Alex Willen has more cucumbers than he knows what to do with.
Like many people looking for ways to save money these days, the 33-year-old and his wife have started growing fruit and vegetables at home. It’s a practice commonly called backyard farming,urban farming, or urban agriculture, and it’s becoming increasingly popular among adherents of the financial independence/retire early (FIRE) movement—in part because it’s so easy to do.
Just two months into their new lifestyle, Willen says the results have been “better than expected.” His and his wife’s backyard San Diego farm has produced a hefty—but manageable—bounty of tomatoes, bell peppers, and figs.
The cukes, however, are a different story.
“We’re really regretting going with three cucumber plants,” he says. “We didn’t realize how big they’d grow or how quickly we’d get cucumbers. We’re just inundated with the things at this point, and they’re not that versatile in the kitchen.”
Willen could certainly be facing worse problems right now. In the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, he quit a lucrative tech career to start his own business, Cooper’s Dog Treats, which he acknowledges is “still a ways from profitability.” Backyard farming has helped him and his wife sustain themselves and stay afloat financially in the meantime, with little upfront investment.
“The planter box, soil, plants, and fertilizer were something like a hundred bucks combined, and we’ve probably already grown enough fruit to cover that cost,” he says. “I’m going to build a couple more boxes in the spring, so we can grow even more. It’s not an enormous amount of money, but with three boxes we can probably grow the vast majority of the veggies we need and save something in the low thousands of dollars.”
Small-time farming, big-time financial rewards
Willen and his wife are just two of the millions of people around the world growing their own food outside of traditionally rural agricultural settings. In the United States, backyard farming has grown more than 30% in the last three decades.
It’s not hard to see the reasons why. Backyard farming offers a more rewarding, sustainable alternative to buying food at supermarkets and farmers’ markets. Best of all, it can save households tons of money or generate serious income.
How much money, exactly? Could backyard farming clear a path to financial independence—or even early retirement?
It all depends on the farmer, according to Shelby DeVore, agriculture expert and founder of Farminence, a blog dedicated to helping people become more self-sufficient.
“Backyard farming is one of those things that can really make you money if you play your cards the right way,” explains DeVore. “With a little bit of planning upfront, it’s a fun way to become profitable and enjoy yourself along the way.”
Where sustainability and self-sufficiency meet financial freedom
With over 20 years of experience gardening and raising livestock, as well as a BS in animal science and MS in agriculture, DeVore is admittedly more knowledgeable than the typical backyard farmer. But she’s confident anyone can start gardening, rearing animals, and living self-sufficiently—what many who do it call homesteading—with only basic tools and prep.
And there’s perhaps no more reliable income stream. After all, everyone needs to eat.
“There’s always a demand for food products, which is why it’s so easy to be profitable with livestock and gardening,” says DeVore.
At their small, 14-acre farm in western Tennessee, DeVore and her family raise chickens for eggs and meat, as well as numerous kinds of produce. They make a living selling their crops at the local farmers’ market.
“It’s almost 100% profit.”
For DeVore, success stems from where smart farming and smart business practices complement one another. For instance, she’s been able to eliminate the expensive costs of chicken feed by allowing her chickens to eat their preferred foods—namely, “grasses, seeds, berries, and insects”—in a free-range, pastured environment.
“Once we started raising our birds on pasture, we were able to completely eliminate feed costs,” she explains. “Essentially, once we purchase chicks, we don’t have costs anymore. When we sell eggs or meat birds, it’s almost 100% profit. Plus, our customers are willing to pay a premium price for eggs and meat that are pasture-raised.”
Backyard farming isn’t one-size-fits-all
Josephine Fan, who blogs at DearJuneberry, also raises poultry on a small farm, but has a markedly different lifestyle and approach to homesteading.
Fan rears muscovy ducks and coturnix quail in the suburbs of Long Island. On top of that, she does perennial edible landscaping and has been steadily converting her backyard into a food forest—a totally self-sustaining ecosystem Modern Farmer calls “the ultimate organic garden.”
Like DeVore, Fan has had to figure out how to make backyard farming work in terms of both finance and sustainability. She explains that while the initial equipment and planting expenses were high, the rewards—“both financial and for self-sustenance”—far exceed the startup costs. Her ducks and quail now provide valuable fertilizer and eggs—lots of eggs; each hen lays hundreds per year. And those are just the direct benefits.
“My ducks eat all sorts of pests that would otherwise harm my fruit and vegetable crops, and they also eat a lot of the weeds,” says Fan. “I sell ducklings and quail chicks when I have them to offset feed costs. Essentially, I’m saving money in fertilizer/compost, pesticides/herbicides, and lawn maintenance, and eggs, on top of whatever hatching eggs and animals I sell. Everything is organic since I found no need for pesticides or commercial fertilizers due to my faithful herd of ducks.”
“I highly advocate growing your own food if you have the space. The mental, physical, and financial benefits are immensely rewarding.”
In addition to ducks and quail, Fan’s backyard farm is home to abundant herbs such as thyme, oregano, lemon balm, mint, fennel, chives, and leeks. She also tends a small annual garden in which she grows tomatoes, basil, and peppers, as well as fruit and berries. She sells some crops, freezes others, and cans or makes jams with the rest.
“The longer I keep them, the better the return on my work and my investments have been,” says Fan. “Once set up, they basically run themselves without needing too much input from me. I highly advocate growing your own food if you have the space. The mental, physical, and financial benefits are immensely rewarding.”
Farming anywhere, at any scale
You don’t need much space to start a backyard farm of your own.
In fact, you don’t even need a backyard.
“I’m actually a front yard farmer,” says Susannah Shmurak, who writes for HealthyGreenSavvy.com. “We live on a half lot with no side- or backyard, so I had to get creative when I wanted to start growing my own food.”
As if farming in a half lot weren’t challenging enough, Shmurak also lives in Minnesota, where winters are long and the soil doesn’t fully thaw until around May. Given the climate, Shmurak needed to embrace a different kind of agriculture—and use every single millimeter of her land.
“I discovered permaculture, which focuses on perennial food plants,” she explains. “Over the last decade, I’ve smothered the last remaining remnants of lawn and replaced it with seven dwarf fruit trees, dozens of berry plants, and numerous varieties of perennial herbs, both medicinal and culinary. I have some raised garden beds where I grow annual vegetables as well, but leaning on the perennial food plants is an incredibly useful strategy for drastically cutting the time needed to spend tending the garden.”
“We have new foods to harvest as the season progresses without ever planting a seed.”
Year-round, Shmurak and her family are able to harvest a wide variety of crops, including—but not limited to—apples, grapes, raspberries, plums, apples, chives, mint, oregano, and lesser-known (but no less “nutritious and delicious”) plants like purslane and wood sorrel. Many of the crops she harvests, such as elderberries and yarrow, have curative uses and can serve as a form of “home-grown medicine.”
“We have new foods to harvest as the season progresses without ever planting a seed,” she says. “My garden boxes mostly focus on annuals that would be expensive to buy, like cherry tomatoes, ground cherries, basil, and rosemary. I also grow garlic, beans for drying, peas, zucchini, cucumbers, carrots, many different greens, and salad turnips.”
She adds: “All this on less than a tenth of an acre.”
One thing is clear: backyard farmers love what they do
Every backyard farm—and every backyard farmer—is unique. Some people who grow their own food are experienced homesteaders and full-time agriculturalists; others do it to cut out a few expenses and trips to the grocery store each month.
That said, all backyard farmers share a few common traits—a willingness to learn from their mistakes, a love of the Earth, and an unrelenting desire to continue growing their farms, their crops, and themselves.
Everyone we spoke to for this story planned to plant and cultivate more in the coming months. And nearly everyone mentioned that backyard farming offered rewards beyond financial freedom.
It’s also worth noting that many people with backyard farms are entrepreneurs, startup founders, and do-it-yourselfers. If you value independence and want to live a life outside of the bounds of convention, backyard farming might be the perfect fit for you.
Dr. Leonard Perry, Extension Professor University of Vermont
If you already grow some vegetables, or buy fresh local ones, you know the much- improved flavor over ones shipped from afar. In addition to better flavor, some of the reasons gardeners cite for growing their own vegetables include better health, food safety, saving money, helping the environment, and having a better quality of life.
Changes continue to be made in both varieties of vegetables and their post-harvest handling, resulting in improved flavors than in older varieties and past years. Yet if you’ve tasted fresh produce compared to that in stores or frozen, you don’t need research to tell you the difference in flavor. Nutritional quality of vegetables is generally higher as well when freshly harvested.
By growing your own vegetables you may end up eating more, which is good for the health of most. Research continues to show that those who eat more fruits and vegetables are less likely to have chronic diseases such as strokes and cancers. You can get vitamins and minerals from supplements, but produce contains other natural compounds (such as anti-oxidants to help prevent cancers) as well that may help protect you from chronic disease. Research shows too that most don’t eat enough of these each day. There is a fun and quick calculator online from the government to figure what is best for you (www.fruitsandveggiesmatter.gov).
You don’t have to think too far back to recall food safety scares, such as those on peppers and spinach. You may not realize that pesticide residues remain on some crops you buy in stores, some more than others. These have been ranked from tens of thousands of USDA and FDA studies between 2000 and 2007. By avoiding the top 12 on this list, the “Dirty Dozen”, an estimate is that you can reduce your exposure to pesticides on food by 80 percent. Those vegetables on this list you may want to grow yourself (or buy locally or organically) include bell peppers, celery, potatoes and spinach. (By the way, fruits on this list are apples, cherries, imported grapes, nectarines, peaches, pears, red raspberries, and strawberries).
So how much money can you save growing your own vegetables? Some calculations by the National Gardening Association in 2009 (www.gardenresearch.com) showed that a general, national estimate was that for investing $70 in seeds and supplies you could grow 350 pounds of vegetables worth about $600. So you would save, for an average 600 square foot garden, over $500. Of course this figure may vary up or down depending on your own area, season, vegetables grown, and other variables.
Growing your own vegetables helps the environment in at least a couple of ways. Non-local but domestic produce we buy in stores travels an average 1500 miles or more (www.foodroutes.org). Produce from other countries obviously travels even farther. This shipping and transport burns fossil fuels, which produces greenhouse gases that increase global warming. So buying local, or growing your own produce, reduces these effects.
Another environmental benefit from your own production is the ability to produce relatively small amounts, with little or no pesticides and synthetic chemicals. Farms, even small ones, often use these with some ending up staying in soils or washing into waterways. Even organic farms often use plastics and fossil fuels for tractors, items you can avoid in a small home garden. If you can’t produce some or all the vegetables you’d like, at least buying local and organically will have better environmental and economic impacts.
In addition to the tangible benefits of growing your own vegetables and fruits is the intangible benefit of a better quality of life. If you garden you know its stress-relieving qualities and health benefits from exercise. There is the taste pleasure of sampling the fruits of your labor, fresh off the plant, as you work. There is the visual pleasure of a well-laid out and maintained garden. In a chaotic world where you may not have much control over events, a garden and landscape can provide you that sense of order (as long as you don’t get too large too quick, with your garden out of control).
If your garden isn’t at home or on your own property, it may be at one of the over a million community gardens across the country. If you’d like to start gardening, and need such a space, you can likely find one from online (www.communitygarden.org). Although such gardens lack the convenience of being on your property, if you don’t have the space they make gardening possible. They allow interaction with other gardeners, including swapping of seeds to fruits to knowledge. Such gardens may be part of larger beautification and development projects, and in cities often result in a reduction in crime.
Convinced to start a vegetable garden yet? Even if you already have one, you should benefit from information at local garden stores, some of the many books, and websites including those of state Extension services. Watch your local newspaper, too, for gardening events such as classes and workshops.
Mrs Ngozi Chineze lives in Lafenwa, an Ogun State suburb. She is far from Shoprite or Spar, two major retail chains.
This means, she is unable to source some of the family needs from either of these two supermarkets. But she is not complaining. A civil servant, she has joined a growing number of urban dwellers growing backyard farms. Like other urban farmers, she benefits from fresh veggies and increases her vitamin intake. A combination of raised beds is used to grow the produce. The urban farming model puts fresh, locally-grown fruit and vegetables on the table.
She is happy to start a farm at her backyard, which provides her high-quality fresh, local produce.
With urban farms, she believes a lot of young people who have the capacity, can make a living from growing crops and raising mini livestock.
According to her, backyard farming helps to address a number of serious challenges, including public health and well-being concerns.
She encourages people to take advantage of their gardens and growing things.
Backyard farming – a term used to encompass everything from independent vegetable gardens – to home beehives, chickens and more – is on the rise.
And while backyard farming is on the rise, it is nothing new.
Backyard farming seems to be an activity that many homes are really interested in.
What started as a backyard gardening project has blossomed into a viable commercial farming.
Founder, Jovana Integrated Farms, Prince Arinze Onebunne, has been raising mini-livestock in his backyard.
Seen as the rabbit king, Onebunne is one of the leading rabbit farmers in the country and has built an extensive business, selling meat to hotels and local shops. He described backyard farms as vital resource for Nigerians living in areas with high levels of food insecurity.
Agriculture and livestock farming, he said, could solve Nigeria’s food problems.
His philosophy is to raise animals that can be eaten.
He has had successes and costly failures.
He has read and reviewed websites, articles, and blogs and watched videos on farming. His success has come from much trial and error.
According to him, a growing industry is that producing small animals. These range from rabbits and squirrels raised for meat to animals such as mice rose for pets.
He said: “Animals, such as guinea pigs and albino, are raised for research. These animals are used to test everything from drugs to toothpaste.”
Onebunne is encouraging people to start backyard mini-livestock farms raising chickens, rabbit and guinea fowl.
Some of his clients have built backyard pens and cages cobbled with discarded wood and corrugated iron.
From backyard vegetable gardens to community spaces, front yard orchards, and window boxes, the National President of Federation of Agricultural Commodity Association of Nigeria (FACAN), Dr. Victor Iyama said people should be encouraged to grow food where ever they are.
Iyama said food security is important, adding that it is vital to support every effort to produce more food.
He said backyard farmers play in a role in fostering healthy, local food within the community.
For him, the government needs to realise the inherent potential of urban agriculture in creating jobs and supporting food supply.
Former Dean of Faculty of Agriculture, Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, Prof Babafunso Sonaiya said backyard farmers need to develop some concrete skills to be successful.
He said backyard poultry is an excellent way to enhance the availability of and access to micronutrients and protein-rich foods.
According to him, this is enabling families to produce eggs for home consumption and enhance their protein intake, while surplus production can be sold in the market or bartered.
He emphasised the need for the government and the private sector to ensure poultry enterprises are encouraged.
He said backyard poultry farmers must obtain the basic training useful for rearing chicks, feeding, housing and disease management.
The longer we micro-farm in our backyard, the happier we are and the more we eat fresh, healthy and less-processed foods.
Sustainable Living Is Possible
Have you always dreamed of living a simpler lifestyle, of having an organic or green garden that is sustainable, but you just don’t know where to start? Do you dream of eating vegetables and fruit that you know is not full of pesticides and chemicals, that is grown by you and can be picked fresh to eat?
This may be referred to as permaculture; however, it is may also be called simple living or sustainable living. Permaculture is the art and science of working with nature (wind, sun and water) to provide food, shelter, water and other needs with minimum labour and without depleting the land.
While most of us would love to have that dream piece of land to set up orchards, vegetable gardens, livestock and of course that dream cabin with solar panels and water tanks, it is not always possible. Does this mean that leaving a smaller footprint and beginning the journey to sustainability and self-sufficiency is impossible? Of course not! Sustainable living is easily achievable and possible—no matter where you live. Read on to follow my tips on how to micro-farm in your own backyard.https://c4bd86b4aa5025f7accf8d960cf0e8fb.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-37/html/container.html
Why Do We Micro-Farm?
We Eat Healthier: The longer we micro-farm in our backyard, the happier we are and the more we eat fresh, healthy and less-processed foods.
Weight Loss: We have both lost weight since we have chosen to eat fresh, homegrown vegetables and fruit and our health has improved. My type 2 diabetes has improved and I have been slowly reducing my meds.
Organic: It is organic and pesticide free. Although we still shop for odd items that we are unable to produce ourselves, one day we hope to eat only from our own garden.
Fresh: We know that what we eat is picked fresh from the garden—it has not been in a market or supermarket for weeks and days.
Better Flavour: Home-grown produce undisputably has better flavour. Vegetables and fruit are not artificially ripened and so taste far better.
Pollination happens in your own garden, which benefits your own plants.
Saving the Planet: You are contributing to bettering the planet and reducing your footprint on the planet.
Your children learn from you: It teaches us about sustainability and seasonal vegetables as well as encourages our children to appreciate the food on their plates and where it has come from. It involves the whole family in producing food and children are more likely to eat vegetables and fruit they have grown than if it arrives on their plates from the market.
Sustainable micro-farming in your own backyard doesn’t have to be a dream—it is possible if you put your mind to it. It’s also a whole lot of fun.
Myths About Sustainable Living
“You need a large piece of land.” This is far from the truth. Green living/sustainability is not only for farmers or landowners. Many people create sustainable gardens in their own backyards. We have created a sustainable garden over the last 18 months that has provided us with beautiful, fresh produce. We have had more than enough food from our garden, so much so that we have had to give vegetables and eggs to our friends.
“It is expensive to set up.” Anytime you buy brand new equipment, it will cost you money. We have set up our gardens and chicken coop on a shoestring budget. We believe in upcycling and recycling and so everything we have set up has been from rubbish others have thrown out, materials from a recycle, waste centre or materials found on hard rubbish piles ready for collection. We have purchased very few new materials and if you keep your eyes open it is simple to find solutions.
“You have to follow permaculture rules.” While knowing about permaculture and educating yourself is helpful through documentaries and videos, it is not imperative for creating a sustainable garden. Use your common sense as to where you want to place things in your garden. Practicality is more important than rules. Creating a sustainable garden does not have to follow the strict principles that permaculture sets out. We keep our herbs planted in containers outside our kitchen door because we use them frequently. Our chickens are at the end of the garden away from the house so as to not disturb us and to be near the compost heap when we clean their coop.
“You have to be a hippie or tree-hugger to live this way.” This is an old perception of micro-farmers. Gone are the days when those who wanted to connect with nature were hippies or people who wished to live on a commune. Almost everyone has become aware of the global epidemic of obesity that is affecting our population and the need for healthier food choices has made us aware of the need to know where our food comes from. All kinds of people are hoping to live healthier, simpler lives.
“You don’t need to grow your own food if you can access an organic market.” While buying organic is great, it is not the same as growing your own food. Growing your own is considerably cheaper than buying organic and it has other benefits too. It connects you to nature and the pleasure of watching the ground on your property (even if you rent as we do) produce food you know is safe is extremely rewarding.
“It is time-consuming.” I won’t lie to you—it does require time to grow your own food, but the beauty of it is that it is flexible. There is no designated amount of time that is required to make it happen. You can dedicate as much or as little time as possible to your garden. Obviously the more time you spend setting it up, the greater your yield will be and the bigger your garden. You can choose to build it up slowly over time or spend a weekend working intensively to set it up. Involve others and make it a family project and divide up the chores of watering, weeding or caring for any animals you may have.
“Micro-farming makes your garden ugly.” This excuse makes me smile—there is nothing prettier than a fruit tree in full blossom or laden with colourful, bright lemons. Herbs are particularly pretty, too: lavender, rosemary, mint and almost every herb produces lovely flowers. Even leeks bloom beautifully if left long enough. Planting edibles among your flower beds also fills in gaps and also keeps some pests at bay. Plan your garden so that the uglier elements are confined to areas that are not visible from the street.
“You need to be good at gardening.” How will you know that you are no good at gardening unless you give it a try? None of us is good at anything until we try and even fail a few times. This is how learning occurs. Nowadays with videos and blogs it is possible to learn about absolutely anything—even gardening.
How We Began
Knowing how to begin sometimes is the hardest part—but it doesn’t have to be. Here are some tips on how to begin:
Begin by buying one tree a month or bi-monthly: We rent our home and so we did not want to spend a huge amount of money on planting fruit trees in our landlord’s garden; however, we did want trees.We bought ourselves an olive tree, an almond tree, a banana tree and a paw-paw tree. We potted them in huge plastic containers that were the cheapest we could find at our local home-wares store.
Pot plants in containers: We potted our strawberries in an old barrel that we picked up off the side of the road. Start by collecting as many containers as you can. See opportunity in objects that others are throwing out and re-use. This truly lessens the amount of rubbish going into landfill which benefits our planet.
Plant Beds: All our other vegetables we planted into some of the garden beds we created or re-purposed.
Find creative ways to plant herbs and edible flowers: Old pots bought from a recycle waste centre cost a fraction of purchasing new pots, an old wheelbarrow we found dumped on hard rubbish became a large bed for herbs and old wooden crates became beds for flowers and vegetables. We even managed to create a small water pond in the one wooden box we constructed.
One man’s rubbish can be another’s opportunity: Old pallets that are thrown out or discarded provide a great opportunity for vertical beds or making raised beds. The possibilities are endless. We even found an old wooden ladder that we use to stand pots on and it has become a trellis the beans are growing up right now.
Check out your local garden centres to see what vegetables are in season and read the back of seed packets to learn what to plant when.
Backyard chickens are an added bonus: Setting up a chicken coop does not have to be expensive—our chicken coop is made purely of recycled materials—it is rustic and simple but quite sufficient for our chickens as they free range in certain parts of our garden during the day (we do have to keep them from some of the vegetables).
Micro-farming can be done in small spaces: Our courtyard is full of pots and vegetables and even an apartment with a balcony is suitable for growing a few vegetables and herbs.
Do not spend a fortune on plants: Take slips from friends’ gardens—our rosemary, ginger, lavender and lemongrass were all slips we rooted and planted. It does take longer but is so rewarding at the end of the day. Seed your own vegetables, too. Potatoes are easy to plant when they sprout, pumpkins and garlic also grow well as do tomatoes, beans and sweetcorn.
Things to Consider
Preparing your soil: It may be necessary for you to supplement your soil when you begin and it is a good idea. If you are potting your plants use a good compost mixed into your soil. We have created our own compost over time, throwing all our vegetable and fruit scraps, grass cuttings, old hay from the chicken coop into a compost heap. The boys in our family even take the odd leak over the compost heap as this gives extra nitrogen which ultimately benefits the plants. Cultivating our own compost has been very helpful in growing our vegetables and supplementing the soil. It has also enabled us to keep our chicken coop clean and find a way to utilize the old straw.
Make Things Simpler: The maintenance of our garden has been simplified by my husband creating a drip feed scheme with a large container that he has modified to water the garden during the really hot Australian summer months. He used a large tub which he covers with a makeshift lid. Then he ran tubing used in fish tanks down to the garden as it was cheaper than irrigation pipe.
Extra supplements: He also adds Epsom salts every now and again to the bottom of the plants and they respond so well to the extra nutrients. One of the best benefits to fee dour plants has been worm tea which we now harvest from our worm farm. The vegetables and plants love it diluted in water.
Chickens and Worms
Backyard Chickens: We have four chickens currently in our backyard and they produce lovely, large eggs. We do not feed them only layer mash, as we initially did, because we’ve discovered that this type of food really shortens their lifespan and messes with their natural rhythms. Now we give them layer pellets occasionally but the bulk of their food source is from digging for worms and bugs, leftover vegetable and table scraps as well as grass which they seem to love. Since we have changed their diet and even included some maggot worms and more protein they have really been producing fantastic eggs.
Worm Farm: It has taken us two years, but we have recently started a worm farm. This is because it creates compost but also worm tea, which has incredible benefits for the garden. We use an old rubbish bin that we’ve converted to our farm. We drilled a hole in the plastic and inserted plumbing pipes to have access to the farm as well as a tap for the worm tea to be taken from the farm. Our biggest expense was buying 500 worms to get started, and even that wasn’t a huge expense.
Collecting rainwater also benefits our plants as the composition of rainwater is far more nutritional than tap water. It also saves on water bills when you can use rainwater to water the vegetables.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.BY CAROLINE
We know gardening keeps us active and therefore digging and planting can help with physical health, but can gardening actually improve mental wellbeing? Gardens and landscapes have long been used as sanctuaries to escape from the stresses of life and It turns out there are a number of reasons why gardening can help us to feel happier. It bears little surprise really, especially when you consider the amount of time that many people will spend in their gardens – especially those with garden buildings such as sheds.
Lowering stress-hormones and providing us with a sense of reward, are just two of the ways gardening can be good for our mental well-being. We spoke to charities who use gardening to help people with mental health problems and asked them what the direct effects of gardening had on their mental health, the responses were positive and inspiring!
Ecotherapy: Improving Mental Health Through Being Outdoors
Ecominds was created by the mental health charity Mind. Between 2009 and 2013, the charity funded 130 eco-projects across England and many of these projects still remain active with ecotherapy offering a wide range of programmes aimed at improving mental and physical well-being through activities in nature.
Ecotherapy helps to manage existing mental health problems and takes place in both rural and urban settings, such as parks, gardens, farms and woodlands. It can include activities that focus on working in nature, such as a conservation project, gardening or farming.
What Are the Benefits of Gardening?
1. Reduced risk of stroke 2. Burns calories 3. Stress relief 4. Improved immune system 5. Responsibility 6. Live in the moment 7. Free anger therapy 8. Sensory 9. Growing fruit and vegetables 10. Decreases osteoporosis 11. Reduced risk of dementia 12. An altered state of consciousness
Many people take pride in their gardens. They are keen green thumbs who enjoy the smell of fresh flowers whilst gardening. But with that comes health benefits. So, what are the 12 reasons why gardening is good for you?
Did you know that gardening such as pulling weeds and planting flowers can cause you to burn 200-400 calories per hour? On the other hand, if you mow the lawn, you could burn between 250-350 calories per hour.
Not only can gardening be an effective form of workout, but it can also benefit your mental health too. Spending time outside can help reduce depression, anger and stress. Furthermore, gardening is good for you as it can help reduce the risk of diseases such as stroke and osteoporosis as well as improving your immune system.
1. Reduced Risk of Stroke
According to The British Medical Journal gardening can help reduce the risk of a heart attack or stroke. When looking at the age group 60+ gardening can help prolong life by up to as much as 30%.
2. Burns Calories
Gardening can be a hard workout, depending on what you do and for how long. A simple 1 hour of gardening could help you to burn up to 330 calories. Also, if you garden for three to four hours, you could easily burn as many calories as you would from one hour in the gym. This can be accomplished through basic gardening tasks, such as raking leaves, mowing the lawn or trimming hedges.
Therefore, The National Institute of Health recommends 30-45 minutes of gardening for three to five times per week. Which could be a perfect solution for those not wanting to visit the gym, making gardening an ideal exercise for those who prefer low-intensity workouts.
3. Stress Relief
Gardening as a form of exercise can be good for you as it helps to release endorphins, the hormone that helps to make people feel satisfied and relaxed. Furthermore, being outside in direct contact with the sunlight could help improve your mood. Similar to that of Seasonal Affective Disorder, a type of depression that occurs during the winter months where sunlight is restricted.
Experts have shown that the level of a stress hormone in your brain called cortisol could be reduced through gardening. High levels of cortisol in the brain affects a person’s memory and learning.
4. Improved Immune System
Also, another advantage of the sun is that it can help you absorb plenty of vitamin D. In short, Vitamin D can help your body to absorb calcium, which in turn, can help keep your bones strong and your immune system healthy. Vitamin D deficiency is a widespread problem across the UK, and studies show that 1 in 5 Brits lacks this nutrient in their systems.
Spending more time outside and under the sun helps increase the levels of Vitamin D in your body. In return, it enables you to absorb more calcium, which makes the bones stronger and the immune system healthier.
Gardening activities provide purpose and a sense of worth. Having a living thing to care for, such as the plants in your garden, gives us a sense of responsibility. It could be highly beneficial for people suffering from mental health issues as it can be a simple activity to keep them busy and occupied.
6. Live in the Moment
Being outside in your garden and experiencing the change of seasons as and when they happen can help you feel connected to the world. This is like sitting in an office all day with only a glimpse out of a window can make time go quickly before you know it it’ll be New Year’s Eve again. Therefore spending the time outside and experiencing the flowers as they bloom can be a great way to keep track of time.
7. Free Anger Therapy
If you have experienced a bad day simply grabbing a shovel and doing some heavy digging or drastic pruning could be a great way to rid of your built up of negative feelings. Furthermore, destroying unwanted brambles and weeds is a convenient way to exert anger as if you don’t destroy them they may soon take over your garden!
Distracting yourself from your life’s stress through gardening is an excellent technique because this activity is connected to growth and renewal. Your plants will swamp your garden space if you don’t cut them so mow them down whenever you feel troubled.
Spending time in the garden is a great way to enhance your sensory system. With all the different smells, colours and textures of plants around you can easily make the most of your body’s abilities. This could be particularly valuable for young children who are learning about the different senses they have.
9. Growing Fruit and Vegetables
Growing fruit and vegetables in your garden can be good for you as you can include your products in your diet. Apples, tomatoes, carrots, in your garden, could all help you reach your daily five a day.
Imagine seeing your garden bloom with fresh vegetables, fruits, and herbs — it will surely serve as a motivation for you to pursue a healthier eating habit! Once you start consuming a nutritious diet, you’re laying the foundation for better health in the future.
10. Decreases Osteoporosis
Osteoporosis is a disease that can weaken bones and therefore increases the likelihood of a broken bone. Therefore, by regularly gardening you will take part in repetitive tasks that can ensure all the major muscle groups are getting a good workout. This can help decrease the risk of osteoporosis.
11. Reduced Risk of Dementia
There has been research that suggests engaging in physical activity such as gardening can help lower the risk of developing dementia. For instance, one study following a group of people in their 60s and 70s for 16 years found that those who gardened regularly had between a 36% – 47% lower risk of developing dementia compared to non-gardeners.
12. An Altered State of Consciousness
Gardening can help you enter the ‘zone’. This can also be known as an altered state of consciousness where you enter a magical and spiritual place where you can experience the best of who you are. Similar to what an athlete will enter before and during a competition, or the mood you enter during yoga or meditation.
Once gardening you won’t need to worry about the bills you need to pay, upcoming deadlines at work or people who have done something to offend you. Just breathe in the fresh air, give some attention to your garden and forget about any worries you may have.
Overall, gardening regularly is proven to be good for you in many different ways. From health-related benefits that can help reduce the risk of a heart attack to helping you relax after a stressful day. What’s better than getting fit and maintaining a healthy lifestyle whilst making your garden a lovely environment you will want to spend time in.
No longer does gardening need to be seen as a chore, but rather an investment into your health and well-being.
Aquaponics is the combined process of aquaculture and soil-less plant growing. It is a sustainable method in which you can grow a full meal, in just one system. Plants and fish grow together symbiotically; fish waste is converted into nitrates, which the plants use as fertiliser, whilst the plants filter and clean the water for the fish.
A recent 2018 article ‘EU polices: New opportunities for aquaponics’ took a closer look at which policies might need to be implemented as the EU develop laws and regulation on aquaponics as a sustainable method for growing food.
Until the EU reach a conclusion on how aquaponics should move forward in terms of commercial viability throughout Europe, for now, having your own garden aquaponics setup can help you to produce local food, ethically and sustainably.
Here are seven benefits to having your own aquaponics system in your garden at home.
Know the source of your food
Growing your own food gives you the added benefit that you’ll know exactly where and how the food has been grown. You can select the plants you want to grow, and the fish you want to use in the tanks.
Some popular plants which are easy to grow in aquaponics setups include; leafy greens, herbs, tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers.
The fish you choose to include in your tank will depend on whether you want to harvest the fish, or have ornamental freshwater fish. If you want to raise fish to eat, the most common choice is Tilapia.
Reduces food miles
More and more people are starting to questions where their food is coming from and the local food movement is really growing as more people start to questions the carbon footprint of food miles.
Most of the food available in supermarkets now, has a considerable amount of air miles. It’s likely the food will have been grown hundreds, maybe even thousands of miles away, and then flown into the local area.
With an aquaponics system, you can source the fish and plant seeds from a reputable source, and grow your own food right there in your back garden.
Another beauty of growing food in an aquaponics system is that it’s impossible to cheat and use chemicals or synthetic fertilizers or pesticides.
Because one of the main components in this set up is live fish, if you add anything which could harm the fish to the system, you’ll likely kill them and the whole setup won’t work.
Therefore this system is one of the most organic and natural way to grow food.
Uses less water than other food farming methods
Aquaponics uses up to 90% less water than any other traditional agricultural methods.
This is because 95% of the water is reused. The water works in a continuous closed loop system, passing through the plants which act as a filtration, cleaning the water.
This removes the need to have the carry out water changes as you would do with regular aquaculture, and also removes the need to water the plants.
Grow food in any sized space
As the world’s population is growing, we need to find innovative ways to grow food in small places. Aquaponics fits this description.
Systems can be built vertically, horizontally, stacked on top of one another, pretty much any which way to use the available space.
Whether you have a tiny backyard, or a large sprawling garden, you’ll be able to design an aquaponics system which you can grow food in.
Sustainable food source
This method of growing food is sustainable for a number of different reasons. It uses less water than other methods because it can continuously recirculate the water. Soil is removed from the equation which means this system is possible to use in areas without nutrient rich soils, and without much water.
All the nutrients which the plants need come from the fish, so it’s a completely natural fertilizing method. This system mimics the natural ecosystem, meaning the plants are grown organically, and the quality of the food is much better.
This method produces next to no waste. Any solids which are left over in the fish tanks can be used as natural fertilizers for soil based plants, or added to the compost pile. Any unharvested or damaged plants can be fed to the fish or composted.
Less time consuming than other agricultural methods
If you’ve always wanted to grow your own food, but have always been put off by the thought of how time-consuming it is, then aquaponics is a great alternative.
Aside from have to feed the fish daily, this system pretty much looks after itself. You won’t have to water the plants, or turn any soil. An aquaponics set-up is self-sufficient.
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Backyard farming — sometimes referred to as urban farming, container gardening, or micro-farming — is a way to transform your yard, patio, or even windowsill into a thriving garden. From smaller gardens that grow vegetables, herbs, and fruit to larger operations that include beekeeping and chicken coops, backyard farming encourages sustainable living and healthy eating among multiple other benefits. Here are some tips to get started.
Benefits of Backyard Farming
Planting and growing your own produce is an amazing way to live more self-sufficiently, eat organically, and avoid the middle man by going from “farm” to table in your own home. In fact, if more people farmed at home, the accessibility of local food would increase and prices in stores and farmers markets would decrease.
Planning your garden and backyard farming is also a great way to spend quality time outside with your family. If you have children, gardening can teach them the importance of responsibility and teamwork, as well as basic math, measuring, and science concepts.
Additionally, backyard farming is an excellent stress-reliever. Sunlight is a great source of vitamin D, which encourages production of serotonin and dopamine — a.k.a. the “happy” chemicals in the brain. In one study where participants who gardened over the course of 12 weeks saw a significant improvement in their moods and alleviation from depression symptoms.
Getting Extra Help
While you spend time in the garden with your family, enlist the help of a personal assistant to help with some of the planning that goes on behind the scenes. They could gather what’s needed for DIY planter projects, schedule out the best dates to plant each crop, order other necessary materials online or over the phone, and even water or weed while you’re away at work.
Backyard Farming Locations
If you have a sizable back or front yard, you’re in luck — you’ll have a lot of space for backyard farming, and can find optimal locations for plants that have different sunlight needs. If you live in a condo or have a smaller amount of space, don’t fret. Backyard farming is possible just about anywhere.
Square Foot Gardening
Square foot gardening uses small wooden-framed garden beds, usually 4’-by-4’, and a grid dividing that space into 1’-by-1’ squares. If you’re tight on space, this uniform, organized approach to gardening might be the right choice for you. Square foot gardening is also a smart option if you’re just beginning to learn the tricks of the trade, since it requires less management and upkeep.
If your outside space is limited, consider growing upward via vertical gardening. This method encourages vegetables, herbs, and flowers (especially those with vining habits such as tomatoes) to grow vertically instead of horizontally on the ground. Vertical gardening sees your plants grow upward on a trellis, garden netting, or a number of other creative DIY options. Check out online tutorials to learn tips for vertical gardening and give it a shot!
Container gardening, or potted plant gardening, is a practical choice for those of us with no yard space. This method of gardening can be done on a deck or patio as well as a windowsill, as long as the sun exposure is right. Container gardening is an easy way to incorporate different herbs, plants, and produce in small spaces, each with their own portable pot. Imagine having an entire herb garden right outside your condo door or on your kitchen windowsill!
When to Plant
Deciding when to plant is a big part of pulling off a successful backyard farming harvest. Consider your local climate and the time of year it is. In the Pacific Northwest, we don’t start seeing regular sun until May and sometimes even June, so waiting until mid-spring to start your backyard farm might be your best bet, depending on what you are planting. Almanac.com has a helpful gardening calendar guide; all you need to do is type in your location and see when the best dates are to plant your crops.
What to Plant
Again, consider your climate and timing before you plant a certain type of vegetable or fruit. Snap peas, cilantro, carrots, broccoli, chard, and lettuce are among the many vegetables that take kindly to the Pacific Northwest climate. As for fruits, Seattle is a great place to grow berries such as blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, and blackberries.
Check with your city’s zoning regulations first, but many places allow households to raise chickens on their property. Most chickens lay 250 to 300 eggs per year, so consider that while you decide how many chickens to raise. Check out your local livestock or hardware store, or talk to farmers at your local market to find out where to purchase chicks.
You can either order or DIY your own chicken coop, but make sure you do the necessary research so that you have enough space and can provide a good home for your chickens.
Raising chickens can be a great option for those interested in farming their own eggs — eating better in the process. Chicken manure is also a great fertilizer for the rest of your garden!
Whether you’re starting a larger-scale backyard farming project complete with chicken coops or are just setting up your windowsill containers in your condo in the city, backyard farming is an activity that is accessible and enjoyable for everyone.
Along with fresh fruit and vegetables, city farms are providing communities with jobs, start-up programs, knowledge and social connections
Melbourne sustainability not-for-profit centre Ceres operates both a one-acre certified organic urban farm at its Brunswick site and a two-and-a-half acre market garden on council land. Photograph: CeresWillow AlientoTue 14 Feb 2017 20.32 EST
The days of the tasteless supermarket produce sourced hundreds of kilometres away from your trolley are numbered, with a growing number of urban farming models putting fresh, locally grown fruit and vegetables on the table. Yet these city farms want to do more than sell fresh veggies and increase our vitamin intake, they want to impact on the community’s lives.
In Perth, Green World Revolution cultivates microgreens, edible leaves, edible flowers, baby vegetables and cut herbs on 400 square metres of land in the city. A combination of raised beds constructed from recycled and repurposed materials and outdoor hydroponics is used to grow the produce.
As a social enterprise, the farm has created six ongoing jobs for formerly long-term unemployed people and employs six more on an as-needs basis for contract projects at other locations. “We currently have a contract project building indoor garden infrastructure for a restaurant and cafe,” Whittington says.
Fifty per cent of the farm’s income is generated from produce sales, while the balance comes from services including providing work-for-the-dole opportunities in conjunction with Communicare Inc.
“The work-for-the-dole project is our conduit to be able to connect with unemployed people,” Whittington says. “With our model, we can address two issues, poverty and unemployment, and the environmental issues with food production.”
Whittington says that, previously, many of the farm’s customers were reliant on produce imported to Perth from Melbourne.
“Edible flowers for example might have been in transit for between 48 to 72 hours from New South Wales. Ours might have been picked an hour ago and be on the forks within a few minutes of arriving at the restaurant.
“We are providing high-quality fresh, local produce and we are providing social good. We are now finding a lot of chefs and businesses are choosing to be with us because of the social good.”
Green World Revolution workers, which cultivate microgreens, edible leaves, edible flowers, baby vegetables and cut herbs on 400 square metres of land in Perth. Photograph: Green World Revolution
Whittington says many unemployed people in the city do not have much access to fresh food, or knowledge of how food is produced. “We share the harvest and we educate people about how to produce their own food,” Whittington says. “If we provide people with food every week, that is something good too.”
GRW is currently building its second urban farm on disused vacant land behind the Art Gallery of Western Australia. Also a work-for-the-dole project, the garden will be used as a “foraging farm” for chefs and cooks from Perth restaurants.
A third farm is planned for later this year on a car park at the Australian College of Applied Education’s hospitality, cooking and business school.
Melbourne sustainability not-for-profit centre Ceres operates both a one-acre certified organic urban farm at its Brunswick site and a two-and-a-half acre market garden on council land. It produces vegetables, fruit, eggs and seedlings that are sold direct to consumers and through the organisation’s Fair Food online delivery business.
Melissa Lawson, Ceres’s farm and food group manager, says the food delivery business is selling tonnes of produce a week, sourced both from their farms and a network of local growers. About 5% is grown within the Melbourne city area in suburban orchards and market gardens. They also run education programs and host events such as weddings at the farm.
Ceres also operates a formal incubator program for start-ups, such as a program for young migrants who were developing and marketing a food range.
Ceres is addressing this through its hands on workshops, education programs, farming and other enterprises. People can see, touch and taste the fresh produce and learn how it’s grown.
Georgina Prasad has come up with yet another model: Homegrown Me is an online business to connect Canberra’s growing network of backyard food producers and community gardeners producing excess produce with buyers.
“There are people who have the capacity to grow things, and I hope people can make a living from that.”
Prasad hopes the hub will encourage people to “see the value in their gardens and in growing things”.
“People’s preferences for local and organic foods are all aligning, fostering interest in urban food production.”
According to Rose, research has shown that people living close to community gardens, farmers markets and other sources of fresh, local produce tend to have lower body mass index, rates of obesity and diabetes.
Another benefit of urban farming is building levels of environmental and ecological literacy, he says. Similarly it offers the opportunity for local job creation and economic development within the community.
And finally it can also counter the “atomisation” of city-dwellers and time increasingly being spent indoors or in vehicles. “Communal growing spaces bring people together and break down barriers.”Topics
Since lockdown, public interest in growing fruit and vegetables at home has soared. Seed packets are flying off shelves and allotment waiting lists are swelling, with one council receiving a 300% increase in applications. Fear of food shortages will have motivated some, but others with more time on their hands at home will have been tempted by the chance to relieve stress doing a wholesome family activity.
The seeds of enthusiasm for home-grown food may have been sown, but sustaining this is essential. Urban farming has much to offer in the wake of the pandemic. It could help communities boost the resilience of their fresh fruit and vegetable supplies, improve the health of residents and help them lead more sustainable lifestyles.
Here are four reasons why food growing should become a perennial feature in our gardens, towns and cities after COVID-19.
1. Growing greener towns and cities
More than half of the global population lives in urban areas, and this is expected to rise to 68% by 2050. For the UK, this is even higher – nine out of 10 people are expected to live in towns and cities by this time.
Weaving food growing into the fabric of urban life could bring greenery and wildlife closer to home. The COVID-19 lockdown helped reawaken interest in growing at home, but one in eight UK households have no access to a garden. Thankfully, the opportunities for urban farming extend beyond these: rooftops, walls – and even underground spaces, such as abandoned tunnels or air raid shelters, offer a range of options for expanding food production in cities while creatively redeveloping the urban environment.
Edible rooftops, walls and verges can also help reduce flood risk, provide natural cooling for buildings and streets, and help reduce air pollution.
2. Resilient food supplies
Diversifying where and how we grow our food helps spread the risk of disruption to food supplies.
The UK’s reliance on imports has been growing in recent decades. Currently, 84% of fruit and 46% of vegetables consumed in the UK are imported. Brexit and COVID-19 could threaten the steady supply, while the problems created by climate change, such as water scarcity, risk disrupting imports of food from abroad.
Growing fruit and vegetables in towns and cities would help resist these shocks. The harvest labour shortages seen during the pandemic might not have been felt as keenly if urban farms were growing food right where people live.
Vertical and underground crops are more resilient to extreme weather or pests, indoor growing environments are easier to control than those in the field, and temperature and humidity is more stable underground. The high start-up costs and energy bills for this type of farming has meant that indoor farms currently produce a small number of high-value crops, such as leafy greens and herbs. But as the technology matures, the diversity of produce grown indoors will expand.
Getting out into nature and gardening can improve your mental health and physical fitness. Our research suggests that getting involved in urban food growing, or just being exposed to it in our daily lives, may also lead to healthier diets.
Urban growers may be driven to make healthier food choices for a whole range of reasons. They have greater access to fresh fruit and vegetables and getting outdoors and into nature can help reduce stress, making people less likely to make unhealthy food choices. Our study suggested that urban food growing can also help change attitudes towards food, so that people place more value in produce that’s sustainable, healthy and ethically sourced.
4. Healthier ecosystems
While urbanisation is regarded as one of the biggest threats to biodiversity, growing food in towns and cities has been shown to boost the abundance and diversity of wildlife, as well as protect their habitats.
A recent study found that community gardens and allotments act as hotspots for pollinating insects, because they tend to contain a diverse range of fruiting and native plants.
If designed and implemented properly, allotments and community gardens can really benefit biodiversity. Not only should barren spaces be converted into green and productive plots, it’s also important that there are connections between these environments to help wildlife move between them.
Canals and cycle paths can act as these wildlife corridors. As we begin to diversify the spaces used to grow food, particularly those on our rooftops and underground, an exciting challenge will be finding novel ways of connecting them for wildlife. Green bridges have been shown to help wildlife cross busy roads – perhaps similar crossings could link rooftop gardens.
All these reasons and more should compel us to scale up food production in towns in cities. COVID-19 has given us cause to reevaluate how important local urban green spaces are to us, and what we want from our high streets, parks and pavements. Judging by the garden centre sales, allotment lists and social media, many people have decided they want more fruit and veggies in those spaces. The opportunity is there for urban planners and developers to consider what bringing farming to urban landscapes could offer.
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Just because you live in the city, that doesn’t mean that starting a business in the agriculture industry is out of the question. Urban farming is bringing food production into busy, populated areas, and it’s more popular than ever.
What is urban farming? Urban farming, also called urban agriculture, is all about producing food inside city limits. It has its challenges, but it also offers many benefits like increased food security, decreased waste, community involvement and more.
In this article, you’ll learn what urban farming is, how and what urban farmers grow, what the advantages of urban farming are, some practical approaches to urban farming, and more.Article Contents:show
What is Urban Farming?
In the most basic of terms, urban farming is simply producing or growing food in a city or other heavily populated areas. It shouldn’t be confused with community gardening, subsistence farming, or homesteading.
The big difference between urban farming and these separate categories is that urban farming assumes a profit motive and that it’s undertaken as a commercial enterprise.
This separates urban farming out from gardening activities where the end goal is personal consumption.
That doesn’t necessarily mean that urban farming is all about big business. Normally it’s quite the opposite. You don’t need a big piece of land, or even a corporation to start an urban farm.
You can begin by yourself, by partnering with some friends, or even as a nonprofit entity.
Urban farming gives people a chance to pursue their passion for agriculture who may not be able to move out of the city and buy a piece of land in the country. Either for financial, logistical, or practical reasons.
The food produced on urban farms can be sold at farmer’s markets, direct to restaurants or grocery stores, or through a CSA (community supported agriculture.)
As people are becoming more educated about their food, where it comes from, and the effect that transporting food can have on climate change, there’s an increasing demand for locally-grown, sustainable, organic produce.
Hydroponics is any system for growing plants without soil. Instead, nutrients are added to water that plants are immersed in, or that regularly washes over the roots of the plants.
Gravel, perlite, or other materials can be used to provide more physical support for the plants.
Hydroponic systems can use chemical fertilizers, or organic matter like manure.
Since water in hydroponics systems is recycled and reused, it can save on water usage for growing crops.
A conventional farm requires about 400 liters of water to grow a kilogram of tomatoes, while a hydroponic system can grow the same amount using only 70 liters of water.
Hydroponics can be used to grow plants where the conditions are too harsh to grow them in soil. It may even be used to grow plants in space when humans decide to go to Mars!
There are many different hydroponics techniques:
Aquaponics is any system that combines conventional aquaculture (farming fish or other sea life) with hydroponics. This creates a symbiotic relationship between the fish and plants.
Fish eat food and produce ammonia. Helpful bacteria in the water converts ammonia into nutrients for the plants.
The plants absorb the nutrients, which act like a natural fertilizer. And water gets constantly recirculated through the system so the cycle can continue.
Tilapia is one of the most popular types of fish for using in an aquaponic environment. They’re tasty and can be sold as they mature to make another source of income besides the plants that are being grown.
Leafy green vegetables tend to work the best and be the easiest to grow in an aquaponic system, although you can grow a wide variety of other plants like cucumbers, peppers, and tomatoes as well.
4. Shipping Container Farms
If the weather outside isn’t conducive to growing, or even if you just want a more stable pest-free environment for growing, shipping container farms are a great option.
They don’t take up small space and you can fit one in almost anywhere, even just in an unused corner of a parking lot.
Special systems can be installed for lighting, climate control, as well as other factors to create a perfect growing environment.
Racks of shelving can be installed to fully maximize vertical space inside the shipping container.
Most commonly mushrooms, microgreens, or leafy greens are grown because these crops don’t take up much space and also fetch a premium.
They might seem too small to be practical for some people, but a shipping container is actually large enough to generate a full-time income from urban farming with the right systems in place.
5. Rooftop Farming
In the heart of the city, green space on the ground comes at a premium if there’s any available at all. But the rooftops of skyscrapers and apartment buildings represent a largely underused resource.
Raised beds, and even greenhouses or animals like chickens on rooftops are all a possibility. It all depends on what the owner of the building is comfortable allowing you to do with the space, and what your local laws are.
Care should be taken to make sure adequate support is in place before starting a rooftop farm.
Soil can weigh thousands of pounds when you have it all in one place, so care needs to be taken with how a rooftop farm is arranged to ensure the roof can support the load.
Setting up or dismantling a rooftop farm can be difficult, as absolutely every part of the operation needs to be gradually taken up onto the roof using an elevator if you’re lucky, or stairs if you aren’t.
That includes bringing up all the soil you need, as well as something to contain it.
Mushrooms aren’t a crop that immediately comes to mind for most people. But for urban farming, they’re an awesome choice.
The science behind how mushrooms are grown eludes most people, and it can seem like magic that people are able to reliably grow mushrooms, but it’s really more simple than you might expect.
For mushrooms like oyster mushrooms, a large, clear plastic bag is filled with a growing medium like coffee grounds and straw. This is then inoculated with mycelium of the mushroom species you’re trying to grow.https://0143f5ae6b9d069fa0459767f9f9892d.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-37/html/container.html
After an incubation period where the mycelium is allowed to fully colonize the bag of growing materials (basically like a plant establishing a root system), holes are cut in the bag to expose it to air, and the fruit bodies of the mushroom will begin to grow.
There are two things that can be a challenge for newer mushroom growers.
The first is avoiding contamination. Mold or other fungi that you don’t want can infect grow bags and compete with the species you’re trying to grow.
If they win and overtake the mycelium, it can ruin a whole batch of mushrooms.
The other is keeping growing conditions just right for the mushrooms, especially while they are fruiting. Especially temperature and humidity.
If humidity is too low, it can cause the mycelium to dry out and not produce any mushrooms. If it’s too high, it can become a breeding ground for mold and mildew.
Using fans to maintain airflow can help keep things under control.
You get a very quick turnaround time with microgreens compared to conventional crops. 7 to 14 days for most varieties of microgreens, as opposed to 90 days or more for some traditionally grown crops like peppers or pumpkins. https://0143f5ae6b9d069fa0459767f9f9892d.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-37/html/container.html
Despite their small size, microgreens are absolutely packed full of nutrients, and are becoming a popular choice for health-conscious people to add to salads or smoothies.
Chefs also like to use microgreens as a garnish because they give a nice aesthetic appeal.
Microgreens take up very little space and can be grown in a single room or shipping container. The process is normally quite automated, including watering and LED lighting all done on set timers.
With the right urban farming techniques, you can actually make a full-time income on a space as small as 1/3rd or 1/4 of an acre. Backyard farms are also referred to as market gardens.
The best part about backyard gardens is that you don’t even necessarily need to own the land to start growing on them.
For most people, their yard is just sitting unused, and cutting the grass and maintaining it can be a chore more than anything else.
A good proportion of homeowners will be happy to let you grow food in their backyard in exchange for a portion of your harvest or the income you earn, others may rent you the space for a set fee for the season.
Like with most other types of urban farming, space is at a premium when you only have a small yard to work with. So it’s important to pick compact crops like greens that sell for a high price.
Where city bylaws allow, backyard gardens can even include small livestock like chickens, as well as beekeeping.
The Benefits of Urban Farming
Urban farming comes with a bunch of benefits over conventional farming. Some of them may be obvious, while others aren’t so intuitive.
Here are some reasons why I think urban farms offer a lot of value to any community that they’re a part of.
1) Increased Food Security
Urban areas can often form what are called food deserts, which are areas where it’s difficult to buy good quality or affordable fresh food.
If there aren’t any grocery stores in your area and you don’t have a car, the only food sources you might have within walking distance could be fast food restaurants and convenience stores.
Urban farms can provide food to low-income individuals who need it the most.
2) Creates Fresher, Healthier Foods
When you buy a tomato or many other types of produce at the supermarket, you’re getting something that was picked underripe.
It’s a necessity, since produce needs to be shipped across the country, and it can often take several days for it to pass through all of the distribution channels and arrive at its final destination.
Urban farming creates fresh produce closer to where it’s ultimately consumed. That means less food miles traveled, which is great for cutting down on carbon emissions to help fight climate change.
Food from urban farms is far more likely to be perfectly ripe, more nutritious, and produced in season. Whether it’s fruits, vegetables, or herbs.
As a farmer, the upside to this is that customers are willing to pay a premium for freshness and local production.
Public health is a huge concern in the inner city, where people often suffer from malnutrition or other diet-related health problems.
Giving people nutrient-dense healthy alternatives will help reduce the risk of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and other conditions in the area. Plus tending to the farm itself provides exercise to those who are working in it.
3) Urban Regeneration and Use of Under-Utilized Spaces
Urban farming is able to put land to use that is otherwise undesirable or can’t be put to good use. An urban farm breathes new life into older run-down communities.
It creates more green space, which is something that cities could desperately need. Greenery creates a relaxing feeling to the community and has a more aesthetic appeal than an empty lot.
Areas with community gardens and urban farms also increase property value. One study found that gardens in the area raised surrounding property values by nearly 10% within five years. https://0143f5ae6b9d069fa0459767f9f9892d.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-37/html/container.html
4) Community Involvement
So how can urban farming help communities? Besides producing an abundance of fresh healthy foods for everyone to eat, it can also bring the residents of an area together to work toward a common goal.
For urban farming nonprofits, a lot of social activity and organization is required. And everyone will have a vested interest in seeing the project succeed once they start to put their own time and energy into it.
Urban farms can help to create a sense of belonging among people that would otherwise be isolated from one another.
Urban farms can give back to the community by holding tours or workshops to teach children and adults alike in the area where their food comes from.
It’s a learning opportunity for picking up various gardening techniques and other information that people may not have access to.
Urban farms can integrate with local restaurants or cafes to benefit both parties.
The farm gets a steady customer to buy its produce, and the restaurant can use the fact that it buys locally-sourced produce from the community as part of its advertising and appeal.
5) Makes Efficient Use of Land
Think about how many areas of the city are sitting unused and being wasted.
Hydroponic systems, vertical or rooftop gardens, and other techniques can be used to fit in a lot of extra food into any free urban space that’s available.
Urban farmers come up with innovative and efficient solutions to the problems that growing in the city can challenge them with.
6) Economic Growth and Job Creation
As your urban farm grows, you may be able to take on multiple plots throughout the city. Once it’s more than what you can manage yourself, you can bring on employees or volunteers to help keep things running smoothly.
Low-income people without much education in the inner city might not have the opportunity to get many jobs.
Urban farms can offer them valuable skills and education in addition to a steady source of income, even if it is seasonal work.
Hunger and poverty are common themes in an urban environment. But urban farms can help to support the community and stimulate its economy by circulating income in the region.
7) Less Food Waste
Some food waste occurs because stores stock more fresh food than what they can sell before it goes bad. Other times, consumers buy produce and it goes bad before they’re able to consume it.
Urban farms help cut down on both of these types of food waste. People can harvest only what they are going to eat that day or within a few days, so they’re less likely to waste food.
There is less of a disconnect between where your food comes from and what you eat.
8) Less Investment Required
Buying a conventional farm is a huge undertaking. Even if you just want a small farm with an acre or two, you’re looking at hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Even to lease farmland from another farmer for a season, you’re looking at some major expenses.
Urban farms take up far less space, and initial infrastructure and setup costs is often drastically lower than a traditional farm as well.
9) Water Conservation
Urban farming saves water a couple of different ways.
First, urban farms tend to use irrigation systems on timers, hydroponic systems, or other methods that allow them to use 2/3rds less water than what a conventional farm would need to achieve the same output.
Urban farms also prevent water runoff and other issues that would be present if the farm wasn’t there.https://0143f5ae6b9d069fa0459767f9f9892d.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-37/html/container.html
Farms can set up catchment systems to collect rainwater from nearby buildings, and water their crops 100% from rainwater.
Examples of Urban Farming
For most people, Curtis Stone is the go-to guy when it comes to urban farming, and his Youtube videos and other materials are often the primary way that people find out urban farming is even an option.
Curtis operates his urban farming business called Green City Acres, which has several urban farms located around Kelowna, British Columbia, Canada.
He has a Youtube video with over 300,000 subscribers and hundreds of videos that are an amazing resource if you’re just getting started with urban farming.
He teaches practical techniques, as well as does in-depth interviews with other growers to understand what’s working for them and what isn’t.
You can buy his book entitled The Urban Farmer on his website. He also does in-person courses and offers online courses on topics like growing microgreens, and passive solar greenhouse design.
He also has a membership website fromthefield.farm where he does in-depth videos about sustainable agriculture every week.
In addition to growing food to earn an income, Nature’s Always Right also has the goal of teaching as many people as possible about regenerative farming techniques, and helping them to grow their own healthy food on a small scale using no-till methods.
Located in London, UK, FARM: uses a variety of urban farming techniques including a rooftop chicken coop, aquaponic fish farming, and small-scale vegetable farming using a polytunnel as well as a high-tech indoor allotment
The goal of the project is to teach Londoners that it’s possible for people who live in the city to grow food without having large amounts of space. It has been operating since 2010.
The name urban farming conjures up images of food being grown right in the middle of the inner city or downtown.
While that’s certainly a possibility, there’s no characterization on exactly how dense or populated an area needs to be to qualify as urban farming.
But it generally includes properties and land right up to the outer edge of the city.
Urban farmers grow in backyards, on top of the roofs of apartments and skyscrapers, on vacant or abandoned properties or land, and plenty of other places.
Some cities are even setting aside portions of parks or other open land to allow urban farmers to use.
It’s critical to take your city’s zoning and by-laws into account before you get started with urban farming. What’s allowed can vary from place to place.
Most cities have restrictions on any kind of livestock being kept within their limits, although some places make exceptions for backyard chickens, rabbits, or even beekeeping.
Some cities will allow you to grow vegetables in your front yard, while others won’t. Other locations will limit what kinds of retail sales you can do out of homes and other non-commercial properties.
While states and provinces may have specific licenses and certification that are required to operate your urban farm, like safe food handling or WHMIS.
Understandably, producing people’s food comes with a lot of liability and safety issues, so municipalities tend to err on the side of protecting the consumers.
What Products Do Urban Farmers Grow?
As mentioned, it’s much harder for urban farmers to try to raise livestock like cattle, pigs, and sheep within city limits, just because of the legal restrictions.
But most other things that any conventional farm is capable of producing are on the table.
Urban farmers grow vegetables, root crops, fruits, and even grains. As well as herbs and medicinal plants, or purely ornamental varieties of plants.https://0143f5ae6b9d069fa0459767f9f9892d.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-37/html/container.html
For a brand new urban farmer looking for an entry point in the market, I would suggest 3 crops that are fairly easy to grow and offer good returns: Mushrooms, microgreens, and leafy greens.
All three of these products are more perishable than a lot of other types of crops.
That gives urban farmers a big advantage when it comes to freshness and quality, compared to larger companies that might need to ship their product several days before it reaches its destination.
Both microgreens and mushrooms can be grown indoors and take up very little space. Many urban farmers are able to grow these crops in converted shipping containers, or anything else that’s basically the equivalent size of one large room.
Leafy greens like arugula and spinach fetch high prices due to their short shelf life, but require growing outdoors or in greenhouses or wind tunnels.
Market garden techniques and practices can be used to produce large amounts of food in a tiny space, however.
Some urban farmers are able to make as much as $100,000 per year on just a 1/3 acre piece of land if they have the knowledge and conditions needed. https://0143f5ae6b9d069fa0459767f9f9892d.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-37/html/container.html
Generally, as an urban farmer, you want to highly specialize on crops and different varieties that aren’t normally available from regular distributors and large-scale farms.
What Tasks do Urban Farmers Perform?
As an urban farmer, you’ll need to wear a lot of different hats, and it might be on you to perform all the roles that your business requires all by yourself.
In addition to just growing the food, urban farmers need to be experts when it comes to marketing and connecting with buyers.
It doesn’t matter how great your food is or how much you can grow, if nobody is willing to buy it!
It’s up to you to pitch your product to shops and restaurants in your area, as well as man your booth at the farmer’s market every weekend.
Urban farmers usually end up doing all of their own deliveries as well. You’ll need a climate-controlled van to get all of your produce to customers in a timely manner.
Although some urban farmers even deliver their products via bicycle and pull their inventory on a trailer behind them.
You’ll also need to do all of the administrative work for your business like bookkeeping/accounting, filing paperwork, and more. Combined, all of these tasks can easily add another 10 hours on to your work week.
Even if you’re living in the city, you can earn a full-time income from your passion for agriculture by making use of urban farming techniques.
Crops like edible mushrooms and microgreens take very little space to grow, but they offer high margins.
Techniques like vertical farming and aquaponics can make tiny spaces like shipping containers or rooftops into full-scale operations that are capable of providing food to nearby neighborhoods.
Urban farming is profitable, and urban farms have a number of benefits for the communities they’re in as well.
They increase food security and give people access to fresh, nutritional food that they might not be able to buy otherwise.
Urban farms can also help boost economic growth in an area and provide jobs. They can also help to create a sense of community.
If you’ve ever wanted to start farming but can’t see yourself giving up the city life to move to the country, urban farming offers a great alternative that will allow you to follow your passion.
If you want to learn more farming ideas or have questions of how to start your farm, read my articles below: