Living in a city doesn’t mean you have to rely on supermarkets for your fruit and veg. In fact, many people are opting to grow their own for various reasons – cutting down their carbon footprints, boosting their physical and mental health, and of course, putting great tasting produce on the dinner table. But city dwellers don’t necessarily have the space to produce enough crops to feed themselves and their families. The average garden in the city is fairly small, and increasing numbers of people live in apartments with no outdoor space at all.
Urban farming is becoming more commonplace, a great solution which not only solves the space problem but gets people working together too. Setting up an urban or community garden isn’t difficult – with a bit of planning and hard work it can be simple to begin raising crops of all kinds.
Benefits of urban farming
There are numerous plus points for setting up a productive vegetable garden, community-based or otherwise. An organic, crop-producing space creates cyclic sustainability – table scraps, egg shells, grass cuttings, leaves, tea bags – these can all be gathered and composted. Having a sustainable garden in your backyard is good, but having the waste from several houses going into a communal garden is exponentially better. Gardening boosts physical health and mental wellbeing – people in the city may work in offices, and the fresh air is rejuvenating. Sharing a garden helps to build communities and bring people together, and sharing food is a time-honoured way to create lasting friendships. Getting kids involved is even better – it’s easy to get them to eat their greens when they’ve had a hand in growing them themselves.
The planning stage is extremely important. This is where you analyse your space as well as the time each member of your community can commit to. The conditions of your garden have to be factored in. What type of soil do you have? If it is full of clay or sand it may be better to use pots or construct raised beds to control the nutrients and soil quality. How much sunlight does the plot get? If there are sunnier spots these need to be given over to crops which require more sunshine. Wind is an important factor as well – an exposed plot can be improved with a windbreak, perhaps in the form of a bush or tree. And make sure you have easy access to water – you’ll be needing a lot!
Start as small as you need to
How much time and energy can you and your fellow gardeners commit? This is a big factor – if you are overstretched from the get-go you will lose confidence. Alternatively, growing some easy crops to get going will boost everyone, especially if there is plenty of yield to take home and eat. Choose some easy crops – spinach, kale and runner beans are good to start with. Some plants may seem daunting – but popular crops like strawberries or tomatoes aren’t actually that difficult to produce. Starting small with a view to expand is the sensible option, especially if you are fairly new to gardening.
What to plant
The basic principle here – if you don’t eat it, don’t grow it. Of course, with an urban farm, you are likely dealing with an assortment of people with an assortment of preferences. But if no one is going to take the yield home to eat, don’t bother. You will need to take into account the soil and climate of your plot as well – some things will be easier to grow than others. There are plenty of resources to help online, or you can ask at your local garden centre for advice. Some popular crops to grow include beans, spinach, radishes, potatoes, onions and tomatoes. Choosing high yield crops is a good idea with a community garden project, so everyone can reap the rewards.
A familiar problem to urbanites is a lack of space. This could be the very reason that sparked your interest in urban farming. It’s important to make the most of the space on your plot. This can take the form of trellising – allowing climbing plants like runner beans to grow vertically. This means you can produce more crops, and also means you can make use of walls or other garden barriers. There is an increasing trend for vertical gardening in containers – easy to set up, maintain and rotate, and a brilliant space saver.
What self respecting farm doesn’t have chickens roaming around? Looking after these feathery friends is pretty straightforward – feed them, give them space to roam, make sure they are well protected at night (urban foxes and similar predators need to be kept out) and then all you have to do is collect delicious fresh eggs!
Urban farming brings more than just great, fresh produce to the table. Fostering friendships and community, helping cut down plastic packaging and pollution from importing, and helping everyone involved stay healthy in mind and body. Find some like minded people in your area, and get digging!