Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The Seattle Urban Farm Company: Enabling the Growth of Green Agriculture

I love growing food in my yard. Through trial and error, I’m learning how to choose the right produce for my small plot, build soil, extend my growing season, and keep the local cats and raccoons out of my garden. All of this learning takes time, and in this age of quick fixes and shortcuts, maybe that’s a good thing. However, sometimes I wish I could expedite the learning curve with a little bit of practical help.

In Seattle, the Seattle Urban Farm Company has a business that does just that. These urban gardeners will come into your yard, install a vegetable garden or a chicken coop, and even help with the harvest. I love this idea. Why? Well, at first glance this seems like another service like housecleaning – hire someone to grow your food so you don’t have to. However, most of us in North America rely on others to grow the majority of our food, so why not have it growing just a short distance from our home? Does a company like this contribute to deskilling our community members, or does it subtly integrate agriculture into the urban environment?

I think that this idea is an enabler. When people have a garden installed, they have an opportunity to casually chat with their gardener about the food that he’s growing. They have a chance to watch the food grow, and even if they simply watch it and note the crops that the farmers are growing, suburban residents learn a little about urban gardening. For those who’d like to do it themselves but need a little help, the Urban Farm Company also offers garden consultation services.

These days, greening the suburbs is getting a whole new meaning. Lawns are moving out and food is moving in. While it’s tempting to think that suburban gardeners should do it all themselves, it’s also important to have groups who can assist with the learning and building process. The kitchen gardens of old, the victory gardens of the war, and now the sustainable zero-mile diet gardens of our century have all contributed to a sustainable local food supply. Each has been supported by a cultural push, supported by community enthusiasm, and moved into reality with a communal knowledge base that enabled the average family to grow their own food. Companies like the Seattle Urban Farm Company are rebuilding the language of kitchen gardening for a new generation of prospective urban farmers.

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