Greg Peterson on The Urban Farm in Phoenix, AZ
Tell us a little about your urban farm. What’s its name? Size?
The Urban Farm, as I dubbed it in 2002, is a 1/3 acre (90’ x 150’) flood irrigated lot in the middle of Phoenix. If you were to stand on the roof and look there is city in 50 miles all directions.
One of the curious things about this property is the flood irrigation. 20 times per year we open a pipe in the back part of the yard and about 6 inches of water from our lake system flows in to nourish our landscape. Desert? Flood water? I know curious right? I live on what in the first part of the 1900’s was a citrus orchard that had guaranteed water rights. Long story short – when the government built Roosevelt dam the land owners had to put up their land as collateral. In exchange the farmers received this perceptual water right. Then in 1948 when what is now The Urban Farm was built they included a system to deliver the water. So the Urban Farm gets that bonus.
In exchange for the water I have spent the last 27 years landscaping the yard with edibles and lots of fruit trees. Last count we had over 70 trees that in the front yard ring the perimeter forming a really nice natural edible fence. My goal with growing fruit trees here is to have ripe fruit every month of the year. So far we have achieved 9 months—November through July. As you can imagine, growing in the harsh heat of the summer is hard on plants.
What are you growing?
The list of things that I have grown over the years (and, well, I should say on some of them TRIED to grow) is huge. There are somethings that is it just too hot for. The cool thing about the low desert is that we have multiple growing seasons with the first one starting in August/September when we plant the hardy cold season crops such as kale, broccoli, arugula, peas, garlic, onions, beets and carrots – all from seed.
Season two begins in late October when we plant delicate greens such as lettuce, spinach, and all the rest of the greens.
Season 3 starts just after the last frost date in February when we plant tomatoes, peppers & eggplant.
Then March once the nighttime temps are above 60 degrees we get to plant all the vining plants such as watermelons, squash, pumpkins as well as grains.
AND my favorite thing to plant is the fruit tree as you plant it once and it produces fruit for decades. We have citrus (15 varieties), peaches (6), apricots (2), plums, mangos, guavas, figs (4), pomegranates and so much more.
What kind of climate are you growing in?
HOT low desert. 12 month growing season, however July – October is the hardest time to grow.
What initially got you interested in urban farming?
Please for my full story check out this book.
Do you use any organic, permaculture, hydroponic, biodynamic, or other methods? Explain.
All permaculture since 1992 and organic since 1989.
Do you use compost? Where do you get it and how does it help your plants?
My composting here at The Urban Farm is very permaculture (cyclical) in nature. All the food scraps get used and a lot of the yard scraps.
Coming from the kitchen are a variety of food scraps. A bulk of them (80%) go to our soldier fly bin. They are really cool – produce a nice grub for the chickens and convert our food scraps to protein. This is a very effective system. The next 10% of our kitchen waste goes to the worm composting bins which in turn create worm poop (castings) which is great for the garden. The balance of the food scraps and all the egg shells (crushed) are fed to the chickens.
Our yard scraps (leaves, grass clippings and weeds) all get fed directly to the chickens where they root through what is there and add some manure along the way. Then twice per year everything gets raked up and put in my bins to compost for 6 months, thus creating awesome soil for our gardens.
I am working through a process right now of figuring out which chipper mulcher to purchase so that I can begin chipping all the branches from our tree clippings.
Do you have any urban livestock? Chickens? Bees?
Chickens baby!!! I am a huge believer that if you have a backyard you need to keep chickens. They eat bugs and weeds, leave a nice poop deposit behind and give us eggs every day.
What do you do with the food you grow?
Our space is primarily for showcasing what you can grow and growing for our own consumption. So during our tours and classes we often share what we grow. One of the cool things that my sweetie Heidi does is harvests a box of food each week for one of her yoga clients – we call it our mini-CSA.
What is your greatest challenge in your farming endeavors?
Given I am an educator and that is the main purpose of the Urban Farm, my biggest challenge is getting people to become awake about what is in our food, where it comes from and the value of growing their own.
What do you enjoy the most about farming/growing food?
Two things, getting my hands dirty and eating!!!
Why do you think urban farming is important?
I believe that our current food system is bankrupt. It uses extreme chemicals to grow food and extreme pesticides to control bugs, which is a laugh. These chemicals significantly impact our health and the health of the planet. Then to top it off the soil that grows much of the food we eat is long since depleted of the nutrients that we need to live a healthy life.
My solution and I think ‘The Solution’ is growing our own food close to where we eat it. And although we can’t grow all of our own food…one startling statistic from the FDA is that ¾ of our fruits and vegetables are shipped in from other countries. I can guarantee you that we can grow a significant amount of that food in our own front and back yards, community gardens and on urban farms.
Do you think this is a growing movement?
Over the past 20 years I have seen attendance in our classes and courses and participation in our fruit tree program explode. As an example I offer my Jump Start Your Garden class a couple times per year at a local book store. Generally, I get 25 or so people to attend. A few years ago shortly after the bump in our financial market I gave that class and when it was all said and done there were 267 people that attended that evening. YES, it is growing.
Do you have any advice for someone that’s just getting started?
Grow your own food. Something, just get started. The most expensive things to purchase and the easiest to grow are herbs. If nothing else grow some fresh herbs. Oh yes, and take one of our free classes or paid courses at Urban Farm U. One of my big mottos in life is don’t stop learning.