Urban Gardening – a crime?

If you spend half as much time on the internet as I do, you have probably already come across this story of a Michigan woman who faces jail time for the crime of planting a garden in her front yard.

The "unsuitable" garden in question

That’s right. According to the Oak Park, Michigan city planner, a vegetable garden is not “suitable” for a front yard. Maybe the city planner should do a little research into the benefits of so-called “front yard gardens.”

1. Reduce the use of toxic chemicals. Grass is hard to grow in a lot of climates. In order to get that perfect, “golf course” green lawn, many homeowners use weed killers, chemical fertilizers, and other chemicals. According to beyondpesticides.org, 19 out of the 30 most commonly used lawn chemicals “are linked with cancer or carcinogencity, 13 are linked with birth defects, 21 with reproductive effects, 26 with liver or kidney damage, 15 with neurotoxicity, and 11 with disruption of the endocrine (hormonal) system.” When people put these chemicals on their lawn, many of them leach into ground and/or drinking water. They kill fish, disrupt our ecosystems, and basically wreak havoc on the environment. Yes, there are organic fertilizers for grass, but a better option is to get rid of grass altogether. Planting deeper-rooted plants (like fruits and vegetables) reduces erosion and runoff, and people are simply more inclined to use natural products on things that they are going to eat.

2. Build community. Simply put – if you garden in your front yard, you will spend more time in your front yard. Spending more time in your front yard allows you to meet your neighbors, and your vegetables are an instant conversation starter. Meeting neighbors, talking about food and other passions, this is what community is all about! I know it’s worked in our neighborhood. The Little Apartment garden has helped me start conversations with several of my neighbors – who I might never have met otherwise. More people in their front yards also creates a safer community – like a neighborhood watch, grandma style. Could front yard gardens stop crime? Maybe!

3. Reduce dependence on oil. Most of us buy our groceries at big chain stores. That’s just the way it is. (Do I like it? No. But I accept it, for now.) Most of our vegetables are trucked, shipped, or even flown to us from all over the world. It takes a lot of oil to get those fresh strawberries to you in the middle of winter. Gardening in our front yards takes little or no oil. You might need to use a truck to bring in fresh soil, or to get your fertilizer. But all those fresh veggies growing right outside your front door? Not nearly as energy-inefficient as most of the produce in your local grocery store.

4. Fostering individualism. Honestly, I think this is the one that scares people. Somehow, during the rise of the suburbs after WWII, we as Americans got the idea that all our houses should look the same. Little boxes on the hillside, right? For a country that is supposedly built on the rights of the individual, we get caught up in a lot of stress about homogenizing our society, starting with our front lawns. It reminds me of a book I read in elementary school, The Araboolies of Liberty Street. (Incidentally, I love books that teach kids it’s ok to be different.)

I know I promised you pictures of my garden, and of meeting Shauna and Danny, but I haven’t been home long enough to upload them. I did however, get to eat a fresh snap pea off the vine on my way to the bus this morning. Joy!

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Big Changes in the Little Apartment

It’s been a busy… let’s see… two weeks(!) since my last entry.

A few things that have happened over here in the Little Apartment in the Big City:

1. My lovely roommate left our little apartment for another, moving in with our lovely friend Kristina. I am sad that she isn’t here anymore, but she had to move to make room for….

2. The Boyfriend has moved in. This is both a huge deal (first time co-habitating for both of us) and an exciting deal (first time co-habitating for both of us!). Furniture has been moved and acquired, we set up a “Library/Den” in the second bedroom, and so far, so good. We are both so busy we probably wouldn’t see each other much if we didn’t live together – as it is we barely see each other. He works and is in rehearsal for a show, and I work and go to school.

3. The zucchini, tomato, and pea plants all have teeny tiny vegetables growing! I am fighting an epic battle with slugs and snails, but am winning enough that things are growing, growing, growing. I can’t wait for things to ripen so I can start eating them!

4. We had a 4th of July party to celebrate, well, the 4th of July, but also the fact that The Boyfriend moved in. I made jell-o shooters. I think Ma Ingalls would approve. What’s more Midwestern than Jell-O? We also grilled on my fabulous new-to-me grill that I got for FREE.*

5. Last night, I got to meet my food hero, Shauna James Ahern, aka The Gluten-Free Girl, and her husband Danny, aka “The Chef.” They taught a cooking class at a Whole Foods here in Seattle, and I was one of the few lucky people who got to attend. I discovered Shauna’s first book a few weeks after discovering that I could not, in fact, eat wheat. These few weeks were spent largely feeling sorry for myself, so the book was the light in the proverbial tunnel. I discovered that my love affair with cooking and eating was not over, and it had in fact just begun.

There were only a few people signed up for the class – apparently it was put together at the last minute – so it was a quiet, intimate dinner. It felt like we were having a dinner party with new friends (something this Big City Pioneer loves to do). It was thrilling, a little overwhelming, and altogether wonderful. I sat next to my food hero while we ate and talked about food. It’s a lot like an aspiring blues guitarist talking to Buddy Guy about guitars, I would imagine.

Shauna and some other food bloggers are starting to have internet-wide cooking parties once a month. They just did a pie party, and next month will be a pickle party. I think it will be a great way to kick off the pickling season here in the Little Apartment. Stay tuned for pickles! In the past I’ve made both bread and butter and dill pickles. This year I’m going to try spicy green beans, spicy cucumber pickles, and maybe some other pickled vegetables.

 

I am at work right now (yes, blogging at work…. wouldn’t it be cool if blogging WAS my job?) So I can’t share the wonderful photos I have with you just yet, but I will update tonight so you can see my tiny vegetables, my awesome grill, and some pictures from the gluten-free cooking class.

 

*And yes, my grill – it was free. FREE. Ma Ingalls always knew that you don’t throw things away if they still work. There are websites for that. Craigslist’s Free section is fun to check out, but FreeCycle is high on the list of my favorite websites. People post things they have to offer, and things they are looking for. I simply posted that I was looking for a grill, and quickly got a response. All I had to do was pick it up, clean it up, and get it started. Freecycling is a great way to clean out your garage, or fill a new house. Go to Freecycle.org to find a freecycle group in your area.

City Gardens

You’ve seen the pictures of the Little Apartment in the Big City garden – a collection of drawers, pots, and whatever other containers I could find to fill with soil. (My neighbors are actually horrified by my use of an old cat litter box. I don’t get it.) Walking to the Little Apartment from the bus last night, I enjoyed seeing all the wonderful ways people in my neighborhood have incorporated edible food in their limited garden space.

Prior to 2009, the City of Seattle required a permit for anyone wanting to change up their parking strip – you know, that little strip of land between the sidewalk and the street, that you hate to mow, and just feels like wasted space. Planting anything other than grass required fees, and not small fees! Up to $225 if you were including hardscaping (stepping stones, etc), according to the Seattle Times. Thankfully, in 2009, the Seattle Department of Transportation changed their rules, and permits to plant in parking strips are no longer required.

Which gets me back to my lovely walk home last night.

In the two short blocks between my bus stop and my house, there were at least six full-on parking strip gardens. Lettuce, radishes, spinach, and herbs growing in a once-forlorn strip of land. Intermingled with the ornamental grasses and flowers, an artichoke plant peeks its head above ground. Tomato plants grow amongst the irises, and snap peas vine up fences. On the block where the Little Apartment is, the parking strips were paved over at some time in the past. However, my neighbors are intrepid folk. Across the street, beautiful raised beds have been built, and in them a cast array of vegetables are growing. Down the block, cedar barrels are planted with tomatoes and peppers.

As an apartment dweller, I am always jealous of homeowners with big plots of land to plant on. However, I love all the creative ways we big-city dwellers are discovering to grow our own healthy, fresh food, in the limited space that we have.

Want to learn more?

To read more about parking-strip gardening in Seattle, check out this article from The Seattle Times: Vegetable gardens crop up in Seattle parking strips

Seattle Tilth has offered classes on Parking Strip Gardening in the past, and are in general a great resource for city gardening.

Feeding the poor, Pioneer Style

I recently came across this article in our local paper, describing how a large tract of public land in Everett will be used to grow food for local food banks. It will also provide a place for local residents to practice subsistence farming – the ultimate pioneer experience. (Subsistence farming is growing enough food, often year-round, to feed your family.)

The Volunteers of America will farm 4 acres of this land to raise food for over 12 local food banks. The remainder of the land will be used by the public, for a fee, depending on plot size. Think of it as a community P-Patch, but on a much larger scale. The idea is to provide enough food to feed your family year-round. We have a mild enough climate here in Western Washington that our growing season is long enough to often get two or more crops of food. This is the way people have fed their families since the so-called agricultural revolution, back in the Fertile Crescent. This self-sustaining, small-scale agriculture was common up through World War II, when American and British households planted Victory Gardens.

Food banks are facing a lot of hardships in our current economy. As with many social services, donations are down, but demand is up. Farming public land is a great way for food banks to increase their supply of healthy, nutritious food. Food banks too often get the food that “the rest of us” don’t want – unhealthy canned soups, pasta, and other bottom shelf items. Food bank gardens and gleaning projects provide healthy food to those who need it. Hooray!

In other news, we had crazy rain last night and I think my peas grew a foot overnight. Also, the Eight Ball Zucchini has a flower! I can’t wait for fresh zucchini. Yum!

My first flower on the zucchini plant

I built a new “trellis” support for the snap peas with bamboo from my parents back yard. Don’t you just love free building materials?

Urban Gardening

I’m a huge fan of the Northwest Flower and Garden Show. I go, get big ideas and bigger dreams, and then try to figure out how on earth to create any sort of garden space in my tiny apartment. Luckily, this past year I moved in to a place with ample outside space. The front patio is quite shady, but the back gets full sun, and has lots of open space. Unfortunately, that open space is all paved – but luckily, two years ago, the RE-Store‘s exhibit at the Garden Show featured several great ways to create container gardens out of re-purposed items. One of the ideas that stuck with me was using drawers to create garden beds. So, armed with these ideas, a cordless drill, and a free afternoon, I made my own urban garden – in drawers, pots, and, yes, a plastic tub that was once a cat litter box:

Tomatoes

3 kinds of tomatoes – Early Girl Bush, Patio, and Sweet 100s.

Peas in a drawer

Snap Peas

2 kinds of zucchini

2 different zucchini, and kale in the red pot between them

Sweet Peas

Sweet Peas

I also have several herbs – Chives, Oregano, Rosemary, Basil, Parsley, and Cilantro. Yum!

Little Apartment in the Big City

I’ve always been fascinated by Laura Ingalls Wilder, and her Little House Books.

I garden, can vegetables, make pickles, bake bread, and do it all in my little apartment in the big city.

We’ll see how this goes….

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