Freedom's Phoenix – "Uncovering the Secrets and Exposing the Lies"


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Down on the Urban Farm

Down on the Urban Farm

By: Greg Peterson

There are many things to eat in my yard everyday, 365 days a year.  Last Thanksgiving it was a wonderful salad that included: six different greens such as Nasturtium leaves and sorrel (a surprise find growing in the back ‘wild’ area); ruby red pomegranate seeds; an incredible citrus called limequat that was sliced up skin and all for a tangy/sweet sensation; and a little bit of the herbs tarragon and fennel, with a smidge of that pretty little three leaf clover you see growing in some yards called sour grass.  The flavors were so diverse and striking that I chose not to add any dressing at all, to my mom’s chagrin, as she loves having many dressing choices to embellish her salads.

 I have spent a large part of the past 23 years integrating edible plants into my landscape, from the Thanksgiving salad and my farm soup, to the occasional snack as I work through my weekly urban farmer tasks. All the hard work and experimentation has netted an incredible, edible yard and a wonderful education about how and what grows best in our yards.
The roots of my city farming extend back to 1975 when I was in the eighth grade my family moved into a home with a very large yard where the back 1/3-acre became our garden.  We planted, the seeds grew and a spark ignited inside of me...I decided to be a farmer.  Over time , my dream became farming 200 acres out there somewhere.  Then a few years ago  I went back to school for my bachelors degree where I was required to write a vision for my life.  In that vision, farmer showed up with a twist, the Urban Farm was born, and I claimed the title of urban farmer.  My gardening hobby of 25+ years was in reality Urban Farming; an incredible canvas to paint my dream and fill my belly.
Nicely the notion of urban farmer boils down to be very simple. First…grow food; second, share grown food with someone.  So far so easy.  Then give your farm a name.  This third step is important as it starts to build your farm as a place, earning it fun, respect and building your community.  You are now an urban farmer.  All this, and you are able to grow food for your family and friends, building resiliency into your community.
One outlet for this passion has been to re-landscape my entire yard with the notion that everything that I grow is either edible, or supports the plants that are edible.  Over the past two decades,  I have planted trees that produce fruits, nuts and beans such as mesquite; perennial herbs including basil and oregano that I use a hedge trimmer on periodically; along with the standard annual vegetables " broccoli, snow peas, and cucumbers, to name just a few.  Because of our name, visitors to the Urban Farm have an expectation that they will see long rows of corn and beans and a full working farm. To the contrary, much of what we have accomplished lives in standard garden beds, and if a person visiting did not know any differently, they would just see a nicely landscaped yard.
Then there is how nature works.  Magic happens when I stand back and watch the natural processes that exist in my yard.  A few years back I was fighting a basil plant - it wanted to bloom, I wanted the basil leaves - as if I KNEW what was best for it.  After a long battle, which I finally learned that I could not win, I gave up and let the basil bloom, and boy did it bloom giving me one of those pivotal lessons in life.  What happened next was one of those secrets that nature only whispers if you stand back, watch, and listen. The bees arrived by the hundreds, pollinating much of what I grow and since then, pollination has not been a problem on the Urban Farm.
I have also begun exploring the indigenous foods that populate our natural desert landscape.  For many years, I have collected and processed prickly pears into juice, syrup and jelly, feeding the leftover pulp to the chickens who greedily consume it.  Then a while back, I ventured to a friend’s house outside of Tucson and she fed me saguaro fruit, Palo Verde beans (which taste very much like edamame), roasted ironwood beans and mesquite flour cookies, I was hooked.  Once again, through slowing down and observing what nature has to offer, my horizon was expanded to a whole new variety of edibles to grow and harvest.
My job these days seems to be helping others see how they can transform their outdoor living spaces into edible wonderlands.  Offering a plethora of classes on a diverse list of topics is yet another way for me to express my passion.  Topics such as vermiculture (cultivating worms for their manure), desert gardening, edible landscaping, fruit trees, and the always popular “Keeping Chickens in Your Yard” have begun to reconnect Phoenix residents to the roots of where our food comes from.  Creating the possibility that urban farms can pop up elsewhere in the Valley.
Farming the city spaces around us presents a whole new paradigm for growing our own food, reigniting our connection to nature and preparing for the future.  The tools are here, and the knowledge is available; you can kindle your desire by getting your hands dirty, taking a chance and spreading some seeds.  The fruits of your labor are much tastier and healthier than what you find in the grocery store, and come along with the satisfaction that YOU grew them.  Many people tell me of their “black” thumbs as they admire what is grown on the Urban Farm. I reflect back to them the years of experimenting that I have done, noting ALL the plants that did not make under my care, and that is how I learned
Now it is your turn.  Select a pot and grow an herb, the most expensive produce to purchase and the easiest to grow.  Transform your flower beds to edible gardens, plant a few fruit trees, and re-imagine your yard, patio or plot as a place that nurtures you…in more ways than one.

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