Lessons in Farming with Limited Space on a Limited Budget

Our modern way of life has strayed from the family farm and has moved toward the urban and suburban environment. This change has left many people in a compromised position when it comes to full self-sufficiency. However, there are some fantastic examples of cooperative efforts taking place, as well as independent ingenuity, that should serve as a reminder that providing for one’s family is quite attainable under virtually any style of living.

One of the very best examples of food independence on a small plot of land comes from the Dervaes family who live on 1/10th of an acre just outside of the Los Angeles city center. Please view the following inspirational video which highlights how they have transformed what could have been a simple plot of grass into a location that produces enough food for a family of four AND enables an income of $20,000 per year … all done organically. It is a supreme example of Urban Homesteading, which you can learn more about at their website Urban Homestead.

As the cost of food increases and more people learn about the dangers of traditional produce which can be loaded with pesticides and/or compromised by genetic engineering, many communities are looking to take back control and introduce local solutions.
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Community gardens are just such a solution. The incredible range of benefits were succinctly summarized by Christina Sarich as she documented her own recent involvement with community gardening. She found it to be a transformative experience:

  • Community gardening reduces crime rates. Take one community in North Philadelphia that was once full of vacant, rundown buildings and plagued with crime, drugs, trash and derelict people as much as derelict infrastructure. A group of women decided to build the Las Parcelas Community Garden and Kitchen. Not only did it improve crime rates, it caused a ripple effect and people started taking care of their own properties, looking out for one another and completely transformed their neighborhood.
  • Community gardening provides organic food to some people who might not otherwise be able to afford it. At the community garden I volunteered at, I found out that entire immigrant families supplemented their food bills with organic produce from their ‘family’ plots, about 5-foot by 7-foot of soil, made to grow everything from spinach to onions, winter squash, kale, turnips, edible flowers, and so on. They even grew enough to give ‘extra’ to their neighbors. They learned organic gardening skills, complete with water catchment, companion gardening and other skills.
  • Community gardens plant crops that aren’t always available in grocery stores, and keep heirloom seeds (i.e., non-GMO) growing strong for a steady organic seed supply.
  • Community gardens give elders in the community a voice for their knowledge and expertise in areas we have often forgotten due to urban living.
  • Community gardens teach younger generations the importance of sustainability and being sovereign. If you can grow your own food, it won’t matter so much that Monsanto is trying to poison you.
  • Many reports are showing that urban agriculture is up to five times more productive per square acre than large scale farms, where items like GMO corn, soy, sugar beets, etc are grown.
  • Eating locally grown organic vegetables reduces seasonal allergies and asthma because individuals are exposed to the pollen from their area, thus increasing their immunity to local flowering plants and trees.
  • Many studies prove that people who raise kids in community gardens eat more healthfully. In an age where obesity is even now affecting children, this makes a huge difference in the overall health of a society, as well as lowers health care costs.
  • Being in green spaces has proven to reduce stress.
  • Community gardens provide a place to compost many items that would normally end up in landfills, like paper cups, paper towels, leaves, grass clippings, food scraps, etc. Putting these organic wastes back in the soil make the use of fertilizers unnecessary.
  • Community gardens reduce air pollution.
  • In many cases, it is cheaper to maintain a community garden with a volunteer staff than it is to maintain a park.
  • Property values increase with community gardens. Source
There are now too many innovative, and low-cost methods to produce food in virtually any sized space that the only obstacle is one of knowledge. Thankfully there are people like Ron Finley who have made it their work to help bring the value (and values) of gardening back to formerly abandoned  places and show people exactly how to build their communities from the food up, combining their efforts to share work and reduce cost. As he states, “Growing your own food is like printing money” … among many other socio-political benefits he addresses in the following video:

For an example of how transformative Finley’s ideas can be, one small town in England has become “The Incredible, Edible Town,” showing what real revolution is all about.

Even Closer to Home

For those who would like to start in their own home, immediately, there can be no better example than aquaponics. Imagine growing fish and plants together in one integrated system.  Aquaponics might offer the least expensive, least time-consuming path to creating your own sustainable ecosystem.

Aquaponics is a full simulation of nature where fish and plants are both kept healthy and productive through a balance supplied by each in a recirculating environment. The aquaculture side offers nutrient-rich water that is provided as natural fertilizer for plants. These nutrients are normally a disposal problem for fish farmers who need to eliminate the toxic waste. On the other side, hydroponics desperately requires nutrient-rich water in order to grow in a soil-less environment, so the plants serve as a natural filter for the fish. This mini-ecosystem is surprisingly easy and relatively inexpensive to set up thanks to emerging science and technology. Here is an example of a reasonably small-scale set up.

For further education, visit Growingpower.org, a non-profit organization that has been instrumental in bringing this new concept to fruition mainly in urban settings. They offer workshops in aquaponics and portable farms.


The beauty of aquaponics is in the small scale … and it can get even smaller. Just as micro-farming has taken root in urban environments, aquaponics can utilize a home aquarium, a mini garden of herbs, vegetables, or even flowers. This is known as Desktop Aquaponics and serves as a great showpiece, or as an educational microcosm of what is possible through the fusion of fish and plants.

You can begin taking the step toward self-sufficient food production . . . no matter where you live, and no matter the season. Look at what you can do right in your own home in this excellent short demo of Desktop Aquaponics:

It is commonly known that the best form of survival is not physical strength or dominance, but the ability to adapt. A terrific example of this is highlighted by the new wave of urban farming that is transforming some very unlikely spaces into thriving and productive food locations:

In Fresh Food From Small Spaces: The Square-Inch Gardener’s Guide to Year-Round Growing, Fermenting, and Sprouting, author R. J. Ruppenthal turns a seemingly anti-urban idea — that farming has to be done outside, with a red barn and rolling fields of wheat — on its head. Because urbanites, too, can grow their own food indoors, in cramped spaces, and without access to land! For real.

Ruppenthal gives loads of details about what crops are most productive, as well as the top 5 things a city resident needs to know about urban gardening in this must-read article.

Humans are creative and innovative to an unlimited capacity. The future of small-space, budget farming through concepts like vertical farming on a large scale (here and here), as well as the comprehensive ideas in the video below, illustrate the many small-scale, low-cost options. Combined, these are inspiring lessons that demonstrate that even in times of apparently increasing adversity, the solutions are right there at our fingertips. And where our fingertips meet the earth is perhaps the place where our greatest opportunity to grow resides.


Video description:

John from http://www.growingyourgreens.com/ goes on a field trip to the Orange County Great Park to share with you many different examples of how they are showing you can grow food at home. In this episode, you will see many different examples of growing food in different ways, such as: A Square Foot Raised Bed Garden, an Elevated Easy Access Raised Bed Garden, Vertical Tower Garden, Hay Bale Garden, Container Gardening, and even food growing in a wheelbarrow. After watching this episode, you will know many of the different ways you can grow a vegetable garden today.



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