Growing a home and taking back the suburban lawn Los Angeles, CA

Once a plain, indistinguishable suburban house in Los Angeles, Rishi Kumar’s Growing Home is now a suburban eco-habitat that supports Kumar’s family and the surrounding wildlife. The home’s landscape has been designed around specific ecological principles to have zero-runoff, produce over 4,000 pounds of food each year, host over 70 fruit trees, and stay up to 15 degrees cooler inside throughout the summer. Kumar also redesigned his home to recycle multiple sources of indoor greywater and to include small ponds and a terrace. The Growing Home is literally just that: a dynamic project that is always being modified and adapted, transforming a low-cost suburban tract home into a living ecosystem.

The Growing Home demonstrates how suburban tract homes can be converted into models of suburban production and ecological regeneration. The project is part of a larger Growing Home movement, which seeks to reintegrate people into their homes so they can reclaim their full meaning and purpose.

“If you drive by, it’s not ugly. It’s lush.”

Despite the dramatic transformation, Kumar has yet to experience much pushback from his neighbors and the local community. “I think one of the reasons is because we’re trying to keep what we’re doing at a very high level. If you drive by, it’s not ugly. It’s lush.” The beauty of the home’s ecosystem shows the positive impacts on the individual’s health, as well as the health of the environment around them. Kumar has noticed that the fear of failure tends to hold people back from engaging in Growing Home practices. He advises people not to get discouraged—plants regrow and it is always possible to try again and succeed.

In 2014, Kumar expanded his initiative and created the nonprofit The Growing Club, aiming to spread his knowledge, ideas, and experiences with the local community. The Growing Club highlights the importance of understanding that the role of an urban farm goes beyond simply growing food; urban farms should also inspire, educate, and enrich the community through the research and development of ideas, tools, and models which can create and develop sustainable communities of the future.

The Growing Club relies on the support of the local community to offer a variety of educational programs, including monthly hands-on workshops, educational videos, and the urban farming program through Sarvodaya Farms, a community-based urban farming initiative based in Pomona Valley that works to show how urban farms can be centers of social, economic, and ecological regeneration in suburban centers.

This growing movement is about “connecting the urban spaces back together, making spaces multi-functional,” explains Kumar. “It’s not just a house, it’s a farm and a community gathering space and it’s a place where people learn about nature.”