Blog

From Reality TV to Urban Farming

By emmajean.

By Emma-Jean Weinstein, @mycitygardens

The thought of planting your own vegetable garden probably seems overwhelming if you're not doing it yet.

"Is there lead in my soil?" You may ask, "Should I get it tested? What about a raised bed garden? What crops do I start with?” 

One Boston-native who knows many of the answers to such questions is Jessie Banhazi, the owner and co-founder of Green City Growers, a Boston-area company that assists individuals, restaurants, businesses, schools, and even eldercare homes in growing food anywhere.

Jessie used to work in reality television in New York City, but she soon got fed up. When a friend called to describe the burgeoning urban farming business he had witnessed in Portland, OR (where else?!) they decided to start something similar on the east coast.

So, Jessie moved from reality television to planting vegetables. Typical. 

The idea behind Green City Growers is to "foster a deep connection between people and the food they eat". They also look at spaces which are considered untraditional growing areas and make them fruitful.

Jessie was earnest about the obstacles urban farmers must face. "Light is a huge issue," she said. In a city, tall buildings lead to light deprivation which stunt vegetable growth, especially if you're growing crops that need tons of light like tomatoes or zucchinis.

Also, most of the soil in urban areas is contaminated with lead (you can get yours tested by the UMass Soil Testing Facility for $10), which is why 95 percent of the vegetable gardens GCG plants are raised beds. There's also the issue of pollinating. Bees don't populate urban areas the way they do suburban and rural ones, so GCG often hand pollinates plants. "It's a really odd experience," Jessie said, "You take a male flower and kind of stick it into a female flower."

So what solutions are out there for urban gardeners? "Know what direction you're facing," Jessie says. Know how much light is in your yard and pick crops that do well in the light. Only have four to six hours of sunshine a day? That's fine! Plant radishes, root vegetables, mixed greens, leafy greens, and herbs. Jessie says they should do fine in minimal sunlight.

And… Call up Green City Growers for help! You don't necessarily need to pay for them to tackle your entire gardening project. You and your yard-sharing partner can just get a planting plan or a light analysis for the space. There's so much information out there about planting, sometimes you just need a little guidance to point you in the right direction.

What are the biggest benefits Jessie's seen from urban farming? "The quality of your food just can't compare to what you get from the grocery store," she said, "It's invaluable." 

Jessie, for instance, makes some incredible hot sauce with the veggies from her garden. If she throws together the tomatoes, garlic and jalapenos growing in her backyard, there's an accentuated flavor. The jalapenos are even hotter when homegrown!

Not only that, but it's awesome for kids who are picky eaters and avoid vegetables like the plague. They might scowl at broccoli from the supermarket but if they get to pick lettuce right from the backyard, they'll be much more eager to eat it.

So, as you begin your yard-sharing project with your neighbors, remember not to get overwhelmed, to start small, and to call up Green City Growers if you need any help!

It was nice to meet you!

By jess.

Thank you to all who dropped by our table at the Get Growing Fair in Harvard Square, Cambridge on May 6. We really enjoyed chatting with you all and we encourage you to sign up, like us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, and help spread the word about yardsharing in the Boston area.

Find us at the Get Growing Festival within the May Fair at Harvard Sq May 6th

By jess.

We're joining other local gardening and locavore related groups at the Get Growing Festival Sunday May 6th from 12-6pm. This is part of the larger Harvard Sq May Fair. Come stop by our table to meet the MyCityGardens gang! We'll be handing out FREE materials to help you find a garden/gardener in your area.

Here is more general info about the event:

Get Growing Festival, Sunday May 6, noon to 6, in Harvard Square, Cambridge

We believe we can all grow food in small spaces, and we’re here to show you how. Come learn about nutrient density, raised beds, green roofs, hydroponics, rain barrels, beekeeping, mushrooms, herbs... Meet a chicken, help map urban fruit trees, identify good and bad weeds, buy some locally-grown seedlings, find a yard sharing partner.. and more.

We’ll have about 20 tables of skill-shares and equipment demos. It’ll be in the square on Sunday, May 6, 2012, 12-6 p.m., as part of the huge May Fair. Come to Palmer Street, the alley between Brattle and Church streets. (Rain date is May 20.)



Why grow your own food?

By howie.

When we think about where our food is grown, perhaps we conjure up bucolic scenes of farmers diligently working their fields or maybe we see morose images of industrial farming landscapes. What we don’t think about is what was growing on that land before our dinner. Thirty five percent of Earth’s ice-free land has been cleared for agriculture. That space once provided habitats for native plants and animals. Sadly, habitat loss is the number one cause of species extinctions around the world.

It gets even more complicated. Prefer eating organic? Organic farming is only about 80% as productive per square foot of land as a conventional farming (see Scientific American Article). This means that 20% more land is needed to feed the same number of people with organic farming compared to conventional methods.

What is a person to do? There are numerous other good reasons to purchase organic food. Plus, organic or not, everyone needs to eat.

As a start, reduce the agricultural footprint you are supporting elsewhere by making the best use of the space you take up at home. Grow vegetables in your yard. Have some herbs in your window sill. Little things add up. If you don’t have time to plant a garden, sign your yard up for MyCityGardens and find a neighbor who wants to make better use of your space. -Sorry for the shameless pitch. Species conservation is one of the many issues that motivated us to get mycitygardens going.

Check out this interesting article on organic food production in Scientific America that includes a discussion about farming and wild spaces.

Come say hello at the Cambridge winter farmer's Market this Saturday!

By jess.

We'll be at the Cambridge winter farmer's market local food showcase this Saturday March 2nd. Come on by to ask questions, sign up for yardsharing or just say hi. Also learn about other awesome projects happening in the area.

More info: http://cambridgewinterfarmersmarket.weebly.com/

Gardening is good for your health!

By jess.

A study conducted by two researchers in the Netherlands found that gardening reduces stress! Best get gardening.

Here's the abstract and a link to the full study:

Stress-relieving effects of gardening were hypothesized and tested in a field experiment. Thirty allotment gardeners performed a stressful Stroop task and were then randomly assigned to 30 minutes of outdoor gardening or indoor reading on their own allotment plot. Salivary cortisol levels and self-reported mood were repeatedly measured. Gardening and reading each led to decreases in cortisol during the recovery period, but decreases were significantly stronger in the gardening group. Positive mood was fully restored after gardening, but further deteriorated during reading. These findings provide the first experimental evidence that gardening can promote relief from acute stress.

http://hpq.sagepub.com/content/16/1/3.short

Authors:
Agnes E. Van Den Berg and Mariëtte H.G. Custers.

Title:
Gardening Promotes Neuroendocrine and Affective Restoration from Stress

Journal
Journal of Health Psychology: January 2011 vol. 16 no. 1 3-11

Like food and forests?! Why this is a conflict and how gardening can help.

By jess.

When we think about where our food is grown, perhaps we conjure up bucolic scenes of farmers diligently working their fields or maybe we see morose images of industrial farming landscapes. What we don’t think about is what was growing on that land before our dinner. Thirty five percent of Earth’s ice-free land has been cleared for agriculture. That space once provided habitats for native plants and animals. Sadly, habitat loss is the number one cause of species extinctions around the world.

It gets even more complicated. Prefer eating organic? Organic farming is only about 80% as productive per square foot of land as a conventional farming (see Scientific American Article). This means that 20% more land is needed to feed the same number of people with organic farming compared to conventional methods.

What is a person to do? There are numerous other good reasons to purchase organic food. Plus, organic or not, everyone needs to eat.

As a start, reduce the agricultural footprint you are supporting elsewhere by making the best use of the space you take up at home. Grow vegetables in your yard. Have some herbs in your window sill. Little things add up. If you don’t have time to plant a garden, sign your yard up for MyCityGardens and find a neighbor who wants to make better use of your space. -Sorry for the shameless pitch. Species conservation is one of the issues many issues that motivated us to get mycitygardens going.

Check out this interesting article on organic food production in Scientific America that includes a discussion about farming and wild spaces.

Todmorden: the paragon of local food production

By jess.

The town of Todmorden in the UK has taken the idea of local food to a new level. They grow veggies everywhere! And by everywhere we mean supermarket parking lots, the doctor’s office and highway dividers. Oh yeah, and their own yards.

Boston area (and beyond), we have some catching up to do!

Check out this article about Todmorden.