Our Suburban Farm

A hardworking couple demonstrates the gardening magic that emerges from commitment, purpose, and a little sweat equity.

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courtesy of the Kapple Family
The authors aim to prove that food self-sufficiency is possible, even on a small suburban lot.

If you’re young and you love the idea of gardening or farming, but you feel you lack the time, drive, or competence, this article is for you! We’re the Kapples…–…an eccentric, sustainability-loving couple in our 20s, living in Oregon. Kelly grew up on 6 acres in the country, riding horses, traversing mountains on foot, and bottle-feeding bummer lambs from a nearby farm. Nick grew up on a working organic farm, where he learned how to milk cows by hand, raise a plethora of fruits and vegetables, and can and preserve food.

We spent the first several years of our marriage saving toward a down payment on a home. With our hearts set on acreage and creating our own farm for our future family to enjoy, we were rather disheartened to find that, with Oregon’s high home prices, we couldn’t afford anything more than a suburban dwelling unless we wanted a majorly run-down fixer-upper. But since we agreed that in-town living didn’t have to be forever, we made an offer on a home with 1⁄4 of an acre on a corner lot and closed the deal.

The interior of the home was nicely updated, but the yard was bare. The previous owners had spent a large chunk of their water bill watering grass. A couple of shrubs were all that offered any sort of spunk to the property. The lot had a gravel side yard that the previous owners had parked a trailer on. We knew instantly that the gravel wouldn’t be staying long. We needed as much of that 1/4 acre as possible for planting!

Getting used to city life was an adjustment for us. We’d never lived in a place where people walked by on the sidewalk, so close to our home. We no longer had the privacy we’d had when we’d rented in the country. Little did our new neighbors know that “the Clampetts” had moved to town! We quickly set to work turning our useless lawn into an urban homestead. First, we built a chicken coop and moved our hens in right away. Our hens have proven to be indispensable. They’re an essential part of the circle of life on our urban homestead. We feed them table scraps; they produce high-quality fertilizer, till the ground, eat pests, and give us eggs. We then sell a dozen eggs to a neighbor and keep a dozen for ourselves. The ladies pay for themselves with this method. They’ve also been our ticket to covering up the gravel on the side lot. We move their chicken tractor back and forth across the graveled area every couple of months, so we now have plant-friendly soil where there used to be lifeless rock! We’ve found that our nightshades, such as tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants, thrive in the higher-acidity area.

Our Mission of Inspiration

During the first year of living on our urban homestead, we planted six trees and made seven raised beds. We’ve since added a couple of raised beds and flowers to our plot. In spring and summer, we can be found tilling up our soil, starting sprouts, planting, and harvesting. I say all of this not to brag, but to show other young people that it can be done! Nick and I both work full-time jobs. With our first baby, two attention-demanding dogs, and a cat, we certainly have our hands full, yet we still make time for the most important commodity…–…our food. Our mission is to inspire more young couples and families to get gardening, and to turn even in-town lawn space into something that can produce a healthful bounty for their families. An alarming phrase we’ve heard repeatedly from our peers is, “I couldn’t keep anything green alive if I tried!” This is an awfully concerning statement. Knowing how to grow things on your own is a good idea, for times when grocery stores can’t get items stocked or a natural disaster occurs, or even for having confidence in your ability to be self-sufficient and survive. Not to mention, a great sense of pride comes with serving up a meal to family and friends that came mostly from your garden!

Taking care of our planet and nurturing the land we have is a passion of ours. We feel strongly that you can take the country person away from the farm, but you can never take the farm away from the country person. They will find a way to replicate it.

Shortly after purchasing our house, we decided we’d take the farm with us wherever we go, whether to acreage that reaches as far as the eye can see, or to another small lot in town.

How We Make It Work

We aren’t going to lie: Tending plants takes commitment! We do everything, from germinating them at the right time of year, to consistently watering, to potting and transferring, to weeding, to tending, to harvesting throughout the season…–…and did I mention weeding? What it comes down to is this: When you’re committed to a project, you don’t make excuses, you make effort. Some days, it’s all we can do to water our seedlings before dashing out the door to work. We’ve spent weekends transplanting and potting, and we’ve spent summer evenings tag-teaming watering the raised beds in the front and back of our house. We simply make time, and doing so usually involves making sacrifices, such as not watching TV, or planting instead of going out for dinner. Overall, we’ve found so much more satisfaction in the long run by working with our hands than we would’ve found if we’d sat idle. And friends, come summertime, when plants are in full production, we get to bask in the joy of having raised them ourselves and truly reaping what we’ve sown.

What Drives Us

man woman and dog in front of houseWhen taking on an endeavor like this, have your “why” statement written out to keep you motivated in the times you lack ambition. Making the land richer and more fruitful than we found it has always been a goal of ours, but two other goals stand out to us in considering why we choose to have our urban homestead.

Teaching others…–…and our future children…–…how to be self-sustaining, to honor and value life, and to know the value of sweat equity. Nothing replaces the feeling of competence that comes from growing your own food, knowing where it comes from, and making sure none is wasted. (However, if you must, give it to the chickens!)

Giving to our community. We want to bless people with fresh, organic produce who otherwise wouldn’t have access to it. Our goal, once our produce yields are big enough, is to not only have enough to eat, can, freeze, and put up for ourselves, but also to share our bounty with those who can’t afford high-quality produce, and to inspire and empower them to grow their own.

Advice to Aspiring Gardeners

You’ll never learn if you never try! Get involved in a gardening group, intern at a local farm, ask a knowledgeable neighbor, or follow directions on the backs of seed packets and use the good ol’ trial-and-error method. (If all else fails, educate yourself using YouTube videos.) You won’t regret time spent getting your hands dirty, working with the people you love, and witnessing the fruits of your labor. We’re convinced you’ll see that it’s not as difficult or time-consuming as it looks to have a beautiful garden you’re proud of.

Kelly and Nick Kapple are a couple with a household of dogs, cats, chickens, and a baby boy. They desire to share their love of life and gardening with everyone they meet, and to make a positive impact on their community.