UFO’s: Urban Farmscape Options

6 May

I sometimes think to myself “there is no way I have the space to grow what I want to grow” or “there is no way that I have the time to grow what I want to grow”. I hear this from others too, well maybe a few crazy gardeners I know. Even when I gardened at my organic farm I still didn’t have the time, or maybe I just didn’t like growing certain plants, especially those brassicas. So what other options do Urban Farmscapers have?

The first option is probably one that you are more familiar with, Farmers Markets. A weekly visit to your farmers market will ensure that you are buying fresh seasonal produce. Well, this may not be true. What!? The biggest piece of advice I have for you is when shopping at the farmers market, get to know your farmer. There may be vendors that buy produce wholesale and bring it to the market. This is just like your grocery store produce manager. You can quickly identify who these vendors are because they typically have produce that is out of season, or maybe something like bananas, and as you know, bananas don’t grow in Michigan! There is nothing wrong with these vendors, especially if you are shopping for bananas or tomatoes in May. For seasonal produce, get to know your farmers and support your local economy by making your purchases from them. The best opening question is, “Where is your farm?” Find out if they are certified organic, how many acres they farm etc. A farmer that follows organic methods, and sells less that $5000 per year, can say they are organic. What about the farmers using the words “natural” or “chemical free”. Ask questions about their growing practices, what kind of compost they use, how do they fertilize or handle pests and diseases on their crops. Like I said, get to know your farmer, odds are if they are a local farmer they are working hard to bring you the best produce they can. Some farmers markets will only allow people to sell only what they produce themselves. Rochester and Traverse City Michigan come first to my mind.

Community Supported Agriculture, CSA, is becoming a well-known option for Urban Farmscapers. The idea behind a CSA is that you pay for a “share” of weekly produce. These weeks can range from just a summer, to a full year. You buy your share directly from the farmer, who in return grows and provides your weekly produce. You will learn how to eat seasonally with this option. Your weekly share will consist of what is ready for harvest that week. Cool season veggies in the beginning such as radishes, lettuces, arugula, spinach, onions etc. Then as the summer starts to heat up, beans, squash, maybe some herbs. You still won’t get tomatoes in May, but that’s okay! You’ll have plenty starting late July. I have belonged to a CSA twice in my life. One year I had rotator cuff surgery, and knew that I couldn’t grow as much as I liked, and the next time was when I lived in a studio apartment while transitioning to Mid-Michigan and had no garden at all. I found that I was having withdrawals from getting my hands dirty, and maybe testing the product in the field (secret!). I asked to volunteer at the CSA I belonged to, weeding, harvesting and packing produce. I really got to know these awesome farmers! What a great experience, even if my share for the week occasionally consisted only of veggies in the brassica family, which I mentioned how I despise them earlier, so I gave them with others. While I’m on the subject, I will share how to grow plants in the brassicaceae family, but I won’t share my liking of them, maybe my disliking.

A third option if you don’t have the space to grow vegetables, but want to get your hands dirty, is to join a community garden. Community gardens are popping up all over, becoming one of the hottest local gardening trends. Some organizations are turning city lots into patches of land for people to rent space to grow their own veggies, herbs, and flowers, whatever they choose.

This is the second year for me gardening at My Urban Farmscape. I still wanted more space, so I joined a community garden, Campus Grow, located on the campus of Central Michigan University, in Mt. Pleasant, MI. When I first joined I was excited to have the additional 10 x 10 foot space to grow extra veggies for my family. Then, as I became more involved with other people from the community garden, my plot has started to change from the extra space for myself to the extra space to grow for others. I am really excited to garden this summer while participating with Plant a Row for the Hungry, growing and collecting fresh produce to share with people in need through the Isabella County Commission on Aging. My Urban Farmscape will provide me and my family with the produce we need and in addition I will be making weekly trips to the farmers market. I’m not sure where this year’s UFO’s are heading, I’ll just have to watch and see where they grow. I do know that gardening in a community setting will provide the additional space to feed my dirty addiction to the earth while helping to grow food to feed the mouths of others. This year I won’t be wandering Mid-Michigan looking for a CSA to join or volunteer with. So, whether you like to garden, or just want to participate in the local food movement, get out and about and look for some UFO’s!

Links to Urban Farming Options

www.MyUrbanFarmscape.com of course!

Community Supported Agriculture in Michigan www.CSAfarms.org

Swier Family Farm http://swierfamilyfarm.wordpress.com/

Local Harvest (find a CSA (or other local options) across the U.S.) http://www.localharvest.org/csa/

Michigan Farmers Market Association http://mifma.s434.sureserver.com/find-a-farmers-market/

Contact Campus Grow at: campusgrow@gmail.com

American Community Gardening Association http://www.communitygarden.org/index.php

Plant a Row for the Hungry http://gardenwriters.org

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