I just came back from a Slow Food event in Phoenix, Arizona, a meeting in an orchard where we picked and ate juicy Desert Gold peaches planted a dozen years ago by urban farmer, Greg Peterson, who was there to walk and talk us through a number of different kinds of fruit trees—peach, orange, grapefuit, apricot. We discussed growing fruit, Seasonal Fruit Desserts, and urban farming. We tasted Phoenix-grown apricots and blackberries and a divine peach cupcake prepared by a company called Urban Cookie. “Urban” is the new black. The word crops up everywhere. It’s good.
One doesn’t usually think of Phoenix in terms of urban agriculture, or any agriculture for that matter, (or wise water use or sustainability). At best the remains of old Occhiali Ray Ban outlet citrus orchards are visible in backyard because years ago developers had the sense not to bulldoze all those handsome, fruit bearing trees. But there is also Greg Peterson who has The Urban Farm and The Urban Farm Press, which publishes small books on city gardening and chicken raising that you can read quickly while learning a lot. One is called My Ordinary Extraordinary Yard, which is the perfect description of this city farm.
Greg’s farm (imagine a small house on a third of an acre) is surrounded by the other ordinary looking houses. Except for its Urban Farm sign and a little windmill in front, you wouldn’t think Greg’s yard was anything special. Because citrus aren’t that uncommon in Arizona, that fact the he’s lined his front yard with a dense hedge of navel orange trees might not seem particularly unusual. “I planted them because those are the oranges I like to eat,” Greg explains. But behind those orange trees there’s an apple tree that’s laden with fruit – a low chill variety called Anna—and as I look closer I spy a short, bushy loquat tree, more citrus trees, and a border hedge of more apple trees that runs along his neighbor’s fence, which they share. Greg points out a small persimmon tree and a mulberry. Zucchini fill one corner of the front yard, and there’s a great patch of what was once lettuce and parsley that have gone to seed, which means he’ll have lettuce growing as soon as it cools down enough for seeds to sprout.
I didn’t expect the pool of green offered by small lawn in the back yard. Far less surprising was the flock of healthy looking chickens which Greg moves from time to time so that they can pick and scratch in areas of the garden that have finished fruiting. An enormous grape vine winds up the substantial branches of an old, dead grapefruit tree, eventually traveling far enough to cover the Western facing windows http://www.raybanoutletit.com/ where they provide the shade that keeps his house cool. There are more zucchinis, a cherry tree, the remains of another vegetable garden. (Phoenix gardening tends to end about the time gardens get going elsewhere – it’s just too hot.) At a glance, this looks like a most ordinary suburban yard, but there are some 80 fruit trees, systems for harvesting both rain water and grey water, an outdoor cooking area and sink made from reclaimed chunks of cement and discarded marble counters, and the chickens. And it’s all lovely and livable.
Greg’s Urban Farm is nothing like the urban farm in the film, The Garden, where every inch is given over to plants, producing in the end not only food but a the looks of a real farm. Greg takes the opposite approach. Although he has built a system that is truly green, it remains a functional, rather normal looking suburban yard, a place where kids can play on a lawn, parents can cook outside on the patio. The differences are that Greg can eat from his garden most every day of the year, he keeps his house cool in the Phoenix summer without air conditioning, and he grows enough food to share with others.
Like most gardeners who have discovered a good thing, Greg does share. He shares information, he shares his experience, and he has offered all the neighbors on his street fruit trees to plant in their yards.
“See that fig tree?” he points to one as we drive by a house. As we pass the next, he says, “Check out that apricot tree with netting under it to catch the fruit.” As we drive down his street and he points out the many fruit trees he’s given to his fellow street dwellers so that they, too, can grow good food.
It’s not fancy. The Urban Farm is a slow, low, practical process, and one reason you don’t really notice all the fruit trees is that Greg believes in keeping them small through Occhiali Da sole Ray Ban outlet pruning so that the harvest is easy to gather. It’s hard to get to fruit if you need a ladder, but if it’s where you can reach it, you’ll pick it. Growing food in the city is not without challenges, of course, but you do come away from The Urban Farm with the feeling, anyone can do this. If not all of it, at least some part of it. I’m already reassessing my back yard for possibilities.
To learn more about The Urban Farm, go to www.urbanfarm.org.