Friday, July 11, 2014

Gardening & Urban Farming Changed My Life


           A Recent Harvest from our Garden


There are a lot of reasons for taking up this way of life, hobby, or some might say, obsession called Urban Farming.  One thing that most of us probably don't think of as we get started are the ways in which becoming a dedicated grower, in an urban setting, will be life changing.

A true farmer of any type knows that the work of growing has to be built into the rhythms of one's life. At its best and most rewarding, it is not something that is secondary to daily life. Growing, especially growing food, really brings a sense of peace, but only when the work, the cycles, and the challenges of the effort are naturally blended into everyday life.

For some of us, the building of an urban farm has been life changing. I found that the more I read and researched; the more classes I took; and the more I picked the brains of accomplished growers, the more I realized that there were other aspects of the way that we were living that didn't fit if I was really taking this seriously.  I am a city dweller.  I will always be a city dweller.  I love to visit rural areas.  But my heart and my lifestyle - what I am at my roots - will always be about living in the city. That said, I don't believe that the quality of life that comes with living a sustainable, environmentally conscious life - and yes, getting your hands in the dirt - has to be reserved for non-city folks.  The changes that took place just seemed to naturally occur over time, and so far, they have all seemed to make very good sense.

For example, when I started getting serious about growing some of our food, it did not take long before I started composting. The garbage disposal in our kitchen was permanently turned off.  I am now looking into installing a rain barrel to collect all of that good water that comes off of our roof during even a minor rain.  When we finally completed installing the growing areas for food, herbs, cutting and perennial gardens, and put some comfortable seating and a string of lights in the garden, we started spending more time outside in the warm - and even the hot - weather.  I began to see how much better I  - and my bones  - felt not spending most of my life in air conditioning. Combining that positive payoff with our (quite) diminished energy bills and our lessened guilt at the use of scarce resources, we decided we would no longer use the central air conditioning (and haven't for three years now).  The unit sits on the side of our house, with some good strong slats of wood on it, it makes the perfect potting table!

With more reading and learning and listening, I realized how our lives were often driven by managing our stuff.  A lot of that stuff were things that we didn't use or need.  We are still in the long process of de-cluttering.  As we grow in this simplification effort, we are trying hard to hold to the rule of, "If something comes in, something goes out".  Like so many households, at this point, we are stepping back and analyzing what we really need to live comfortably, sustainably and consciously.  We have also tried to embrace the practices of locavore living. We eat mostly local, seasonal, and humanely raised, chemical-free food. We try to shop locally for almost everything, not just food.  For example, my long held practice of buying books online has changed to buying and ordering books through our local, independently owned bookstore.  Our efforts are not always 100% perfect but we're doing pretty well. Yes, the extra virgin olive oil came from a co-op in Italy, but the eggs and the flour used to make the pasta came from producers less than 100 miles from our home in Philadelphia!

So, as I learned and began to see my spouse and I as more than just "city dwellers" or "homeowners", these new directions pointed us - happily - in the direction of Urban Homesteading.  An urban homestead is defined, at least partially, as follows:

1.  A homestead produces at least some of the food consumed by the house;

2.  A homestead seeks to engage daily in resource reduction and the use of alternative energy sources;

3.  The principles of "Repair, Repurpose, and Recycle" are central to the homesteader's daily life;

4.  Neighborhood is very important to homesteading and to living sustainably. Sharing tools, labor, and working together to better the immediate neighborhood are a serious value of the homesteading effort and should be a serious consideration for all urban dwellers;and,

5.  Homesteaders devote considerable time to food preservation such as canning, drying, and freezing.  Others learn related skills such as fermenting and cheese making.  In our area, a number of "food swapping" events occur on a regular basis. 

In some ways, urban homesteading is about taking a step backward, trying to live a more simple, purposeful life, a life in which we learn to do more for ourselves; become more self sufficient, and become more of an active member of our community.  I believe strongly that it is a healthier lifestyle as well.  There is a lot more to know - and we are definitely still learning - about urban homesteading and living sustainably.  Like growing food and gardening, it is an ongoing learning process. And, like those processes, applying the principles of urban homesteading feeds the soul, because it helps us to be active participants in some important aspects of our daily lives. 

Taking part in serious urban growing changed my daily life and the way I view the place I hold in my immediate world.  I am a grateful recipient of these changes, and I can't wait to see what new lessons and experiences are right around the corner!

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Beating the Heat: No Cook Cucumber Soup

These last few days - yet another "heat wave" - are a challenge to our eating habits.  We need to and should lighten up our intake.   Our systems are craving cold - but still we want delicious and satisfying.  And, if you are anything like me, if it involves firing up the oven, forget about it!

We grow cucumbers every year and we love them.  At some point we start harvesting earlier and start putting up our pickles, but at this time of year, we love to use the bigger cucumbers in recipes.  Here's a delicious, satisfying, and "no - cook" soup.  Do give it 24 hours in your 'fridge to really get a bang from the melding of all of the delicious flavors.

    This becomes . . . .


Recipe:  No Cook Cucumber Yogurt Soup


About two pounds of cucumbers, halved, seeded and chopped (the skins have flavor and nutrients, leave them on).

One and one half cups of good whole milk yogurt (preferably greek yogurt)
note: Use full fat yogurt.  Remember when you use low fat or no fat, you are adding sugar to the recipe.

Three Tablespoons of fresh lemon juice
One chopped shallot
One garlic clove

1/3 cup loosely packed fresh dill
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley - italian flat leaf is best - if it's fresh, the stems will add great flavor

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
salt and white pepper

For service:  More extra virgin olive oil and thinly sliced radishes or red onion.


Put all of the ingredients in a blender and blend until really smooth

Add salt and white pepper to taste - you can use freshly ground black pepper if you don't have white.

Cover and put the blend in the refrigerator for 8 hours minimum and preferably overnight

For Service

Check seasonings and add a swirl of extra virgin olive oil, some finely sliced radishes or finely sliced red onion to each bowl.