Yuppie “Urban Farming”

There was an urban farm event yesterday, people showing how they grow stuff in their backyards. All of these people had chickens, a couple goats, small numbers of which are permitted by the municipal code. Overall no real serious food production though. I asked a couple people about the economics, they said it wasn’t economical and seemed to regard the question as pretty stupid.

The whole thing was over-hyped. Having some chickens in your yard does not make you a sustainable organic urban farmer, even if the coop is built out of 100% recycled or repurposed materials. There is a strong leftist flavor to the whole thing, but it looks like a hobby for affluent hippies with big yards.

I was hoping to see some serious food production of the type Mindweapon and KP talk about. I’ll keep looking.

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About thrasymachus33308

I like fast cars, fast women and southern-fried rock. I have an ongoing beef with George Orwell. I take my name from a character in Plato's "Republic" who was exasperated with the kind of turgid BS that passed for deep thought and political discourse in that time and place, just as I am today. The character, whose name means "fierce fighter" was based on a real person but nobody knows for sure what his actual political beliefs were. I take my pseudonym from a character in an Adam Sandler song who was a obnoxious jerk who pissed off everybody.
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24 Responses to Yuppie “Urban Farming”

  1. joetexx says:

    “Join us at 6 p.m. on Thursday, July 19, at the San Antonio Garden Center for cold beer and frothy discussion about cultivating green spaces within the city limits. Texas Public Radio News Director David Martin Davies hosts the panel discussion.”

    Got this a couple days ago. This is sponsored by a gaggle of greeny lefty bidnesses but as a member I am entitled to 2 beers and a buffet plate, so I’ll show up, bearing your reservations in mind. Maybe I’ll learn something or meet someone worth knowing – crossing fingers.

    • joetexx says:

      OK, checked out the Green Spaces event. 

      Big turnout – over 300 people. I had reservations but a line of walk- ins had to wait for no shows to get seats.  Staff told me they were surprised by the turnout. 

      Upscale – I was certainly in the lowest 5 percent on income. The usual suspects – clear DWL professionals and academics, ‘cultural workers.’
      But quite a few obvious small business types and churchy – conservative churchy – types. I talked with a few of these and got names or bidness
      cards.  A smattering of military in field cammies, and two in office undress. 
      Fort Sam Houston is right across the street. These were younger people and I dearly would have liked to chat with some of them but didn’t get to. 

      The whiteness was dazzling – blinding.  One black – a vendor selling ceramic rain barrels. Maybe half a dozen Mexican-Americans, including one of the panelists. A couple who might have been very light East Indian. Everyone else would have been welcome at a Dixie country club in 1955.  The San Antonio Country Club, in fact, is right next door. 

      Panelists were a chicken raising housewife, the president of the Texas Beekeepers Association, a Texas A & M extension gardner (the Mexican),
      and a lady who lost her job in 2008. Her husband lost his soon after, and she took up gardening to feed the kids. Soon she set up a nonprofit supplying
      heirloom seeds to folks in the same sad situation she and her spouse had suffered. The MC said she had been featured on CNN.  Needless to say I found her the most interesting of the four. 

      dinnergarden.org

      I talked briefly with Mrs.  Hirshberg and she loaded me up with packets of heirloom seeds –   mostly varieties of tomatoes, some herbs and flowers. 
      Also seed peppers brought in by a local gardner. 

      The link on her name goes to the CNN interview. She advised me to check out 
      the icons to partner sites on her main page. Ample Harvest looks like it might be interesting. I’ll be in touch with her. Start small, but might be thr germ of a community network there.

  2. Ryu says:

    Well, it takes more than just a few to make it economical. This is where MW’s guaranteed markets come into play. A couple goats is just a few good meals. We are looking at feeding a community of thousands of people, cutting out Walmart/Burger World/Safeway. I would certainly be more wiling to buy from a WN farmer than a MC farmer.

  3. mindweapon says:

    Thrasymachus,

    Meat is a huge commitment to produce and process. I leave that to others. My approach is to purchase starches in bulk, except for potatoes which I grow, purchase meat, and produce as much of my own fruit and veg as possible.

    The modern food system, the McDonalds, the Subways the Taco Bells, is selling 20% pig and 80% squeal. In other words, most of the price of meals from the fast food places is paying for the employees, the building, the stockholders, the advertising. And these places take EBT cards! What a waste of EBT money, eh?

    So what I want to do is teach poor White people how to buy in bulk, grow what they can, and do their own processing, from making bread from flour with a bread machine to brewing their own beer to making their own tomato juice and storing it in mason jars. Having saved a significant amount of money by getting their starches in bulk and veg from the backyard, they can use their SNAP cards to buy milk/meat/cheese/oils, preferably in bulk from Costco or B.J’s or Sam’s Club.

    The big picture is the economics of food, and growing your own has to fit in this as an economical part. Raising goats in a city probably isn’t economical. For goat meat/milk to be economical, they need a lot of grazing room, or you’ll be spending too much money on hay and feed. Same with chickens — they need to be ranging out and getting thier own food — worms, bugs, roots.

    What does make sense is for gardeners to purchase their meat and milk from local rural farmers and get manure and spoiled hay from them.

    Some guy wrote a book called “The 64 Dollar Tomato” a few years ago. He claimed that he did a garden and it ended up costing him way more than it was worth. that’s not my experience. I spent maybe 200 this year, and 100 hours, and I should get about 800 pounds of tomatoes, 800 pounds of potatoes,300 pounds of pears, and a few dozen pounds each of cukes, squash, berries, peppers, beans and cabbage. I could get a lot more, a LOT more by spending more time, but I wouldn’t need to spend much more money.

    You build your soil with local waste — leaves, manure, grass clippings, spoiled hay. You don’t even need lime — burn brush over your garden and it’s better than lime. If there’s a campsite near you and they have a bunch of firepits, clean the ashes and coals out of the firepits and throw it in your garden, or have campfires over your garden over the winter.

    If you put mountains of leaves over your garden the fall before you plan to grow, and put a layer of manure and/or grass clippings over the leaves, you’ll have no weeds the next spring, and nice soft soil. They didn’t know this in the old days — they ploughed and ploughed and ploughed some more. They should have built the soil with leaves, rather than attacking the hard clay with their ploughs and disks. Fascinating, isn’t it? All these years, they were killing themselves with ploughing, when leaves and worms would have done the work for them.

    • That’s a lot of stuff. How much room do you have to work with?

      • mindweapon says:

        I have available to me an acre or so, but I use only about 2000 square feet, or 1/20th of an acre, because I have very limited time. I have been doing an “optimization project” to get the most food from the least work and inputs. I have read books on permaculture of biological farming, and have been implementing them myself, and I’m particularly influenced by Ruth Stout and Masanobu Fukuoka. However, I found this video which distills the Stout philosophy:

        Instead of hay, I use leaves as they are cheaper and mroe available. Hay required inputs to make hay. Leaves are just raked.

        But Stout and Fukuoka, as far as I know, missed one big thing and that is the value of burning brush and/or collecting the leftovers of campfires You sweeten the soil with ash and you put in terra prieta, or charcoal, which makes the soil stay fertile for a longer time because charcoal shelters beneficial microbes. Burning also requires very little inputs.

        The big picture isn’t just about gardening or farming. These are necessary cogs of the big picture, because we all have to eat, just about every day. The important thing is to develop a society that processes our harvests and has a guaranteed market for them. We have to get people to stop buying “the squeal” in their diets, and to get as much “pig” as possible. It cheaper by orders of magnitude, if one does a little bit of processing and preparing, to buy staple ingredients (wheat, rice, beans) in bulk and prepare them yourself, than to rely on food prepared by the Corporate System.

        and, I repeat, house sharing, car sharing, beer brewing, as well. Poverty is what we have to deal with. Radical Thrift and Localized Economy is the solution. Radical Thrift and Local Economy require Collective Cooperation, which will naturally morph into Collective Political Action.

        In other words, the process of fighting for survival, will radicalize us.

    • joetexx says:

      Turns out Ruth Stout was Rex Stout’s sister. So in honor of the Nero Wolfe mysteries I need to check her out.

      Joel Salatin who KP mentions,seems like Masanobu in his philosophy of working with Nature rather than against her. His scheme of rotating the location of chickens and livestock for fertilizer and parasite control might seem hard to implement in an urban milieu, but chickens could be rotated in a spacious yard.

  4. If you’re looking for urban mean production, I’m told rabbits or fish are your best bet. I’ve met someone who had a pretty substantial Tilapia setup in his backyard. If you’re interested in rabbits, the UN has an enormous handbook that looks like it’s quite thorough.

    • joetexx says:

      Johhny; interesting info.

      The pseudonymous teenager ‘Dolly Free’ wrote about raising rabbits with her father in her amusing book ‘Possum Living’ in the 1970’s. The two squatted an abandoned church in the ’70’s and provided all their protein needs with rabbit and a little fishing. Apparently they lived right royally for about $700/year (1978 values). Her two short chapters on meats preparation and rabbit husbandry were very informative, as is the whole book. 

      ‘Dolly’ and pop were rabid individualists and hence not much of a model for a community based movement, but she was quite a character. She eventually got tired of subsistence living, put herself through school and became a NASA engineer. A revised edition of the book is available cheap on Kindle. 

      A condensed booklet of the UN rabbit book is online at:

      http://world-rabbit-science.com/Developping/Documents/FAO-Reports.htm

  5. KP says:

    Well, at least I am trying. Can I feed myself and my family forever? Not yet. I was just looking online at a 3-acre farm for sale just north of here. I am planning to bug out of the city and grow more. I would have never predicted that 5 years ago. I am Deconstructing Leftism in my own way.

    I come from a long long line of Indiana farmers, and my liberal loony Baby Booming mother dropped the ball in a huge way. Not only did they sell all the farmland for profit, she divorced my handy, useful father and made damn sure that I did not learn any of the important stuff, (but made sure I got my useless college degrees instead. Thanks Mom!) So now I am starting from scratch trying to learn things on my own. I am 5 years along now with my gardening, and I bet I could out survive most people in a crisis just with the little that I have learned. And I have a network of people who are doing the same thing.

    I eat something out of my garden daily. Sometimes just basil pesto, or dried oregano, or tomato sauce, or garlic, or frozen boiled potatoes from last year. I forage for wild things too. I live in Indiana, and buy meat, eggs, milk and cheese from local farmers. Isn’t that better than buying meat from WalMart??

    Yes, it is.

    Yes, most of the urban greenies are liberal, white, yoga types. But they helped me build my rain barrel, they have given me heirloom seeds, they are turning abandoned parking lots into raised bed gardens, and they have purchased or traded for my sewn goods at the farmer’s market. It isn’t all or nothing for me. I will take every little bit I can get. And don’t knock recycled things – my rain barrel is recycled, my curtains and apron are recycled, my garden beds are from recycled materials, and so is my compost.

    I have seen may MANY farmers who are soda drinking, cigarette smoking diabetics with huge fat bellies and lifestyle diseases. They have GMO seed, herbicide, and pesticide company signs posted along their crop lands. They buy their food at the local IGA grocery or McDonalds instead of growing a garden of their own. Being a large scale farmer can mean a lot or mean absolutely nothing. At least the urban farmers are trying to create something for the locals. I know a waitress who keeps chickens in her back yard, by the way, and she gets several dozen eggs every week. She trades the ones she can’t eat for someone else’s goods, or sells them for cash. Have you seen Joel Salatin from Polyface Farms? http://www.polyfacefarms.com/ He has quite an operation going. And he is a conservative, I think. His book “You Can Farm” is very good. He provides lots of food for his neighbors.

    I won’t be discouraged! And Mindweapon, I like the way you talk.

  6. KP says:

    Heirloom open pollinated seeds are like gold.
    And you have to know how to save them properly. This takes experience. I have vacu-locked several packs of winter garden and summer garden seed collections for future use. I can sell these, bury them, or use them several years from now. I have perennial vegetables which provide an abundant crop, and come back like magic every year. This provides some security for the hard times ahead. I also know my way around a sourdough starter (which is 30 years old now), and I can lacto-ferment dairy and vegetables, which requires no refrigeration. I purchased several pounds of local cabbage for sauerkraut a few weeks ago, and added in my yard oregano, horseradish root, chives, and garlic. I will ferment enough to get us through the winter, and it is very high in probiotics and vitamin C. I just need 1/4 cup per day for a serving. I have learned how to sprout beans and seeds too. All urban farming.

  7. mindweapon says:

    Great KP, I hope you’ll comment at my blog!

  8. KP says:

    Here is another local Indiana operation, small but effective, and I buy their products every month. They also have a huge organic garden which provides produce for their small loft restaurant. This is a 100% grass-based local dairy farm which produces flash pasteurized whole milk, ice-cream, yogurt, and cheese products.

    Several of our local grocery stores carry their products, and they host farm tours, summer camps, cookouts, community education seminars, and a year-round farmer’s market:

    http://www.tpforganics.com/

  9. Conservative says:

    I agree that most urban ‘farmers’ – a term used very loosely – attracts mostly the hippie Occupy crowd, however there are a few that do it for the simple reason that they want another source of food other than the grocery store. Some people cannot afford large land areas to grow large amounts of food, but they do with what they have. Of course it isn’t economically feasible. Just like trying to build your own car from scratch. But it is the fact that you grow it yourself and have it available and the means ‘just in case’.

  10. It’s true that real food needs real farmers. For a production-driven urban farming model that generates signiifcant income, check out SPIN-Farming. It is now being practiced by thousands of urban/suburban farmers across the US and Canada because it reduces the 2 main barriers to entry for those wanting to farm professionally – land and capital..www.spinfarming.com

    • joetexx says:

      Interesting site. It’s beyond my personal capacity at the moment but I’ll be sending it to some foks who like to know about this kind of thing.

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  12. Marcus Buster says:

    Why don’t us broke people who suffer from authoritarian personality disorder start our own blog? Keep all this stuff in one place not scattered about the blogosphere. People like me who can only start projects every now and then wouldn’t have our contributions lost in the shuffle and we could collaborate by having each person researching and experimenting with one task that we are all interested in. I have been slowly accumulating a minimal, but effective set of woodworking gear to build my own furniture with, homebrewing and playing with a small hydroponic setup (nothing illegal, no need to delete this). Maybe keep it tame and PC looking, but occasionally mention forbidden ideas to lure unsuspecting mundanes to the dark side? Seeing as we wouldn’t spend pages upon pages rambling about our feelings and how much we love nature it would probably become a popular resource.

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