Featured Farmer: Anna Thornton
from Balm of Gilead Garden
Editor’s Note: We are excited to introduce Anna Thornton as our featured farmer for the month of January. She and her husband, William Thornton, are doing some amazing things at her urban farm, Balm of Gilead Garden, in Phoenix, AZ. Below is our Q&A with Anna. Please note, these are Anna’s personal responses and are not necessarily the opinion of The Urban Farm.
Tell me a little about your urban farm. What is your farm’s name? Size? What are you growing? What kind of climate are you growing in?
Our farm is called Balm of Gilead Garden. Our property is over 10,000 sq ft and we currently have our garden in our backyard and will be changing our front yard into an edible landscape. We grow vegetables, herbs and flowers that we can eat or use in some way. Our fruit we currently have growing are grapes, apples, peaches, pomegranates, lemons, oranges, plums and strawberries. The herbs growing are lemongrass, oregano, thyme, dill, parsley, garlic chives, savory, etc. The vegetables growing are currently green onions, broccoli, fava beans, radishes, beets, Swiss chard, kale, Brussels sprouts, lettuce, peas, cabbage, etc. We are growing our produce in the desert southwest climate in Phoenix, AZ, also known as zone 9.
What initially sparked your interest in urban farming?
We started gardening when I was reading about all the herbicides, pesticides and GMOs in our food causing sicknesses and diseases. I knew I needed to start the garden to heal my body and supply food to others.
Do you use any organic, permaculture, hydroponic, biodynamic, or other methods? Explain.
Here at Balm of Gilead Garden we do not use any herbicides, pesticides or GMOs in our garden. We are growing organically. We are incorporating permaculture and biodynamics into our growing practices that in the long run will be for the benefit of humans, soil and the eco-system. For example, we believe that God created a land Sabbath for a reason. This is applied on every 7th year. We will not be doing any sowing of seeds or planting on the 7th year. The land will rest. We will have available to our family anything that grows during that 7th year for our household but there will not be any planting. This is so that the soil can rest and rejuvenate. Everything we learn through gardening, permaculture or any garden practice, we seek God’s word to see if that practice is to be applied in order for the ecosystem to balance the way He intended it in His original creation. We have also installed some water harvesting systems into our landscape to conserve water. We also raise worms for the purpose of worm castings. Our Black Soldier Fly unit was created this year for the purpose of giving our chickens more protein in their diet.
Do you use compost? Where do you get it and how does it help your plants grow?
Here at our place we do make compost on our own, as well as bring in outside compost for the garden. We use a company here in Phoenix called Grow-Well for our compost. When we make compost we use a combination of spent plant, leaves, shredded newspaper, hay, chicken manure and water to make our own. Using compost is important for the plants to receive the nutrients they require. Without compost we would not be able to grow plants.
Do you have any urban livestock? Chickens? Bees?
We get our chicken manure from the chickens we have in our backyard. We built a chicken coop for them. We currently just processed 10 meat birds and have 8 laying hens that we get our eggs from on a daily basis.
What do you do with the food you grow?
The food we grow we incorporate into our daily meals. When there is excess we give it away or if someone wants to give us a donation for our church we do that too in exchange for produce from our garden.
What is your greatest challenge in your farming endeavors?
One of our greatest challenges has been an abundant harvest and have learned that planting directly in our soil is more beneficial than growing in raised beds for us.
What do you enjoy the most about farming/growing food?
One of the things we enjoy most is learning how God created the perfect ecosystem to protect us because He loves us and when that is restored we get to share the abundance of food with others and in turn our bodies heal themselves. We also get share our food with others. It doesn’t get much better than that.
Why do you think urban farming is important?
Urban farming is important because it will take us all growing gardens in order to sustain the ecosystems, it will not destroy the soils like monoculture farming is doing and we will start to see less sicknesses and diseases.
Do you think this is a growing movement? Is urban farming the future of agriculture?
I thinking urban farming is growing. In order for us to maintain our food security, ecosystems, population growth and sustainability urban farming is the future of agriculture.
Do you have any advice for someone just getting started?
When starting out in gardening, my advice would be to start small with your space. Create those spaces in the ground and not above the ground. Cover all your bare dirt with wood chips. Start out small by growing herbs, marigolds and calendulas. The herbs and flowers will become your best friends in combating bad insects in your garden. Everyone should compost and have chickens. Reuse whatever you can, whether it be your waste or someone else’s waste. It helps your budget and the environment. Take Greg Peterson’s Urban Farming 101 class to get started if you have not already.
Anything else you’d like to add?
Enjoy the failures along with the successes. Breathe and enjoy the journey because it is well worth it. The education that is learned through this process will forever change you and lessons you will never forget. In the future we will be giving tours so keep watch for when they will be happening on our Facebook page or our Garden Journal page.