Recently, the UN released a report about the planet’s current food and land “situation” and it’s not a pretty one. I knew it was bad, but I did not know it was this bad: 25% of the planet’s land is highly degraded. Meaning, 1/4 of our Earth cannot be used for much of anything. Twenty-five percent. Degradation only has to do with human-induced issues and does not even include natural disasters or natural hazards (even though things like floods and mudslides could be caused by humans…). This harm is caused by clearcutting, depletion of soil nutrients (through things like intensive conventional farming), urban sprawl, inappropriate irrigation, land pollution, and poor livestock farming (over populating with animals, overgrazing, etc.). It is also estimated, by the UN, that we (meaning as a world society) will need to grow 70% more food than we currently are. So, here’s the riddle, how do you grow 70% more food on 25% less land? Well, here’s my answer, let’s grow 70% of our own food, wherever we can.
As a student, I am conflicted with two things: being poor and being forced to live in an urban setting (not saying these are bad things, just a little more difficult to work with). So, this creates more of an issue with sustainability and urban farming, but Alas! there are solutions!
- As I have mentioned time and time again, community gardens and community efforts are very important when trying to achieve this. Almost every major city I have researched has some sort of community garden open to its residents; from Seattle, to LA, to Denver, to Chicago, and even to the industrial wasteland of Detroit, there are urban gardens.
- One really cool thing I have stumbled upon lately is the idea of Vertical Gardening. The concept is basically, we can’t move out anymore, so lets move up. This is perfect for small apartments and houses and many of the “green walls” are made for inside or outside. Some of the designs I have seen include: fabric/plastic pockets that drape over fences and hold soil and plants, stacked boxes (some even containing irrigation and drip systems), and one of the coolest I have found is the Mobile Edible Wall Unit (MEWU) by Green Living Technologies. This is a sort of A-frame unit that can be used inside or out and is on wheels so it can be moved (very helpful in small spaces and in spaces where it may need to be moved in or out of light). Other vertical planting ideas I have had for those on a budget is: reinforcing old dressers and using those for planters (make sure the bottom drawer is out the farthest and is the heaviest, the other drawers will need to be gradually pulled in farther and farther),and using old shoe holders and filling those with soil. This article has a lot of other great resources and ideas for vertical gardening.
- Tea and herb gardens are great additions to a home and are damn near impossible to kill. These are easy and can be grown in pots both inside and outside. I usually leave them outside in the summer and inside near big windows or sliding glass doors in the winter. Some great tea plants to have are: spearmint or peppermint, chamomile, and thyme.
- Another great list to have, if you want to grow plants inside or if you have a small partial shade patio (like I do) is: Plants that can grow in shade
- Worm bins are another valuable addition. The idea of starting a compost pile was appealing to me, but because of the small patio space I have outside and the close proximity the pile would be to the apartment and door leading out made me reconsider because of the possible smell and attraction of animals. I had a worm bin when I was a kid and they work great. Also, you will get soil a lot more quickly and can use it in your vertical gardening. The easiest way I have found for small spaces is:
- take a rubber bin (like a big one you would store Christmas decorations or books) and drill a few tiny holes in it (you dont want them to big so the worms fall through or the dirt does, just enough for some water drainage).
- Add wheels (this is really great for moving the bin) or risers to get the bin off of the ground.
- get some sort of tray or bin to catch the water (unless you are leaving your bin outside) so you don’t ruin your vinyl or tile.
- start the bin off with a layer of newspaper (don’t use the colored stuff or ads) and then a layer of soil. Fill your bin up about a third of the way with a mixture of this. Then moisten the mixture. Make sure to water your bin whenever you notice any drying. Worms need water too!
- Buy some worms or dig some up to use in your bin.
- Start adding food scraps and garden chop. The easiest way I found to do this is to add to only one half of the bin at a time. Do this for a while until you get a little bit of build up. This will allow the worms to move over and feed, and on the other side of the bin, you will have finished soil and can use it. Then, move to the other side of the bin and always make sure to leave some soil so you don’t just have a big pile of food and paper for your worms to live in.
- Maintain your bin by checking the pH (making sure it stays around 6-7)and not adding too much of any one thing. Also, like a compost bin, remember to add some “green chop” and not just food scraps. Good convenient things to use are old newspapers or homework, leaves, etc. Make sure not to add too much orange peel or coffee grounds unless you want your worms to fry. I also found that egg shells are an excellent addition to the bin. (Never add dairy or meat products)
- Also, remember to keep your bin covered with the rubber bin lid. Worms like the darkness and it will keep unwanted pests out.
This may not create the 70% we need, but its a start for all us urban dwellers and is a step we must take as a community. (Ideas for small scale gardening are always welcome and are much appreciated!)