Farm City

farm city

Novella Carpenter has captured me.  I am having trouble leaving the book alone long enough to get my work done!  I am busy dreaming up crazy ideas, nodding and crying with her, smiling at her triumphs, comparing them to my own.  “Farm City; The Education of an Urban Farmer” is a great book.

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It makes us think of an option we have long looked at.  Would we enjoy an urban farm?  The cons we always looked at were the finite amount of garden space, the limited farm animals, the close neighbors, the noise, pollution, city water, and limited wood burning.  But this book brings to light the marvelous perks that appeal to us.  My great friend, Ethan, who was my farm intern a few years ago, texted me something to the gist of, “Read Farm City!  It will make you want to take over empty lots and garden.”

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Yesterday, my truck wouldn’t start.  It seems to be on strike.  I lasted about four hours in my apartment then jumped on my bike and ran errands around town stopping in between to sit on random benches and soak up the sun, answer business calls, and eventually ended up at Purgatory Winery where I devoured a few more chapters and a cool glass of Chardonnay.

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Even out on our little homestead on the prairie surrounded by peace and quiet and astounding natural beauty, we would be tending the fire, finishing chores, then would suddenly drive forty-five minutes to town to pick up one thing from the store.  Call it stir-crazy, attention deficit disorder, or cabin fever, Doug and I don’t stay put.  We also love the freedom of jumping on a bus, a bike trail, or walking to wherever we need.  Perhaps that comes from our long string of unreliable vehicles.

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We love restaurants.  For fifteen years we keep saying we are going to give them up!  Expensive, unhealthy, waste of time…ooh look, a new Indian place.  Our friends that never go out to eat, frequenting restaurants for special occasions only are amazing to us.  But, we know we aren’t giving up eating out a few times a week and that is that.

Where neighbors are a con to city living, they can also be a pro.  Good neighbors are family.  Local music, karaoke, coffee shops, book stores, we want it all.  So, a farm in the city makes quite a bit of sense to us.

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My passion is farming, sharing farming, food security, children knowing where their food and medicine can come from.  If I have a magnificent large country farm, who will see it?  Only school groups and locals will be inspired.  It is easy to grow on a large plot in the country, the real inspiration is given to those rounding the corner on a city street and coming across a veritable Eden in the middle of town.

Still a year away, but the ideas are swirling.  Pick up “Farm City” by Novella Carpenter.  See what crazy ideas you come up with!

 

Choosing a Community Garden

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We love strolling by community gardens that we happen across in Denver.  I never put too much thought into getting a community garden plot.  Just find one near you and rent it, right?  They are brilliant models to assist with the cultivation of the local food system, and lower the need for therapy.

We checked out the plots by our apartment.  Just a half mile up the road, a whirring bicycle ride away, is the closest one.  They are $200 for a 5×10 space.  I thought this was really high but wanted to check around to make sure.  I also didn’t want to choose a plot just because it was cheap.  What a blessing that we have choice in community garden plots!  Now, this is the only one in walking distance.  That is a huge perk.  Convenience really is worth something.  I just wasn’t sure if it was worth $200 times however many plots I needed.  (I simply cannot go from a two-thirds of an acre plot to a 5×10.)

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I heard from folks at the sustainability fair that another garden plot, a big one at a park, is $100.  They thought it was pretty expensive for a 10×20.  Then comes along an angel in the form of Quentin, my fellow farmer at the local farmer’s markets.  In his hands was the application to the community garden in Elizabeth.  That is a 25 minute drive from my home but my shop is there.  $30 for an entire year (as opposed to May-September) for a 10×20.  Holy smokes.  But there is more to consider.

When choosing a garden plot write out the pros and cons-

How close is it to home or work?  How convenient is it?

Do they amend the soil for you?

Do they provide the water?  City water or well water?

Do all participants have to garden organically?

Well, so far the local, expensive gardens were winning the pros and cons war.

But Elizabeth offers some tools to use.  There is a bonus, I don’t have my tools anymore.

They also have a compost pile.  Which pleases me since I am loathing throwing out vegetable scraps!

What are the months of operation for the community garden?  If it is only May through September one can’t very well plant many root crops or pumpkins.

Then it came down to the simple question, “What do I want?”  Space to garden.  I want to plant everything I did before just on a slightly smaller scale.  I could have a 20×20 plot for $60 for the entire year.  So, I could also incorporate medicinal herbs without having to yank them out in the fall.  This could be my plot until we find our farm.

In the end, it was an obvious choice.  I did not realize how much there was to look at in a community garden.  So, write down your pros and cons, consider what you want, and then choose a community garden.  Now we start seed shopping!

 

 

On Maryjane’s Farm

It is amazing what a three year old remembers.  She remembers bottle feeding the sheep last year and everything about our farms.  We have a game as we drive home through the countryside back to our apartment and look at houses and farms and design ours.

She is adamant that she will have sheep.  They will be black, she says, and she is going to milk them!  And when the babies come out of their mommies she will be there to snuggle them and give them a bottle.  She also wants a brown horse, a small one in case she falls off.  She will wear a cowboy hat and yell, “Yee haw!”  She tells me this in her adorable young words and hand motions and intense animacy.

We talk about gathering eggs from the chickens and watching the ducks swim.  Our goats and Papa milking them.  We talk about cooking in our farm kitchen.  This child is amazing to me.  We have the same dreams and same ideas.  I am aware of how very young people are still opinionated but I have never seen one plan in so much detail.

She remembers how to plant seeds and how we water.  She knows that the sun and the moon help the seeds grows and she pretends to water.

We will be renting a 5×20 community garden plot for $200 just so we can get our hands in the soil.  We have had lots of offers to garden in other folks’ yards but I love the idea of conveniently riding my bike down in the evenings with the little girl in tow and watering our garden plot together and seeing what beautiful things are ready to be turned into dinner.  It will be quite a shock after gardening two thirds of an acre but a necessity.

There are many things I try and tire of.  Guitar lessons, language lessons, but some passions never fizzle out.  And for me and Maryjane (and Doug too) farming is a part of our very makeup.

So this summer, should you be driving past Flat Acres Farm in Parker you may likely glimpse a view of Maryjane and I watering our gardens, breathing in the aromas of soil and growth, and enjoying the sun.  Farm where planted!

 

Mid-summer Farming (bees, dreams, and permaculture)

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It looks like we live in a different state.  We have had rain every day, so unusual for July, and the grasses are green.  No fires, no drought, no hundred degree weather.  It has been glorious.  Other places in the state are dealing with too much water but here in our little oasis of Kiowa we are basking in perfect weather.  The gardens and trees are drinking deeply and everything is serene.

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We were able to grab a moment of warm sunshine to put our bee suits on and peek in the hive.  The bees are working on their eighth frame in the top bar hive.  The frames stretch across the entire frame now reaching the sides of the hive.  The bees were very busy and completely covered the outer frame.  I tried to pull a middle frame up to see if I could tell what was going on (Is there new brood?  Is there honey capped? What else am I supposed to be looking for?) but couldn’t pull it all the way up.  I was afraid of smashing bees or pulling apart the combs.  I need my mentor to come over next time and show me what the heck we are supposed to be doing.  But for the moment it was like looking into a magical world.  The bees were calm and I have fallen in love with these gentle creatures.

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We have two interns here that are just lovely people.  They have been helping me immensely.  The gardens were all weeded and mulched by yesterday afternoon and new seeds planted.  We enjoy meals with them and talk about our ideas and dreams.  We have been looking for a place to move that has a small house but more land.  Renting has a definite downfall for me, I worry.  I worry that I can’t renew my lease, or that I have to stay but for how long?  Can I plant trees?  Should I get attached to this quaint little house, my neighbors, this town?  What if I miss my opportunity for a homestead?  Dang, I wish I could buy a place.  Turns out we have a choice to make.  The homesteads we can afford to rent are way out in the prairie or far away towns.  Or we can stay near our children and granddaughter.  Not a hard decision to make.  My friend, Lisa, came over one day and asked if we were going to farm the back part of the yard because we had fenced it off (for the goats).  Suddenly while talking with Stephanie and Ethan, our interns, I realized that we could, with their help, transform that space.  We could build a greenhouse.  We could use permaculture techniques to up our food production.  Hopefully we can stay on for a few more years here since nothing seems to be coming up in the form of larger place.

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I have been reading a lot about permaculture and came across a film that fascinated me and a technique we will definitely try.  It is a free documentary.  Worth the watch!  http://backtoedenfilm.com

I do hope your mid-summer farming is going well and you get a perfect mix of sun and rain!

A Few Books For Summer Reading

I have a few books to recommend that really inspired me.  So grab a big glass of lemonade and a porch swing and enjoy.

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The first one is “Off On Our Own; Living Off-Grid in Comfortable Independence” by Ted Carns.  He details how he and his wife have lived in an off-grid house and off the land for over thirty years.  The imagery of frogs hopping through the house, a lagoon in the living room, a living compost floor, outbuildings holding odds and ends of things he can use in his buildings.  He has thrown away one small load of trash in thirty years and even regrets that.  Everything is put back to work.  He builds filters to capture rain water and creates electricity.  Not being mechanically minded, I sure wish I could have understood his explanations on how to build all these things but I know many people that would.  A mixture of spiritual and how-to makes this book an interesting read.  His model of living is inspirational and gave me many ideas for our homestead.

a bushels worth

I just finished “A Bushel’s Worth; An Ecobiography” by Kayann Short.  I was delighted to see that it takes place here in Colorado.  Her farm is in Boulder and she and her husband were professors at Colorado University at the same time that Doug went there.  She even mentioned one of my favorite farmers, the Millers.  Learning from a farmer via print that is in a similar climate as I am was fun and inspirational.  I love her CSA model that she runs her farm on.  She doesn’t do markets but instead has many members that help with everything from pressing apples to painting barns in exchange for their share.  Some pay for their shares.  All come together for pancake breakfasts and concerts at the end of the season.

She talks about the sobering fact that our subdivisions are named after the farm they now stand on.  The ranches that were taken over.  A sad tribute to once was.  She says that preserving farmland may even be more important than preserving public lands.  Miles and miles of it out here in my county for sale waiting to be bland homes on tiny plots.

The other day a sweet family came to visit our farm.  The children helped me pull garlic and planted radishes.  They oohed and ahhed over the gardens.  They visited with the animals.  A four year old boy told me to use fish to make the corn grow.  He, himself, grows a two foot square plot in a greenhouse at his home two towns over.  So pleased they were with their visit.  As they were leaving I mentioned that hopefully this time next year we’ll be on a bigger farm and stopped myself as I realized how rather ungrateful I sounded.

This kind of rental is incredibly rare.  An adorable old house, two lots, no rules against livestock or digging up one’s front yard.  A darling town and fabulous neighbors.  Really, what more could I ask for?

I am so grateful for the opportunity to farm here and if the doors close on anything else I will be happy as a sunflower staying here.  I do hope though that my request is somehow, miraculously, granted.  I do not wish for a bigger house.  I do not wish for more land out of greed.  I do not wish to be tucked away from society on our massive land.  I would love to help preserve a patch of God’s gorgeous earth, to nurture it, to feed people, to help folks learn to feed themselves and learn old time arts.  I am limited here because I cannot do business out of our home.  My classes are actually outlawed and having people over to buy eggs is a against the law as well.  I am certain there is an old homestead out there that needs tending and a plot of land that wants to feed people and bring smiles to many faces, where a blue grass band plays at a pumpkin festival….

In the meantime I will keep reading and learning and being inspired until that door opens and work with what I have!

Have you read any good farm books lately?  Do share!