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Urban Farmers Wanted: Backyard gardens that need no tending … by you

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Fact or Fiction

couple of months ago there was a neighborhood meeting at Uprising Bakery (17th and Perry Ave.) for a revolutionary program called “Food Lawns.”

It was on a Sunday, late morning, and about 50 people showed up with a handful of dogs. There were tents with tables, shading an eclectic mix of people who handed out seed packets and information about sustainable farming. These people understand that our food doesn’t nourish us the way it once did, so they aim to inform us why. Plus, they’re definitely not in it for money.

“In modern farming, the only purpose of the soil is to hold the plants in place while we dump petroleum products on them,” Jock Brandis, foudner of Full Belly, once explained.  

The broccoli that our grandparents ate is not the same we buy today on our grocery store shelves. The vitamins and minerals just aren’t there anymore. Instead, many large-scale producers pump their crops full of petro-chemical fertilizers to enhance the broccoli’s appearance, much like a skinny high-school kid on steroids. Their Luftwaffe will spray a whole field with herbicide, killing everything in it except the plants that have been genetically modified not to die from that specific poison; but, they’ll still absorb it, even if it doesn’t kill them. 

At the appointed time, the owner of the bakery introduced Evan Folds, who laid out his plan. Folds is the owner of Progressive Gardens on Oleander Drive. I’ve been following his writing for many years [ed. note: He contributes to encore’s sister publication, Devour]. He champions the importance of restoring the nutrients in food by maintaining a healthy, living soil. He also invented a vortex brewing machine that churns out a biodynamic “compost tea” responsible for helping rejuvenate hundreds (thousands, maybe) of depleted farms. He’ll even give you the first gallon for free—provided you bring your own container. Full disclosure: I’m a fan.

Here’s his idea: If you have a yard, he wants to rent a small section of it from you. He’ll bring a portable, above-ground capsule to plant vegetables and take care of the upkeep. By giving up as little as 50 square feet—about the size of a small bathroom—you can expect fresh produce and, eventually, a little cash in return. You don’t even have to take care of it! It’s a new model of urban farming. For those who want to get more involved and actually get dirty, he’s looking for a branch manager to tend a pilot program set to begin in spring 2015 in the Carolina Place neighborhood. 

Carolina Place spans 17th to 21st streets at Wallace Park. It’s surround by plenty of birds in the cypress grove (bring binoculars) and fish in Burnt Mill Creek (though, I’m told you’re not supposed to eat them when caught). The only irritant is the traffic on Market Street, but that’s a whole other issue. 

Many Carolina Place residents are already farming. Front-yard gardens are popping up all over the place. Take an alley, and you may even see hens. The neighborhood is made up of fascinating people. The publisher for the environemntally conscious “Going Green,” lives on a corner and offers folks a copy of the latest edition right off her porch. The family who starter the farmer-friendly  Down East Connect always has fresh veggies ready. And with Uprising Bakery right around the corner,  a vegan scone or a cold beer outside on the hammock makes spending afternoons among the fading sun a joy. 

Carolina Place is small enough for the test-run of Food Lawns to be manageable. I’m most worried about the squirrels in our neighborhood though. They’re everywhere. Another neighbor recently downloaded an app of bird calls to keep the rodents away from his salad greens. Every time he goes out back for a smoke, he pushes the button marked, “HAWK.” He says it’s working. 

Maybe city council would install loudspeakers in the trees? No, we can’t have them disturbing the owls.  

Don’t live in the pilot program zone? Worry not. After Folds and his team work out the details, they intend to broaden their scope to any neighborhood with sufficient interest to get on board. 

If you have the will, let them know. Stop in, call or send an email to Become a home grower and get free supplies, money, and clean, toxin-free food in return for letting someone else landscape your yard. It doesn’t get much better than that.

Joel Finsel is the author of “Cocktails and Conversations from the Astral Plane,” and writes creative short stories, essays and musings every other week in encore throughout 2014. 

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