How to Turn Suburbs Into Food Paradises

| 4/14/2014 2:59:00 PM

This year, I hope to obtain land to create my own patch of homesteading paradise. As I mentally gear up for the prospect of transforming a piece of raw land into a (hopefully) beautiful, abundant haven of food, animals, and handmade buildings, I am simultaneously seeking stories from folks who have been through (or more likely continuing to go through) that process. Though I am attracted to a rural locale, where development is less, the land is more open, and the restrictions fewer, it has been an enlightening and poignant reminder that not everyone is so fortunate to have access to such circumstances. In fact, it may not even be necessary to live in the country to eat well, grow delicious organic food in quantity, and live the good life.

Paradise Lot: Creating a Slice of Eden in the Suburbs

This is a fortunate time for backyard gardeners and suburban homesteaders, as the literature dedicated to those folks in the suburbs who want to provide more for themselves has been on the rise. One notable book that turns the idea of needing lots of space to grow an incredible diversity and quantity of food on its head is Paradise Lot, by Eric Toensmeier and Jonathan Bates. Toensmeier and Bates detail the incredible story of the transformation of their 1/10th acre suburban lot into a slice of permaculture goodness, proving that you don’t need huge amounts of space to do so, and that the suburbs can in fact be productive.

The book starts with the duo buying a duplex in Holyoke, Mass., where they soon establish a perennial garden full of multifunctional herbs, shrubs, vines, and trees. Incredibly, Toensmeier and Bates prove that permaculture principles are viable in a suburban setting, even when the forecast is grim, and that a small parcel of land can yield abundant food and nutrition, and even have a bit of space for a few animals, too.

Paradise Lot is no doubt a story of the journey and less of a how-to, but that doesn’t mean the text isn’t brimming full of valuable information and tips for the prospective suburban gardener and permaculturalist. Really, Toensmeier’s plant knowledge is dripping from every page, and you’ll likely find yourself reaching for a highlighter or folding every other page corner because of the abundance of excellent information. Perhaps most valuable is the massive inspiration the book imparts – that you don’t need a whole lot of land to work some incredible gardening and food magic, and that anyone can turn even a scrap of abused land into something beautiful.

Gaia’s Garden: Bringing Life to Your Home and Garden

Another favorite book of mine geared towards home-scale permaculture and food production is Toby Hemenway’s Gaia’s Garden, which when combined with Paradise Lot, makes for an excellent two-punch guide to getting your land to be productive, regenerative, and beautiful. Hemenway’s book is full of practical information that will set you on the path to a self-renewing garden. One of the main premises of permaculture – working with Nature, instead of against her, is always the goal, and Hemenway describes in detail how to make that theory a reality.

Gaia’s Garden gets into the nitty-gritty of water management, guilds, forest garden design and layout, and recommended plant species suitable for a perennial food and medicine garden. Whereas Paradise Lot doesn’t dwell on the instructions for replicating a regenerative garden, Gaia’s Garden provides ample ideas and directives for creating healthy soil, making use of small spaces, and taking advantage of natural conditions. It’s practical, based on a lot of experimenting, and overall it’s an excellent addition to the library.

Mary Porter
8/8/2018 11:15:16 AM

We had to sell our off grid farm due to serious health issues. Our hearts will never recover from the loss. We are now on a small village lot in a tiny rural area. I am doing my best to adapt. For his birthdaiy I bought my husband 4 apple trees. The start of a small orchard. Expanding my flower gardens for birds and butterflies. Had large arborvitea put in along narrow area between houses. I have a tumbler composter. I did container gardening this year. Now working on getting help for several other areas that need amending. The soil here was dead. Had the big maples trimmed up. My husband made 2 gallons of maple syrup this past winter. I make my own yogurt and butter. It's our first year here so I'm just getting going as health and money allow. We're retired,so both are in short supply. Anyone can do this with little money and few supplies. You need the determination and commitment.

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