Grow Your Own Farm on Less Than an Acre

Garden Girl’s urban farmstead proves you don’t need lots of space to grow food for your family.

September 24, 2009

RODALE NEWS, BOSTON, MA—At some point or other, you may have daydreamed about owning a farm, enjoying acre upon acre of row crops and meadows, maybe even waking up to freshly laid chicken eggs for breakfast. This farm fantasy may seem out of reach for most—especially those living in the city—but after a group of visitors mingled about Patti Moreno’s urban organic farm in her small Boston backyard Wednesday, it’s easy to see that urban farming isn’t about space, just what you’re motivated to do with it.

THE DETAILS: Moreno, founder and host of Garden Girl TV, and contributor to Organic Gardening magazine and Farmers' Almanac, routinely opens her home to visitors and neighbors and shares her extensive knowledge on urban gardens and farming. Wednesday, as part of this year's Natural Products Expo East trade show (it runs through Saturday in Boston; check back for more Expo reports over the next several days), she guided visitors through her raised-bed vegetable and edible flower gardens and small fruit orchard, around her 7,000-gallon pond and homemade chicken coop, and wrapped things up on her porch in front of kitchen and container gardens full of herbs and fresh lettuce. (She and her husband skim green duckweed, the world’s smallest flowering plant, off the top of the pond and use the high-protein food to feed their chickens—talk about efficient!) Visitors also enjoyed a lunch featuring Moreno’s urban-garden veggies, prepared by local chef Nadine Nelson, owner of Epicurean Studio.

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WHAT IT MEANS: It’s not about the acreage, but what you do with it. On less than an acre, Moreno not only provides food for her family and many of her neighbors, but also has helped build a strong sense of community through healthy food and urban gardens. She herself lost and kept off 70 “post-pregnancy pounds” by burning calories working in the garden, and then eating the healthy food she grows.

Don’t have a lot of space? No worries. Here are some Garden Girl tips for the beginning urban gardener.

Believe in yourself. While Moreno is certainly an inspiration, she wasn’t born with a green thumb. “I grew up in New York’s concrete jungle,” she says with a laugh. “Central Park was nature to me.” She says she learned many lessons in her organic gardens through trial and error. “Failures are learning opportunities,” she says. “Move on, and know why it failed. If you don’t know, find out.”

Utilize unsightly fences and vertical space. If you live in the city, chances are chain-link fencing sits on some parts of your property. “Say, ‘I’m going to beautify it, make it a green wall,’” suggests Moreno. Use the fences as trellises for crops like cucumbers to climb up—the climbers willl hide the metal fence and provide cheap, healthy, organic food for your family. If you have a porch, you can grow vine veggies in a pot and let them climb a lattice.

Start small. Start with a single raised bed or a container or two to grow something your family likes to eat. This time of the year, you can grow lettuces for fresh salads, and can continue growing into the winter by building or buying a cold frame. If you want to grow out of containers, Moreno suggests checking out IKEA for affordable, galvanized containers that provide a nice urban contemporary flair to your property. For more information on organic gardening, visit OrganicGardening.com, and tap into the hundred-plus hours of sustainable urban living videos on Garden Girl TV.

Photos from Gardern Girl Patti Morena's tour of her urban garden:

Boston "Garden Girl" Patti wowed Rodale.com and other Expo visitors with her garden tour.
Duckweed from Moreno's backyard pond makes great feed for her chickens.
Extensive use of containers and raised beds helps Moreno grown an amazing amount of food and vegetation, all on less than an acre in the middle of a city.
Fresh food and a sturdy homemade shelter keep backyard chickens happy.