The Indianapolis Star published an essay I wrote in their Green Living section last Saturday. But in case it vanishes (as links are known to do in the chaos of the interwebs), I’m reposting the essay here.
A lifelong city girl, I blame my fascination with farm life on a childhood “Little House on the Prairie” habit. Thanks to Laura Ingalls Wilder, I wanted to grow pumpkins, make bread, pick apples and milk cows. OK, maybe not the cows, as they’re pretty demanding, but the rest of it, yes. I wanted the farm life.
Even volunteering on an organic Community Supported Agriculture farm didn’t cure me of this romantic notion — and seriously, eight hours of picking beans should knock the romance right out of anyone’s soul.
Instead, it ramped up my passion for growing edibles, raising chickens, canning and other great-grandmother-type stuff (although I’m always looking to make it faster, cheaper and easier than great-granny’s way).
Even though farm life beckoned, a country girl I am not. I like the city, with its theater and art and regularly scheduled trash pickup. Instead of moving to the country, I turned my roughly tenth-of-an-acre Irvington plot into an organic farmette — the Fraudulent Farmstead.
I ripped out a swath of the front lawn to put in a vegetable garden, prompting neighborly chats over tomatoes, peppers and squash. I crammed baby watermelons and Halloween pumpkins into tight spots by growing them up trellises instead of along the ground.
My favorite food is any kind you plant once and harvest year after year, so I added raspberries, asparagus and even dwarf apple and cherry trees. I planted strawberries between the street and the sidewalk. I had so many berries last May that I nagged passers-by to help themselves (remember, always pick from the middle of the patch, because dogs may have visited the edges).
But what made my little homestead a farm was the addition of chickens. My five Rhode Island Red hens lay enough fresh eggs to share with friends and neighbors. Chickens are easy. They’re certainly less work than a dog, although not as inclined to fetch.
These chickens are minor neighborhood celebrities. People stop by when walking their dogs or bring their grandchildren by to visit “the girls” at the garage henhouse. One 3-year-old even begged to help me clean out the old bedding and dump it in the compost pile.
Speaking of which, chicken poop makes great compost. I use it to enrich the vegetable beds and feed the fruit trees. By putting that waste back into the soil, I complete the food cycle, growing a robust, organic garden that feeds me, my friends and family, and even the chickens.
Organic gardening is cost-effective, healthy and easier than you might think. You only need some basic knowledge, a few simple tools and a sense of adventure.
So this spring, take the leap. Plant a pot of strawberries to savor still warm from the sun, or help your kids poke peas in the ground and eat the pods right off the vine. Start slow, and enjoy the process. The urban farm life may soon lure you in.