A farm? Really?
Yeah, a farm.
What are you kidding me?!
Food isn’t made at Publix, you know?
You can’t put a farm here!
There are a lot of motivational words in the English language, but a few of my favorites are can’t, don’t, and stop. It’s a personality defect that has made for some hard lessons, and even more really great stories.
I grew up on our family farm. Farm living teaches kids, big and small, some concepts about life with efficiency. You can win a video game in an afternoon, but you can’t grow and harvest sweet corn in an afternoon. Farms teach patience, persistence, and discipline. They also teach you how to deal with disappointment and about long-term goals and the satisfaction that comes with accomplishing them. A farm can also teach you about hard work and the rewards from a job well done, and about tying a good knot on that rope before you swing from it. I didn’t realize at the time that it was good for me to shovel out that hog pen, but looking back it’s clear that if more kids could grow up knowing which end of a shovel to hold, we might avoid a lot of the problems we have today. You learn some tough lessons as a kid on a farm when the stakes are low and your brain is hungry.
When most of us think of a farm, romantically we imagine acres of flat, open pasture, fields full of crops popped up in rows, animals that are happy, who shower regularly. Cows that milk themselves and chickens who gather their own eggs. In reality, they’ve become these monster corporations farming tens of thousands of acres with machines fit for the set of a sci-fi thriller. Efficiency and revenue top the list of concerns, but rest easy, the government says it’s fit for consumption. Where is your food coming from, anyway? What do you have to do to a vegetable to allow it to travel from Argentina to Snellville on carts, tractors, boats and trucks, and still be fit for consumption upon arrival? Just something to think about.
I’m inspired by the renewed awareness and concern for where we source our food. I’m skeptical enough to know that the official story we hear, when the bottom line is at stake, isn’t always the whole truth, no matter which side of the issue you’re on. But who can argue with the health benefits of eating food coming from the ground that you can see from your front porch? This is about as farm-to-table as it gets.
Let’s talk reality. A typical farm is a dirty, stinky, sometimes muddy or dusty, and much of the time an unpretty place. Therefore, planting a farm in the middle of a suburban landscape brings about new challenges. In the peak of growing season, farms are pretty darn sexy! Vibrant green, red, and yellow vegetables and fruits. Vigorously growing plants, working hard to yield people fuel. But in winter, they’re kind of dull. However, permaculture and intensive farming techniques happen to blend well with the urban farm model. We’ve learned that valuable microorganisms in soil are starved and die off in winter if they don’t have the nutrients delivered by plant roots that they need for survival. Cover crops are grasses, grains, and other plants that hold these little creatures over until the next planting season comes around. In the Southeast, we also benefit from a long growing season and a variety of winter garden crop options to occupy these farm areas. Further, learning from Native American growing practices, we can find crops that work well in the same space. The symbiotic relationship of the so-called “three sisters” (maize, beans, and squash) proved to be a successful way to grow multiple crops in one space. The maize, or corn, starves the soil of nitrogen, which is replaced by the beans that use the corn stalk for a sort of trellis. I’m not sure how squash fits in, but that’s why this farm will be run by professionals. The point is, even though we don’t have a lot of space in which to grow, if we’re intentional about it by using new and old techniques to maximize productivity, it can work, all while keeping things neat and tidy! If we imagine that romantic farm, then make adjustments to find an acceptable compromise and reasonable productivity, it’s a win. Even for the microorganisms. And if we can teach just a few kids some life lessons before the consequences are harsher, we all win a little.
So, yeah. A farm. Right here.