DeBorah Prince from Urban G4G
Tell me a little about your urban farm.
I usually tell people that I have a garden, but when they see it they say you don’t have a garden, you have a farm. I’ve been gardening for over 20 years now it went from a very small garden to a larger area.
What are you growing?
From A to Z and everything in between
Asparagus, arugula, beans (dry and green), basil, beets, broccoli, Brussel sprouts, corn, carrot, coriander, cilantro, comfrey, cabbage, cress, cucumbers (Armenian, pickle, slicing), cantaloupe, dill, dino kale, chives, eggplant, fava beans, grapes, garlic, kale, lettuce, muscilin lettuce, mint, okra, onions, oregano, potatoes, pumpkins, peas, parsley, Bok choy, rosemary, radish, sweet potatoes, squash, sage, spearmint, tomatoes, thyme, turnips, watermelons, zucchini.
Flowers for attracting beneficial bugs to the garden, so I don’t have to use chemicals for pests. Basically I grow mostly heirlooms because not only can I save the seeds, but each vegetable is unique in its own way. They are the seeds our grandparents grew. They are not perfectly round or the same size like the hybrids are made.
What kind of climate are you growing in?
We live in NJ which you know has 4 seasons, the winters are freezing and the summers are hot. I’m learning how to grow my vegetables in the winter because we want fresh food year round.
What initially got you interested in urban farming?
Since I was a little a girl I was fascinated by seeds that I saw inside of the flowers and I would pick them out. All I knew is when my husband and I moved into our house I told him we had to have a garden. We started out very small and through time it just keeps evolving into different designs each year.
Do you use organic, permaculture, hydroponic, biodynamic, or other methods?
When I first began gardening it wasn’t organic, the more I studied, the more I realized I had to go organic. What’s the purpose of growing your own food if you’re going to use pesticides, you might as well by it from the store without all the work. I’m currently taking a permaculture class online that is offered by Bill Mollison and Jeff Lawton. My dream is to go to the classes on site to learn hands from the pros. My goal is to teach gardening both here and abroad to empower people to be self reliant.
Do you use compost? Where do you get it and how does it help your plants?
I’ve been composting as long as I’ve been gardening, my family is already trained as what goes in the garbage and what goes in the compost. In my kitchen I have a small touch garbage can and when anyone cooks or eat fruit they put the peels in it. Sometimes I will ask for the stores when I shop for the vegetable scraps they throw out. Even Starbucks and Dunkin Donuts will give you the coffee grids if you ask for them. For the past 2 years I’ve learned vermicomposting, and my grandchildren were eager to start the bin with me. I started in my kitchen for the first year, couldn’t deal with the fruit flies so the second year I put it outside in a slop sink in the garden. Then in the fall I moved it into the greenhouse, they are doing very well in there.
The compost and worm castings are an excellent fertilizer for my plants it keeps them healthy. Compost not only helps out the plants it also helps to lessen our carbon footprint. With all the organic matter going into our landfills it causes an overload of carbon in the atmosphere which in turn causes a greenhouse effect. Global warming is the end result.
Do you have any urban livestock? Chickens? Bees?
We are working on making a chicken coop we already cleared the space for it. The plans for the coop is in the design; I’m working on learning about chickens and hopefully I will have about six pullets as soon as the coop is built.
Bees are in the plans for sure its on the list, just not this year.
What do you do with the food you grow?
That’s funny, we have a very large family, 7 children and 15 grandchildren. Most of it is eaten, frozen, fermented or pickled and I even made Kimchi. I start my seeds in the greenhouse, so of course I grow more than I have space for. Last year I donated some extra plants to the food bank, because I know what it’s like to be without. My children and I lived in a homeless shelter after my ex-husband deserted us, so I need to give back.
What is your greatest challenge in your farming endeavors?
In the beginning I wasn’t organic and when I saw bugs I got out the spray. Through the years in my studies I learned about companion gardening and good bugs vs bad bugs. When I killed the bad ones the good ones were also killed. Not only the bugs but all the organisms in the soil. The soil is alive with all kind of living organic matter which needs to be fed.
What do you enjoy most about growing food?
I’m fascinated by the fact that I can put a seed in the ground and get food or flowers. I love it, also I know what we’re eating. My children love vegetables and my grandchildren know that vegetables grow in the ground and not in the supermarket. When my mother was alive she came to visit me from Virginia and she was in my garden. When she saw the broccoli, she said she never saw broccoli grow. She even planted peanuts one time and wondered why they didn’t see any peanuts. I told her they grow underground like potatoes. We were born in NYC so she didn’t garden until later in her life.
Why do you think urban farming is important?
It’s extremely important, actually its imperative because today our food supply is not real food anymore. With GMOs taking over people really need to pay attention to what they are eating. The big corporations are all about the money, it doesn’t matter about the health risk – it’s all about the money.
Do you think this is a growing movement?
Yes! because not only is knowledge power, but the application of knowledge is power. The more people understand where our food is coming from and what the PLU codes mean on the labels I believe they will understand how important it will be to fight against these corporations. All processed and fast foods may contain GMOs, high sodium, high sugar contents causing obesity, high blood pressure, diabetics and a host of other diseases. Eating food that we grow from heirloom seeds we know what we are putting in the soil. I often think about the old movie starring Charleston Heston called “Soylent Green” when people were so hungry they didn’t care what they were eating.
Is urban farming the future of agriculture?
During WWI and WWII the government put out a mandate for people to grow their own food and have chickens in their yard. There were Victory Gardens all over, as well as community gardens. Now we are up against another war, it’s a known fact that monoculture is not the answer. This process has not only stripped our top soil but the soil is dead. Dust storms during the 1930’s killed so many people and farmers had to leave their land. Permaculture restores the land, replenishes the dead soil left from monoculture.
Do you have any advice for someone that’s just getting started?
You can’t grow everything your family eats all at once; it is a learning process. You’ll have to pick a spot in your yard, amend your soil and plan what you want to grow. The resources on line are amazing, plus books and other gardeners. This way you don’t have to make the same mistakes we made. Take the time to design your space, even if it’s just containers. I tell everyone I have a garden, but when they see it they tell me we have a farm. I didn’t start big it just evolved over the years. Rain barrels and chickens are in the plans for this year for sure. Later on my wish list is an aquaponics system and bees is down the road.