each plant's full mature size and making sure there is enough spacing between each plant has been challenging. It's hard for me to not plant every seed I get my hands on.

What do you enjoy the most about farming/growing food?

I love the endless possibilities of what can be grown, indoors and outdoors.

Why do you think urban farming is important?

I think urban farming is important for many reasons:

- It brings people together

- Fruit can be left on the plant longer to fully ripen before use, unlike conventional agriculture

- Since urban farms are usually maintained and harvested by one person or a small group of people, it is possible to interplant many crops, creating a healthy ecosystem of bugs, both pests and predators, so that the bug population stays in check.

- Urban farms, when using composting practices in the kitchen and in the garden, keep good waste out of the dump and help grow healthier plants

Do you think this is a growing movement?

I like to think urban farming is a growing movement. I hear more and more about friends growing food; sometimes it's just basil. Basil, however, is what I started with, and it's what got me hooked. I really believe urban farming is the future of agriculture. There's just no need to be trucking produce all over the place and growing pesticide-drenched fields of one crop.
Do you have any advice for someone just getting started?

I have three tips for someone getting started.

1. If you're putting in a garden, make it a whole lot easier to maintain by installing a watering system on a timer.

2. If you're doing a potted garden, be sure that the pots have holes in the bottom for drainage.

3. Challenge yourself every now and then by growing something that most people would tell you isn't possible to grow where you live.


What is an Eco-City? Subscribe Email Print

What is an Eco-City?

Did you know that cities can be considered ecosystems in themselves? Like natural ecosystems, urban ecosystems (AKA cities) require energy for growth (typically fossil fuels) and consist of different interacting species. Just like any other organism, humans in urban ecosystems require nature to survive.

Unlike natural ecosystems in which waste is recycled back into the system (for example, dead organisms decomposing and providing nutrients for plants), urban ecosystems are linear—our waste is an endpoint, ending up in landfills or in the atmosphere as pollution. While natural ecosystems get energy from the sun, urban ecosystems are unsustainable since cities get their energy from fossil fuels, which are nonrenewable.

So what are we to do? There is a movement on the rise aiming to build “eco-cities,” which are cities that are influenced by nature and address sustainability issues locally (Roseland). They aim to utilize renewable energy, become carbon neutral, conserve water and natural resources, have zero waste, emphasize alternative modes of transportation such as walking or bicycling, and have a self-contained economy (Harvey). Certainly, urban farming would play an integral role in these cities.

Eco-cities are already underway today… you can read about a few of them here, or read more about the movement in general here.

Harvey, F. (2010). Green vision: The search for the ideal eco-city. FT.Com, 

Roseland, M. (1997). Dimensions of the eco-city. Cities, 14(4). 197-202. 


Skeleton Leaves No More: Permaculture's Simple Secret for Banishing Pests Subscribe Email Print

Skeleton Leaves No More:
Permaculture’s Simple Secret for Banishing Pests
By Greg Peterson

So I am standing in my yard looking at my grapevine and some of the leaves have been reduced to a beautiful lacy, see-through tapestry.  Uh oh!!! This year, it has skeletonizers, nasty little caterpillars that eat the green out of the leaves and leave behind the skeleton. I don’t have issues with these guys, or really any other bugs here at the Urban Farm…ever!  Not that I don’t have bugs here, I just don’t have issues with bugs.  Now, all of a sudden, I do.  So what is going on and, better yet, how am I going to fix it? 

In permaculture, one of the first tenets is observation and this has been drilled into me over the past 25 years.  So, observation is the first thing I do when there is an ‘issue’ to resolve, and this can happen at different levels. 

 There is the observation of time, as in what happened in the past, and how does it inform and frame the future? There is the observation of small to large, such as the impact that small bug or a bunch of bugs has in an ecosystem.  There is the observation of learning from the solutions that others and I have applied to adjust/fix the issue.  So let’s observe:

  1. My first observation was the skeletonized leaves of my grape.  This alerted me to the ‘issue.’
  2. This winter wasn’t much of a winter.  It never froze here in Phoenix, something I have never seen in the 47 years I have lived here. This piece of data informs me that there will likely be more bugs to deal with in my area as the lack of cold makes it easier for bugs to survive.
  3. Are the caterpillars early in their life cycle, as indicated by a small amount of leaves being damaged, or are they later in their lifecycle, as indicated by a large amount of leaves damaged?
  4. I am sure there is more here. What might you observe for? Please list your ideas in our forum.


Once you have collected your data it is time for action. What will my plan be for addressing the issue?  In this case, I take my 3rd observation from above and determine that these little guys are in the early stages of their development, making it very easy to address the issue. Observation:  The early-stage skeletonizer caterpillars group together, huddling to keep warm and safe. This makes it very easy to harvest the leaf since they are all in one place.  As the caterpillars grow, they separate and travel to different leaves, consuming much more and making it harder to get them all.

Armed with this piece of data, I scan the grapevine looking for individual leaves being eaten. Once found, I snap the affected leaf off at the trunk and take the leaves to the chicken coop. Another observation: The chickens love the caterpillars; they eat them and, given that bugs are 65% protein, they are nourished. Issue solved.

But wait—what if I miss the deadline and the caterpillars are occupying many leaves? There are two natural solutions: 1. Pick them off individually (which is a lot of work) or 2. Use an all-natural product called BT (Bacillus thuringiensis), a natural bacteria which infects a caterpillar and kills them. Yes, the natural version of this bacteria is fine to use in our gardens.

So far, we have been looking at this process of issue elimination from a micro level and in a reactionary way: an issue happens and we react. What if we could do something (or many somethings) that would eliminate the need for us to have to react in the first place? In other words, what if there was no issue to deal with in the first place?  The good news is that we can address this by looking at the general health of the plant and, better yet, the health of the soil.

I have found over and over again as I have planted, nurtured, killed, grown and harvested plants that the healthier the environment I provide, the healthier and less susceptible to all pests the plant is. Just like with our own health, the same goes for our plants. What can you do to create this awesome space for your plants to thrive?  Glad you asked:

  • Create and build healthy soil.  I say add lots of organic matter, mulch and compost, especially in the summer. The deeper the organic material the better.  Healthy soil contains 5 components:

⁃         Dirt

⁃         Air space

⁃         Water

⁃         Organic material

⁃         Everything that is alive.  Bugs, microbes, mycelium and on. Nurture the life in the soil. I say the best way to do this is to add organic material.

  • Fertilize with:

⁃         An organic fertilizer

⁃         Micronutrients like rock dust, Redmon’s Conditioner or Elemite

⁃         Fish and kelp emulsion. These two products can be applied to the soil or as a foliar application directly on the plant leaves. This one helps a lot.

  • Water regularly and don’t drought-stress your plants.

The bottom line is to pay attention to your plants and the environment around them. I am very much a proponent of working early so that later on down the road I don’t have to deal with an issue.  It takes some forethought and observation, but once you do your garden and your life will be so much easier and healthier.