Anne-Marie Miller from Bloom Where You’re Planted
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?
My backyard has two majestic oaks in it so it is perfect for my animals. The shade helps them get through the hot summers. Because of this I garden in my front yard. Our whole property is a little less than a third of an acre. I have named my front yard garden Bloom Where You’re Planted because for a long time I longed for and prayed for a place in the country, but my Heavenly Father said one night, to me, “Just Bloom Where You’re Planted.” As usual He has the best life planned for me because it turns out that I am reaching a lot more people here where I am, than out far in the country where I longed to be. I am thankful to Him for changing the plan I had for my life to the far better one He had planned for me.
Like most Southern gardeners I have two short growing seasons: Spring and fall separated by a hotter then Hades period that we all just try to get through the best we can. We call our soil Black Gumbo but I have found it to be more like black concrete hence the use of the raised beds that make up my front yard garden. I have bent/broken many a tool in this Texas soil. It makes me wonder how many plows the first settlers broke before they decided to raise cattle instead.
I grow all manner of veggies: tomatoes, beans, zucchini, yellow squash, butternut squash etc. One thing I have never been able to grow is cauliflower but I am a pretty determined individual so maybe this fall. I grow all winter under hoop houses: beets, Swiss chard, lettuce, spinach, Brussels sprouts etc. However, last year, before I had built my rabbit fence I got a surprise when I took the frost cloth off—a rabbit was living in one of my beds under the cloth! Needless to say that bed didn’t do so well that year.
What initially got you interested in urban farming?
My initial prayer was that God would find a way to feed my family. Since my backyard was so shady I started to look for a community garden I could be involved in. Many of them charged quite a bit of money to have a plot in. I prayed. Shortly after that the church nearby donated a part of a field in which to start in. A group of strangers, myself included, became friends and created a community garden out of a grassy, weedy field. It was HARD work but I learned a lot. I learned how to create a garden out of nothing and how to grow things. I saw for the first time how much room collard greens took up and which varieties of kale did well in my climate. The best part was that when we encountered a problem we put our heads together, thought outside the box and found a solution. We had little to no funds so I learned to work around that. Before long we had a tree trimming company dumping free mulch and a source for the best horse manure compost. Yes, we got a lot of no’s but eventually someone said yes! I learned so much from this experience, more than growing vegetables but how to be determined in the face of defeat. From there it was an easy transition to my front yard garden. Well, I say easy. Ha, it was a lot of hard work but my family, friends and neighbors came up beside me in ways I never expected. So it started with one little desperate prayer and turned into something amazing!
Do you use any organic, permaculture, hydroponic, biodynamic, or other methods? Explain.
I am just getting a grip on what permaculture means but yes I think I have several projects that would qualify as that. The most sustainable, efficient thing on my homestead is raising black soldier flies for my chickens to eat. I put garbage (food scraps) in and free chicken food crawls out. You can’t get better than that. I also raise mealworms to supplement my chicken feed. My son is doing a science experiment on building an underground den for meat rabbits. We are right in the middle of it but it will be interesting to see how much better a rabbit does in an environment closer to its own natural conditions. I recently stumbled upon raising sweet potato vines and purslane for my rabbits during the summer months. I am interested in finding more ways to get nature to work for me instead of against me on my urban homestead. I wish I were closer [to The Urban Farm] because I could take advantage of the wonderful fruit tree project there. Who knows, maybe I will start one here.
Do you use compost? Where do you get it and how does it help your plants grow?
I have a compost bin in the chicken area made of cement cinder blocks stacked on one another. I use bags of leaves I collect by the curb in fall and grass from certain lawns in the summer. My boys mow several neighbors’ lawns so it helps with that. Adding the wood shavings from the floor of my chicken coop twice a year really gives it a boost. My rabbit droppings are raked up and go straight into the garden. I have to say that the fresh manure from my animals makes such a difference in the growth of my garden. So much so, in fact, that I would not consider having a garden without the animals to complete the circle of decomposition and growth.
Do you have any urban livestock? Chickens? Bees?
I have chickens that provide my family with fresh eggs and lots of entertainment. My son has a business of raising Holland Lop rabbits to sell. Recently I got a breeding trio of meat rabbits which I have successfully seen from the decision to get rabbits to the stew pot, which was my goal. I am proud of myself because I was unsure of how I would feel about raising my own meat but overall it turned out to be a very positive experience. I would encourage others to try raising rabbits as it has given my whole family a new appreciation for the meat we eat and the work/care it takes in raising it. My dream is to have some kind of dairy animal. I have a spot picked out and everything. My neighbor struggles to keep his lawn mowed so I am thinking a goat or sheep could probably take care of that for him (hee hee). No, in reality animals are a huge commitment but I find that it gets me outside more and relaxes me especially at the end of a hard day. My son has put in an application to The Trinity Valley Beekeepers Association for a scholarship to raise bees! I am so excited that he is interested in doing this and ready to embark on this new adventure with him. Our plan is to keep the bees behind the community garden by a creek so they will not be on our property.
What do you do with the food you grow?
I have a large family so we eat the food we grow. My kids probably are tired of me saying, “Well this is what God has provided for us today so take it or leave it.” We have learned to cook vegetables into more varied dishes than we thought was possible and are thankful for it. I didn’t have the money for the wood to make the raised beds, so I thought outside the box and asked people to sponsor me. As of now about half of my garden produce goes to those kind generous people, who believed in me enough to put the money up front for the construction of my front yard garden. It is a bit of pressure growing food for others but I think it works to my advantage. I get out and do chores in the garden that I probably would have put off had it been just for me. Also, one of my neighbors paid for the construction of two plots so he uses the produce from those. He has put way more into the garden than he has taken out, teaching me how to grow tomatoes and helping build the rabbit-proof fence around the garden. So right now I am enjoying having others involved in my garden. I am not sure it will always be this way, but I think My Father in Heaven approves and I think He is prepared to provide for us all.
What is your greatest challenge in your farming endeavors?
Definitely the squash bug! That pest is my garden nemesis. No, really that is bothersome, but I think the time it takes to keep up with the day-to-day chores in the garden is my greatest challenge. I find that it has to fit into the spaces of my life. That means some early morning days out in the garden and some late nights blogging about my experiences. I love it, so that helps. Sometimes I don’t get the support I wish I had from my family because they see this as a hobby to be fit in around the edges. They consume the food daily without realizing how much it really adds to our food intake. I am not much of a numbers person but have been thinking lately about recording exactly what I spend and what I get out of my garden so I can really see the difference it makes on paper. However that would take some more time. Maybe I can talk one of my kids into being my garden accountant.
What do you enjoy the most about farming/growing food?
I love to be outside, always have. I love the music of birdsong, the caress of a cool breeze on my cheek and the way butterflies flutter drunkenly about the garden. Seeing and feeling my Heavenly Father all about me is amazing. I have to say that the feeling of accomplishment is unrivaled. Lastly, when the world feels like it is going crazy, everything makes sense in my garden. It may not always go well, but it has a predictable calming rhythm to it.
Why do you think urban farming is important?
When I was in my teens I was very zealous about protecting the environment. So much so that I think I overlooked the good of the people for the good of the planet. I hope I am older and wiser now and have come to realize that it has to be a balance benefiting both. I think urban farming does that. It helps people connect with their food, eat healthier and learn to sustain themselves. It also helps our planet with less pesticide use, cuts down on fuel for transport, uses our water resource efficiently and keeps our seed source/ vegetable variety viable. I know something that has been a pleasant surprise to me are the friendships I am making in the community around me. I know people at the community garden that probably could qualify for government assistance but it is a whole different feeling providing food for your family yourself than having it given to you in the form of food credit from the government. All these things are a win-win for our society and our environment.
Do you think this is a growing movement? Is urban farming the future of agriculture?
Judging from the reaction of people over my front yard garden I would say, yes. People have knocked on my door to tell me they like my garden. People have found out where I live and that I am the lady with the front yard garden and showered me with questions and complements. When I ran into some trouble with front yard fence restrictions my neighbors wrote letters to the city urging them to let me keep it. I for one am realizing that my government doesn’t have the ability or the inclination to protect me from genetically modified or pesticide-laden foods. Nor will they label anything so that I have a choice. I think people are waking up to the dangers of our industrial food system and are taking their rights back one yard and forkful at a time. My hat’s off to some very talented journalists that are making known the way animals are treated in our current food system. I want to do everything I can to make sure the meat I consume was from an animal that was able to stay with its mother as long as it needed to, felt the sun on its face and the earth under its feet. More and more I think making that happen means raising them yourself. Furthermore, people need a place that they can walk outside their door to, a place that is calming and makes sense. A place where they can connect with their communities. Unfortunately, the cities just north of me have very strict restrictions on keeping backyard chickens and rabbits. They have tried and lost the right to raise even a few chickens. I am afraid they will have quite a fight on their hands to change that. Many more are plagued with HOA restrictions. I myself went through quite a time just putting up a fence around my front yard garden to keep the wild rabbits out. So, unfortunately, I think that if we are going to have urban farming we are going to have to fight for it in court and on social media.
Do you have any advice for someone just getting started?
My advice would be to people who are struggling with poor soil, to garden in raised beds. Having an abundant source of manure is going to grow healthier, stronger plants and cut your pest problems in half. So if you can raise a few chickens and rabbits do so. My other advice is to start out small and don’t let anything stop you. You don’t have the money for raised beds? Get someone to sponsor you. You don’t have money for a fence? Build one out of pallets. You can’t physically do the work? Pay some strong boy in the neighborhood who needs the money to put in a garden for you or contact a scout troop and ask to be part of an Eagle project. Most importantly pray for help and blessing and then see what surprises God comes up with.