Get Into The Micro-Farming Movement

Amy Stoss quit a teaching job to pursue some "dirt therapy." We spoke to her about bringing micro-farming and permaculture principles to the suburbs.

by Phillip Mlynar
PHOTO: Amy Stoss

After leaving her job as a high school teacher in 2007, Amy Stross took on a couple of part-time positions in a bid to experience some “dirt therapy.” Stross worked as a landscape gardener installing edible landscapes, and she also served as farm manager for a local CSA. Then she experimented with creating a micro-farm on a 0.1 acre piece of land at her home in suburban Cincinnati, Ohio—a move that inspired her to start spreading the word about the importance of permaculture gardening and micro-farms.

“Growing food helped me gain a sense of purpose I hadn’t experienced before,” says Stross, who went on to author the book The Suburban Micro-Farm: Modern Solutions for Busy People.

Digging into the micro-farm movement, we spoke to Stross about getting started growing your own produce, the philosophy behind permaculture and how micro-farming begins with small steps.

Micro-Farming in the Suburbs

Part of Stross’s mission is to highlight micro-farming as an important development in suburban areas. “There are many practical benefits to micro-farming in the suburbs,” she says. “Our yards become ecologically richer, we produce food for our families and we meet our neighbors. Perhaps the biggest benefit is a renewed sense of purpose and a reconnection with the earth.”

Start Small and Take it Slow

When it comes to micro-farming, Stross advises newcomers to “start small and take it slow.” Growing crops in containers on a patio is an excellent way to test the waters—you can always expand and add more later. “There’s nothing worse than planting a lot of expensive fruit trees that die because they were placed in the wrong spot or starting a big garden that turns out to be more work than you can handle in the time you have available,” she says.

Picking the Right Crops

“Micro-farmers like to debate which crops are the easiest to grow, but the truth is that what is easy will vary depending on climate and soil,” says Stross. “Personally, I like to start with set-it-and-forget-it crops that don’t typically need much care until harvest—garlic, winter squash and sweet potatoes.” She adds that herbs such as basil are also “an easy win” when beginning a micro-farm.

The Importance of Permaculture

When Stross began to learn about permaculture—which is focussed on design principles that mirror natural ecosystems—she found herself “drawn to the concept of designing a farm or micro-homestead to be a resilient whole system.”

As an example, Stross mentions that many organic farmers create compost from chicken coop waste, but in permaculture design “we go a step further and consider how to best situate the coop, compost center and garden together to help them work like a whole system with the least amount of work.”

It’s a concept that you can apply to your own micro-farm by stepping back and taking a look at how components in your setup—however small or large they are—interact and integrate with each other.

Chasing the Micro-Farm Dream

If you’ve been weighing up the idea of starting a micro-farm, Stross offers these words of support to set you on your way: “The comment I hear most often is how empowering it has been to get started and realize how much food can be grown in a small space. Sometimes, all we need is a little nudge of encouragement to take a dream out of our head and into reality.”

Follow Amy Stross’ adventures in micro-farming on Instagram.

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