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Fresh Food From Small Spaces: A Beginner's Guide to Urban Farming

You don't need a red barn and rolling wheat fields. Urbanites, too, can grow their own food indoors, in cramped spaces, and without access to land! For real.

Do you dream of an organic garden, but don’t have a yard? A flock of chicks, perhaps, but don’t have a yard? Home-grown food, and lower grocery bills (but, alas, no yard!)? Dream no more, because you can have it, and without quitting your job, trading your bus pass for a pickup, or moving to the rural north.

A new wave of farming is happening in a city near you. While true, Old MacDonald had a farm (ee-i-ee-i-o), his offspring have some urban fish to fry. They’re working off loans, and can’t necessarily afford a parcel of land. They’re young parents who want to save money on cherry tomatoes. They’re newlyweds paying off healthcare debt, and growing taters in their trashcan. They’re students avoiding crappy dining plans. They’re urban farmers. Plain and simple.

In Fresh Food From Small Spaces: The Square-Inch Gardener’s Guide to Year-Round Growing, Fermenting, and Sprouting, author R. J. Ruppenthal turns a seemingly anti-urban idea—that farming has to be done outside, with a red barn and rolling fields of wheat—on its head. Because urbanites, too, can grow their own food indoors, in cramped spaces, and without access to land! For real.

So without further ado, I give you Ruppenthal’s comprehensive "how-to" info for growing fresh food in the absence of open land; it’s here for the taking. Nom nom. Here’s my discussion with him:

Q.Without the luxury of land or space, is it really possible for someone to grow and produce their own food?

A. You do not need much space to grow some of your own food. If you live in an apartment, condo, or townhouse, you might not think that you have enough space to grow anything, but my goal is to change your mind on that. You can grow nutritious sprouts on a counter top, salad greens on a windowsill, dwarf fruit trees on a patio, tomatoes on a balcony, and much more. Most vegetables, and even fruit trees and berry bushes, can thrive when grown in containers. Indoors, try mushrooms, sprouts, and fermented cultures such as yogurt, kefir, kombucha, sauerkraut, and kimchi.

Q.What are the top five things a city resident needs to know about urban gardening?

A. First, you need to know that you CAN grow a lot of different food crops in limited spaces, even in apartments, condos, townhouses, and other small homes. I described some of the possibilities above, and there are more in my book. Hopefully, you will try some of these and also come up with new ideas on your own, as many of my readers have done. Second, start with something that is relatively trouble-free (such as salad greens, peas, or even tomatoes) and work up from there. You will learn a lot from your successes and your failures. If you try some simple crops and do everything you can (such as provide good soil and water) to ensure their success, then you WILL experience some success. Third, do not be afraid to fail. All of us have our hits and misses. Sometimes you forget to water or you planted the wrong variety for your climate, or for whatever reason, a particular plant simply was not happy. A lot of people would quit after an initial failure, but I hope you will stick with it. The only difference between a “black thumb” gardener and a “green thumb” gardener is that green thumbs learn from their mistakes, try again, and keep trying until they get it right. Then they replicate, and build upon, their successes. A black thumb gardener would quit after the first failure or two, not understanding that there is a learning curve associated with gardening, just as there is with anything else. Stick with it and you will succeed.

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