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The Book For Farming In The Suburbs

Even if you’re strapped for time, it’s possible to grow food right in your backyard.

by Jesse FrostDecember 28, 2016

At A Glance

Title: The Suburban Micro-Farm: Modern Solutions for Busy People
Author: Amy Stross
Publisher: Twisted Creek Press
Release Date: 2017
Cover Price: $24.95
Target Audience: busy suburban dwellers and anyone with a lawn

When I first picked up Hobby Farms contributor Amy Stross‘ new book The Surburban Micro-Farm, I stared at that word “Suburban” for a minute.

We read a lot about small farms and urban farming, but suburban farming? Not so much. However, as soon as I got into the book, I realized what an unfortunate oversight it is to neglect suburbia in the grow-your-own movement. As Stross notes “half of all Americans live in the suburbs.”

Put another way: Half of the people who eat in this country do not live “downtown” or “way out,” but somewhere in the middle. And there are a lot of yards and a lot of space for growing food in that middle.

There are also a lot of challenges unique to the suburbs that Stross, whose background is in education and biology, does an excellent job of identifying and addressing.

One is the culture. Suburbs often have their own look—the manicured lawns and “cookie-cutter” houses. They’re meant to feel clean and contiguous, so turning your lawn into a permaculture oasis breaks up that continuity, which might not always be met with support from neighbors. Fear not, as Stross offers solutions for respecting your neighbors if not opening their eyes to what you’re doing—which may, in turn, sway them to the suburban farming lifestyle. (My favorite is perhaps the simplest one: “Don’t forget to smile and share your harvest!”)

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Because your backyard compost bin can put off odd smells, attract critters, and even take up valuable growing space, Stross dedicates some great pages to tackling the challenges of composting in a suburban setting. She also also gives ideas for how to manage the shady plots you may find in a suburban areas, along with edible plants that would enjoy those areas. All that said, I don’t want the reader to think this book is just about how or why to farm in the suburbs. It’s also about what to farm there—or on any small plot anywhere.

The author gives many tips on how to plan your gardens and suggestions on the kinds of plants to focus on. There is a chapter on micro-farming fruit, as well as a one on growing herbs. Edible hedgerows also receive a fair amount of attention, as does utilizing that little strip of grass between the road and sidewalk—which I learned is called the “parking strip.”

Ultimately, this book takes a permaculture approach to starting a micro-farm in the suburbs that speaks not just to a stay-at-home mom or dad, but to all busy people. Indeed, it is one of the few gardening books that is aware that you may not have a lot of time to start a garden, and shows you that it’s still possible anyway.

What I perhaps enjoyed most about this book is realizing how ripe with farming possibility the suburbs are. Lawns are just blank canvases. And right now, they require a lot of water and many chemical fertilizers or herbicides to keep them that way. Even a small change in how we approach the suburbs and lawns could make a big difference in water and chemical use. This is what Stross showed me in her book, and I hope she shows the world that there’s a better way to landscape than just a mowed lawn—it’s beautiful, easy and, as a bonus, you can eat it.

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