Planting and tending to your own vegetable garden, or keeping a few backyard chickens does more than supply food, it offers an opportunity to understand what it takes to get food to your plate. Not only will you supply yourself with fresh organic vegetables, you will be more likely to value food produced in an environmentally friendly, humane way and support farmers who do the same. There's no way around it - once you experience being part of the cycle of sowing, tending and harvesting you will honor the process. Knowing where our food comes from is the key to our health and the health of the planet. If you haven't already, I suggest reading one of Michael Pollan's books on the subject. There's now a young reader's version of The Omnivore's Dilemma that I'm looking forward to giving my son. The truth about food is hard to swallow, but once it's digested you can't help but see those vegetables in the yard as beautiful.
As the interest in urban farming began to spread the first gardens to pop-up were generally backyard spaces tucked away so that you couldn't see them unless you knew they were there. In some neighborhoods there's a stigma attached to growing your own food that is just now beginning to dissipate. I believe it's two fold. First of all most people are just used to a certain type of landscaping; we know that a tidy lawn, mums, pansies, shrubberies and some mulch will keep you looking like a good home keeper. Nobody wants to stick out like a sore thumb. Unless you live in a progressive neighborhood, taking the leap is pretty daring. Secondly, the American dream includes rising in the class structure. What would it say if you had to grow your own food? For many years families who had to rely on their gardening skills longed for a day when they could escape being shackled to the necessity. Understandably, part of the joy is in having the choice.
Over the past five years I've watched my neighborhood change. Sure there were the hip crunchy folks with big back yards that have been letting the squash and tomatoes run wild for years, but just this summer I've begun to see some pleasant surprises. Collards, broccoli and chard have been spotted in a landscape unchanged since the 1950's - worked in like an ornamental as if it had always been there. And one of the biggest surprises was the fact that my chickens have been welcomed. We have some regulars who come by to visit on evening walks and the other day I saw a line of summer camp kids being led through the ally to take a look!
Here's what's going on around the neighborhood - people finding joy in getting to know their food.
A little bean field next to a perfectly manicured shrub!
Cucumbers planted at the top of a retaining wall in the back ally.
Claire McGuire recently bought a beautiful twin in the city of Philadelphia. Starting with only a lawn, she and our neighbor Kevin designed a beautiful flowing vegetable garden that integrates flowers with the following vegetables and fruits:
apples (which will be espaliered against the fence)
Claire was kind enough to let me photograph this beautiful garden in the month of August - thank you Claire! All of us gardeners are self conscious about the toll the August heat takes on the plants.