Entire books are written about the advantages of organic farming. There are whole organizations and government departments dedicated to better understanding the benefits of organic farming and helping to make organic farms more viable. Supporting organic farmers is critical to changing our agricultural practices.
However, we can also make a difference in our own back yard with small scale organic farming. This is just as true whether you live in a big city or in a rural community.
I’m talking about the little vegetable patch out back that we nurture each season and then savor the fruits, vegetables and herbs of our efforts. There is an increasing movement toward eating locally produced food, converting grass into gardens and returning to small scale vegetable growing in the urban environment.
The benefits of organic farming seem endless, but here are a few:
- No pesticides
- No genetically modified organisms
- No transporting of food for thousands of miles around the globe, causing emissions and waste of energy
- No monoculture (growing just one thing over and over, which often damages the soil)
- Better taste
- Higher nutritional value
- You know what you’re eating and where it came from
- Good family activity – kids learn valuable life skills, some botany and some chemistry!
- Reduced demand for intensive farming, which takes a serious toll on the soil
- Less water required
- You grow what you need…less waste of unwanted produce
- Gardening can be a stress relieving activity that helps restore balance in your life.
In fact, the only disadvantage I can think of is that you may not be able to grow a huge variety of produce. But, that’s when you introduce yourself to your neighbor with the south facing garden and arrange to do some veggie swapping.
One of the disadvantages of local organic farming is that you are limited to whatever is grown in season (no year round tomatoes, etc.). But so what? This is the way it was done for thousands of years before someone thought it a good idea to ship peppers halfway around the world so people could eat them every weekend.
By eating whatever is in season you appreciate the food more when it’s available, and get excited at the prospect of having it soon when the harvest season is just around the corner. There’s also the possibility of canning, making preserves, and what not–again, the way people used to do for their families.
OK, so let’s say you’re convinced about the advantages of organic farming and want to try it on a small scale. What next?
If you don’t own your home or if your home doesn’t include any soil (for example an 8th floor condo), don’t fret, there are options.
- If you rent a house, speak to the home owner. They may be more than happy to see a well-loved vegetable garden developed on their property.
- Look into container gardening for that 8th floor condominium – it’s amazing what you can grow on a balcony.
- Make a list of friends and family close by that have property that might be willing to let you convert some of it over to an organic garden in exchange for some yummy produce.
- Look into having an allotment in a community garden.
- Talk with like-minded neighbors and start a community group that works with local government to convert public spaces in your neighbourhood into organic gardens.
If none of these ideas are an option, then cities are increasingly hosting farmers’ markets that encourage (or require) vendors to be from within a certain distance of the city center. This brings the many advantages of organic farming to the masses. Here in Washington DC I get an increasing amount of my produce from the excellent Takoma Park farmers’ market, which features an incredible selection of locally grown and (usually) organic produce, cheese, and other tasty items.
But if you do think you can give small scale organic farming a try, here are some resources to get you started:
McGee & Stuckey’s Bountiful Container: Create Container Gardens of Vegetables, Herbs, Fruits, and Edible Flowers by Rose Marie Nichols McGee and Maggie Stuckey.
Gaia’s Garden: A Guide to Home-Scale Permaculture by Toby Hemenway Revised edition published in 2009 by Chelsea Green Publishing.
Urban Organic Gardener (urbanorganicgardener.com) – an expert urban organic gardener’s blog with lots of useful information.
Urban Garden Magazine (urbangardenmagazine.com) – contains many articles that are of interest to urban gardeners.
The Permaculture Institute (www.permaculture.org) has information about sustainable agriculture principles.
Hopefully you will find a patch of soil and be able to benefit from the many advantages of organic farming. You and your family will be able to taste the difference. Happy gardening!