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Ten steps to creating a suburban farm

EDITOR'S DESIGN CHOICE

So much depends upon a suburban farm, with chickens. Photo by DBarronoss on Flickr.

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Many suburban homes are ideally suited to growing food, and even—in some locales, where permitted—to raising small farm animals. Following up our recent article about Sarvodaya Farms in Pomona, California, we’ve compiled some steps, drawn from the work of experienced suburban and rural farmers at One Acre Farm and Smith Meadows, to transform your own home to a suburban farm.

Start small. It’s far easier to scale up as you become more confident, than it is to scale back if you go too big at first. Going small also gives you—and your neighbors—a chance to get use to your growing farmscape.

Check local regulations. Just growing your own vegetables and fruit is unlikely to trigger a problem in your town or city, although doing so at very large scale–or growing a crop like corn–could turn some heads or spark a complaint if not managed in the right way. Make sure you understand the regulations for growing items in your locale, especially in the front yard and especially in terms of whether and how chickens, rabbits, and other animals can be kept, if you’re planning to add them.

Produce what you love. You’re more likely to stay motivated if you’re growing plants you enjoy spending time with, and foods you’ll enjoy eating.

Plan for diversity. One Acre Farm recommends growing many things in small quantities, rather than big crops of only a few plants. Such diversity is better for the pollinators and wildlife in your area, and also gives you the opportunity to learn about a wider array of plants.

Allow yourself the opportunity to fail. Forrest Pritchard of Smith Meadows Farm says, “Our culture seems obsessed with failure, simultaneously terrified and captivated with the concept. …If failure is a major concern to you, here’s a spoiler: in farming, you WILL fail. 100% chance. In fact, with apologies to Benjamin Franklin, besides death and taxes, it’s your only guarantee of anything when it comes to farming.” But Pritchard also sees failure as a powerful teacher, especially instructive about the limits of one’s time and energy, and about what works and what does not in terms of growing your particular corner of the earth.

Mind the street. Suburban farmers have a special stake in making their street-facing plantings attractive and inviting: Doing so reduces the chances that neighbors will complain or call on local authorities. It might not hurt to include something nice for the neighborhood: A fruit bush or tree for the picking, perhaps, or a small cutting garden of flowers.

Match the land to its use. Although you unlikely to be working at a large scale, you’ll still want to know your soil composition, the type of light you get at different kinds of day, and what the plants you’ve chosen need to thrive. You’ll also want to be aware of what the wildlife might do, and plant accordingly.

Set reasonable goals. Farming is a long game; in fact, that’s one of the reasons people are drawn to it. It’s an avocation that teaches patience and an appreciation of accumulated effort. Set growing goals that look confidently toward a five-year goal, or a ten-year goal, and beyond. Set manageable, attainable goals for the first year and the second, and so on.

Don’t worry about what other people think. People will have a range of reactions to your idea of becoming a suburban farmer. Forrest Pritchard says not to worry: “Believe in yourself, and just go for it.”

Read. Ask questions. Share knowledge. An enormously helpful resource is the network of state and local Cooperative Extension Service offices of the US Department of Agriculture. There are also more and more books and articles appearing about cottage farming, small or micro farming, and urban homesteading. There are also increasing numbers of people setting the suburban farming example. One reference is Amy Stoss’s The Suburban Micro Farm: Modern Solutions for Busy People.

For detailed tips on crops and animals to raise, see One Acre Farm’s post here.

See more about life at Smith Meadows here.