Organic Gardening: the Key to Our Future?
29 Mar, 2010
There is a mounting flow of information about our food supply these days: alarming reports about pesticides in produce, genetically modified crops, chemical additives and much more.
Coincident with these cries of alarm, there are an ever increasing number of solutions popping up, such as buying local produce, finding meat grown without hormones or antibiotics, and, of course, purchasing organic whenever possible.
One neat solution that would bypass many of the problems would be for people to grow at least some of their own food. In such a way, they would be connected to what they eat, would have absolute confidence in how it was grown and, last but not least, would experience the pride of having produced it themselves—something absent from general society for at least half a century.
Your answer to this might be, “Oh, but I can’t do that! I live right in the middle of the urban sprawl! How am I ever going to grow anything?” Well, how about this? It was very successfully done by a guy who lived in an apartment in Brooklyn, New York. And he did it right on his own fire escape.
Meet Mike Lieberman—the Urban Organic Gardener
“There were a couple things that inspired me to want to grow my own food,” Mike Lieberman told Organic Connections. “One is that I eat a lot of organic fresh fruits and vegetables, and it can get to be a little expensive because much of it is shipped and not local. Another is that I was reading quite a bit in the last two years or so just to become more conscious and aware of what I’m doing and how that’s affecting others around me in the environment. I read that the average travel from farm to table was between 1,500 and 2,000 miles, and I simply wanted get back in touch with my food.” With these factors in mind, Mike stepped out on his fire escape and decided it would do just fine.
One problem, however: Mike didn’t have the first idea how to grow anything. But that wasn’t a barrier. “I learned mostly by trial and error,” he said. “I read half a book on gardening, but I found it to be kind of boring. So I tell people, `I’m sure it’s not the simplest thing in the world, but what happened 500 years ago? People didn’t consult a master gardener or someone who had a fancy certificate.’ Nothing against master gardeners, but what did people do back then? They took seeds; they threw them in the dirt, watered them and waited to see what would happen. So that was kind of the approach I took as well.”
One thing Mike had available that farmers 500 years ago didn’t: the social networking capabilities of the Internet. He set up a blog called Urban Organic Gardener, and as he learned, he put his lessons on the blog. He also asked questions as he went and turned the whole adventure into quite a dialogue. The blog became popular, and soon all kinds of people were watching Mike as he proceeded and his fire-escape garden became more expansive.
Mike made good use of the resources available to him. He built his own containers from material he collected around his neighborhood, because he found that the right containers could be a bit expensive. He bought soil from a local ecology center that made and sold composted soil at a local farmers’ market.
Through the first season Mike raised numerous crops. He grew butter crunch, leaf and romaine lettuces. He planted and harvested sweet and hot peppers, cherry tomatoes, kale and Swiss chard. He grew herbs as well: mint, oregano, tarragon and others.
As part of his learning experience, Mike also planted several crops in his grandmother’s backyard in Brooklyn and shared those results with blog readers as well.
Across the Internet
Meanwhile, as the popularity of his blog grew, Mike was enjoying plentiful interaction. “That’s one of the great things about the Web these days: the interaction and the advice and support from the people on line,” he said. “It’s been great. I would post a video on YouTube and within two to three hours people would be commenting on it. I would get back insight and advice in terms of what other people had done, or maybe I was sharing ideas new to them. So between my site, Facebook, YouTube and Twitter, there’s been a lot of interaction and a lot of sharing of good ideas.”
Before the season was over, Mike found that his continuing story was serving as quite an inspiration. “One woman wrote to me who lives out in DC,” Mike related. “She has a patio backyard space with a fence. After seeing some of the stuff I’d done with soda bottles on my site, she decided she was going to do something as well. She took a bunch of soda bottles and planted lettuce and herbs and just hung them up on her back fence. She’s sent lots of pictures to me. Now she has a whole setup and is going to be growing a lot more.”
One e-mail Mike received illustrates how gardening can help keep a family together. A woman in Phoenix needed a project to bond with her teenage son. At a time when the boy was learning about plants and photosynthesis in school, the woman came across Mike’s Urban Organic Gardener site and realized she and her son could start a garden, utilizing Mike’s “just try it” approach. It has worked, and Mike has stayed in touch with the woman. It’s a story Mike is particularly proud of.
“I really enjoy inspiring people and showing that you don’t need to be an expert,” Mike said. “Your garden doesn’t have to be pretty and perfect and prim and proper. As long as it’s functional and provides you with food, it works and it’s possible.”
So what’s next for the Urban Organic Gardener since his first successful season ended? A new adventure: he’s moving to Los Angeles. His fans are following along on his blog as he packs up his pots, his worms and all his supplies. When he arrives, he’ll be planting a garden on a balcony there and starting all over again!
Follow the adventures of the Urban Organic Gardener at www.urbanorganicgardener.com.