The Urban Farm Podcast:
Exclusive Sneak Peek with Greg Peterson
The Urban Farm Podast will begin airing on Tuesday, November 17th! In this Q&A, Greg Peterson shares what to expect from Urban Farm U’s latest creation.
Payton: Tell us a little about yourself and what inspired you to start this podcast.
Greg: I really feel like I was born with this task in mind because in 1974 I was in 8th grade and I had to write a paper for my science class. I wrote about how we were overfishing the oceans. How on earth an 8th grader knows that I don’t know to this day. But I knew back then that there was something inherently wrong with how we were living on the planet and ow we were eating on the planet. Some pretty big seeds were planted back then. Then in 1981 I designed on paper a sustainable fish farm. I was playing with fish farming back then and looking at fish farms that would raise fish, clean the fish, and would throw away the stuff that was left over. Which would make great fertilizer, you know there’s whole bunches of stuff that you can be done with that. So I took the concept of sustainable back then – I don’t know if it was called that back then – but I took that concept and wrapped the waste back into the system. Basically I turned the fish waste into fertilizer.
Fast forward 10 years I actually spent some time in technology—I actually ran a Macintosh computer company for 20 years—and in 1991 a couple major things happened for me. I discovered permaculture and did a 72-hour permaculture design course that year and I discovered a book called Ishmael by Daniel Quinn. Ishmael is a conversation between a gorilla and a man and the gorilla is the teacher. It’s a really fascinating work of fiction—if you haven’t read it, go read it!
Then in 2001 when I returned to Arizona State University to get my degree, I had to write a mission and vision for my life in a class. In writing it I discovered that I was already doing what I want to do, and that’s show people how to do what we’re doing here at The Urban Farm. So in 2001 The Urban Farm was created. I like to call The Urban Farm an environmental showcase home. So what I do is open it up periodically for classes and tours so that people can come and see these different concepts in action and hopefully take them with them and do something about them.
Payton: It really is inspiring to see what you’ve done here. For those that haven’t been to The Urban Farm, can you paint a picture of what there is here?
Greg: Absolutely. So The Urban Farm is in North Central Phoenix right in the middle of the city. If you stood up on the roof here and looked around, 50 miles in every direction you’d see city if you could see that far. So that gives you a picture of where we’re at. I’m about 4 miles north of downtown Phoenix in a neighborhood that was built in the 1940s, my house was built in 1949 and it’s on a flood irrigated property and what that means is this used to be a citrus orchard in the 1920s and 30s. How they watered it was with ditch water, so basically the yard gets 6 inches of water 20 times/year. So the property itself is 80 feet wide and 160 feet deep, and what I’ve done over the past 26 years is I’ve created this space into an edible landscape. Everything is edible or supports edible. I’ve got somewhere around 80 fruit trees on the property, rainwater and greywater harvesting, 3 different kinds of solar panels on the roof, and edible gardens everywhere, plus we have a good contingence of chickens that live on the property. Basically they take care of bugs and weeds and stuff like that.
Payton: It really is like an oasis in the midst of the concrete jungle being here right now. So our podcast is called The Urban Farm Podcast, and you’re the owner of The Urban Farm and an urban farmer, but what exactly is an urban farmer?
Greg: You know, that is a great question. It’s one that I push every day. I’m really out to create 10,000 urban farms here in Phoenix. Here’s a quick quiz for you listeners: How many people are growing their own food? And how many of you are sharing that food with somebody? If you share that food with somebody—even with your family—you’re an urban farmer. So claim that. You grow food, you share it, and the third part is that you always want to name your urban farm. Naming your urban farm creates name recognition and sizzle in the community.
When I do a tour I always ask, how many of you are urban farmers? 10 years ago when I’d ask this question, I’d get nobody that would show up and claim to be an urban farmer. Now I get 5, 10, or 15 people on a tour that raise their hands. Then I ask what their farms’ names are. There are some great names out there. The Urban Farm is pretty generic name, but people in Phoenix KNOW the Urban Farm. They know it’s a place in Phoenix where Greg grows food. There’s Jack in the Beanstalk, there’s Wish We Had Acres, there’s Two Fat Cats Apartment Garden. This brings levity to the space and conversation.
So why do I do what I do? A big piece of why I do what I do—remember I talked about having this sense 40 years ago that there was something inherently wrong? Well, I still think there’s something inherently wrong with what we’re doing and how we’re doing it. We have this absolutely amazing food system set up in this country that delivers meals to 300 million people very day. On one hand it’s amazing, on the other hand it has so many problems, and one of those problems is that it’s delivering food that’s not so nutritious. But it’s also somewhat tenuous in its ability to deliver—if we have a storm or power outage or something happens in a metropolitan area, we have a 3-day supply of food. And I actually say it’s more like a 3-hour supply of food because once people get wind that there’s a disruption in food supply food’s going to fly off the shelves.
So I really encourage people to plant in their front and backyards, grow their own foods so that if something happens, we have food available to us to eat. And guess what—if nothing happens, which is what I’m gunning for—then we have food growing everywhere! Either way we win. It is an absolutely win-win situation for our communities and our families.
Payton: Can listeners expect to learn about permaculture and growing techniques in our podcast?
Greg: Absolutely! Every podcast will feature valuable experiences that can help listeners learn techniques to grow fruits, vegetables, herbs and fruit and livestock in urban areas. We’ll talk about how to handle common challenges people face and how to build healthy soil. Which is a really, really big one.
Payton: Will all of the guests on the show be farmers?
Greg: Absolutely not! We will have farmers, authors, business leaders, advocates, changemakers to explore various aspects of it including environmental, economic, and social aspects. Plus, how urban farming influences emotional spiritual and physical health of those involved. Each week we will include different topics. What we’ve done is brainstormed topics we’d like to cover on a weekly basis.
Payton: So what are the topics we’ve been talking about, Greg?
Greg: one really important one is growing techniques, where we’re gonna share valuable techniques and theories for growing food, such as sheet mulching. Sheet mulching is this crazy incredible way to build soil and it’s a permaculture concept where we take layers of organic material, layer is and plant right in it. Interestingly, it’s also called lasagna gardening. So we’ll have guests to discuss these different techniques and how they do it, things like that. Then there’s the wild card day—that could be anything that has to do with the food system. It could be how food is distributed, how we get our food, how it gets on our plates—it’s wild card so I don’t know that I can say a whole lot more about it.
Payton: Yeah, you name it, it could happen that day! So make sure to turn in on those days for sure.
Greg: We’ll also have a permaculture day where we cover concepts in permaculture. We’ll bring in guest who knows a particular thing about permaculture and ask what they’re doing and how they’re doing it. And have then explain just exactly how YOU can do this for yourselves. And one of my favorite topics—that we’ve been doing in our newsletter for two years now—is talk to featured farmers. In our newsletter, we find a farmer somewhere on the planet and interview them and put that information in our newsletter. People just like you and me that are out there doing this incredible work and building farms and neighborhoods to feed themselves.
Payton: I love that there are farmers all over the world who have tips and tricks to share—there’s a lot to learn from those guests. So what’s our final topic (this is a good one!)?
Greg: Ahhh this is a good one, this is called “So You Wrote It” and we are going to bring in authors. So anyone that wrote anything about permaculture, the food system, sustainable food, sustainable culture, and regenerative design (a term we will talk about more). We are going to interview these authors about their books and what inspired them to write these books—plus we’ll learn some of the information in the books.
Payton: I’m excited for all that’s going on.
Greg: There’s so much here. So much value. I’m deeply committed—all of us here at Urban Farm U are deeply committed to you getting a lot out of what we teach. So we power-pack them with content that you can do something with. I’m deeply dedicated to teaching.
Payton: And you’ve inspired so many people, so thank you. Is there anything else you’d like to share?
Greg: Yes, so the bottom line for me is you’ve gotta learn. I’ve gotta learn. I’m in this never-ending loop of learning something new and learning something new and learning something new. I’m always in 1 or 2 classes and am really taking advantage of this online learning platform, taking in new ways to learn and teach you. So the bottom line is—go out and learn. Take a class. If not with me, go with your local botanical gardens or somewhere. And once you learn it—teach somebody else! That’s how we get to learn it at a deeper level. So really, that’s it. Keep learning, keep teaching, this is what’s gonna change the world.