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August 6th, 2012

Front-Yard City Farms in Portlandia

Homesweet Homegrown Tour continues…

Our next stop took us to Portland, Oregon, home of food trucks, kombucha on tap, vegan minimalls, pedal-powered coffee roasters, and speakeasy style pickles. Put a bird on it—we were in love.

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City Farm, located in North Portland, Oregon, specializes in medicinal and edible varieties.

We trekked down to City Farm, a new urban nursery in the St. John’s part of town. Owner Nikki Hahn opened City Farm last February and is already off to an amazing start—this little shop is packed with everything urban homesteaders need to get their garden on, including a full line of canning supplies, organic mulches, soils and amendments, composters, bins of cover crops available by the pound, ducks, chicks, coops, bees, beneficial bugs, and a beautiful selection of books to get you started on basically any food/farm project you can think of. Oh, and the seeds!

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City Farm owner Nikki Hahn.

As a self-described “plant nerd,” Hahn has a fantastic variety of rare medicinal seeds, annuals and perennials, eclectic heirlooms, fruit trees, flowering plants, and more—all with a focus on hyperlocal, sustainable, and organic growing. City Farm even has a whole wall dedicated just to local seeds, featuring seeds from Nichols Garden Nursery and Wild Garden Seeds, two Oregon-based companies.

When Hahn bought the house right next to City Farm last April, the first thing she did was rip up every last bit of lawn and start growing food.

“It was all sod as far as the eye could see,” says Hahn.

Well, not anymore. In its place, she planted a massive front-yard garden featuring potatoes, tomatoes, hot and sweet peppers, eggplant, kale, herbs, edible flowers, and raspberry bushes. Melons now grow in the big, cooked-down pile of sod, and tomatoes climb bamboo trellises along the sidewalk out front.

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Owner Nikki Hahn removed all of the sod in her front yard to build a massive garden.

It’s this vision that Nikki used to helped transform this little industrial corner of Portland into a thriving urban nursery store. Today in true Portland style, the store even has its own food truck parked out front—The Garden Well—which serves up local brew from St. John’s Coffee Roaster and Free Salad Fridays, featuring greens and edible flowers grown in the City Farm garden.

“The building itself used to be a muffler shop, and before that it was a Harley shop, so it’s been a lot of fun to take a space that was so machine-based and so mechanical and turn it into something green and repurpose it,” says Hahn.

This is definitely a running theme in the city, and it’s so refreshing to see people turning vacant spaces into something beautiful (and tasty). As we walked around Portland, I was amazed at all of the ways Portlanders were fitting in food—nasturtiums along the side of storefronts, trellised cucumbers along the front sidewalk, and raised beds built up around curbs.

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A beautiful example of a front-yard garden at 22nd and Pine Street in Portland.

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Emily Townsend picks salad greens from her front-yard raised beds in Southeast Portland.

Thanks to a new program we saw in Portland called Farm My Yard, there will be even more gardens popping up in Portland (and hopefully across the country). This genius program pairs urban farmers with vacant lawns and unused spaces throughout the city. It’s pretty simple, actually: If you have a patch of lawn that you’d like to offer up, you just put a Farm My Yard sign out, and an interested gardener can claim your space. Both parties sign an agreement, and the homeowner gets a share of all food grown—it’s a total win-win. Spread the word, and you can help bring a little bit of Portland’s front-yard garden charm to your neck of the woods.

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Farm My Yard signs have started popping up in Portland.

Next Stop: Portland, Part II: Heirloom cocktails and restaurant farming at Besaw’s.

All Photos by Paul David, except the Farm My Yard, courtesy of FarmMyYard.org

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July 24th, 2012

Homesweet Homegrown—First Stop: Seattle!

About Homesweet Homegrown:

Written by Grow Indie.com founder Robyn Jasko, and illustrated by Jennifer Biggs, Homesweet Homegrown is a new DIY food book that empowers people everywhere to grow their own organic food, whether they live in a high-rise city apartment or an acre in the suburbs.

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About the Homesweet Homegrown Book Tour

To launch a national book tour for their new book Homesweet Homegrown: How to Grow Make And Store Food No Matter Where You Live, author Robyn Jasko and illustrator Jennifer Biggs created a Kickstarter campaign which catapulted to almost 400% past their goal, with the help of gardeners and DIYers around the globe. So, this summer, they hit the tracks on an epic Amtrak book tour to host signing events across the country.

From Seattle to Philadelphia, they met with urban farmers, front yard gardeners, city beekeepers, community gardeners, farm to fork foodies, and hung out with countless city chickens.

Here are their experiences from the road.

First Stop: Seattle!

After just making our plane by a mere 4 minutes, we were en route to Seattle, WA to kick off the Homesweet Homegrown book tour. Our first stop was June 21 at the Village Green Nursery in southwest Seattle to sign books, chat with fellow gardeners and host a demo about making tasty heirloom cocktails from the garden featuring spirits from Bainbridge Organic Distillery.

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Heirloom cocktails made with spirits Bainbridge Organic Distillery, antique roses from Village Green, and rosemary simple syrup. Photo by Joseph Geiger

The event began with joint talk with Colin McCrate and Brad Halm of Seattle Urban Farm Company, a company they started in 2007 to answer the question: “Does anybody need help setting up an edible garden?”

Since then, McCrate and Halm have started hundreds of gardens throughout the Seattle area, and have even begun working with local restaurants to create rooftop gardens in the center of the city. Their new book Food Grown Right, In Your Backyard, helps readers at home set up their own little microfarm, anywhere.

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Group Shot: (from left to right) Hilary Dahl, Colin McCrate, and Brad Halm if Seattle Urban Farm Co., Vera Johnson of Village Green Nursery, and Robyn Jasko and Jennifer Biggs, of Homesweet Homegrown Photo by Joseph Geiger

“We structured the book based on with what we go through with any customer during their initial consultation,” says Halm. “We started with the initial site analysis where we take you on a walk through your yard and find the best sun exposure and a good microclimate for growing vegetables. Then we move on to the process of building the garden, adding shade or winter coverings, trellises, organic practices, pest management and more.”

Halm and McCrate are also expanding into other realms of urban agriculture.

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Village Green. Photo by Joseph Geiger

“Right now there is a huge growing interest in people wanting to connect to the food that they are eating,” says McCrate. “In an urban setting, you have limited space, but there’s still alot you can do. We figure out the best way to make that happen on their property. It can be a combination of vegetable beds, fruit trees, strawberry bushes, grape vines—anything from a couple of containers on a deck to an entire landscape renovation of edible plants.”

They’ve also begun to set up rooftop gardens for restaurants in the center of Seattle, most recently at Bastille Cafe and Bar.

“In a part of the city with pretty limited growing space, Bastille can grow enough food for the restaurant to be harvesting year round. They pick produce that afternoon and serve it that same night,” says McCrate. “We are really trying to promote projects like that. Any new, creative way to produce food out of Seattle is our ultimate goal.”

I also had a chance to meet up Vera Johnson, owner of Village Green Nursery, who has created a rare gem of a city nursery, with organic, local and rare varieties of perennials, annuals and antique roses on more than 2 lush acres right in the heart of Seattle.

“Since I bought it, I’ve really turned it into my own space,” she says. “I started keeping honeybees, chickens. We started an organic kids vegetable garden,” says Johnson. “We are a perennial nursery, but with the strong interest in growing your own food we’ve started focusing on edibles as well.

Throughout the season, Village Green hosts several classes and educational programs for the community, from urban chicken keeping to making your own compost tea. On Fridays, they invite children from the neighborhood to be part of the kids learning garden, start seeds, dig, weed, feed the chickens, and do whatever needs to be done. All of their perennials, herbs and annuals are grown organically, and they source their plants from as nearby as possible.

“Organics, sustainability and keeping it local is my focus,” says Johnson. “If I can’t grow it myself, I try to find the product that I need within 50 miles. And, if I can’t find it within 50 miles, chances are really good that we are not growing it here on Seattle and it’s not going to thrive or survive here anyway.”

Next Stop: City Farm and Besaw’s in Portland, OR!

Smixing up heirloom cocktails

Robyn mixing up Heirloom Cocktails. Photo by Joseph Geiger

About the Author

Robyn Jasko, is a local foods activist, community garden starter, and co-founder of Grow Indie, a site promoting sustainable lifestyles, homesteading, eating well, and living local. Her first book, Homesweet Homegrown: How to Grow, Make and Store Food, No Matter Where You Live, was published on May 1, 2012.

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