My greatest inspiration in my own backyard farming adventure has been to hear the experiences of others. I invite you to read along here as Homesteaders share their adventures and experiences from their own farms, backyards, and homes.
Want to be featured as a Homestead Highlight? I would love to hear about your experience. For more information follow the link to the information page and share your own homestead here at the Backyard Farming Connection!
Today I would like to welcome Christine to this space.
Christine has a small, urban homestead in Cleveland, Ohio where she gardens and practices simple living skills that she hopes to use on a larger scale in the coming years. Christine is a permaculturist, nature lover, and simple living advocate with a Master’s degree in biology. She blogs about these things and more at: theselightfootsteps.com.
How long have you been backyard farming?
My adventure into backyard farming started after college when I rented a floor in a duplex and set about obtaining a multitude of pots that lined the driveway. These pots were mostly filled with herbs, but fostered a deep yearning within me to grow as much of my own produce as possible and to teach others about the process. My downstairs neighbor had lived in the city her whole life and had never learned where seeds come from, but she was intrigued by what I was doing and was happy to learn from me and to help with the process.
After two years of container gardening, I moved into the house I rent now and I have been gardening this land for 3 seasons. I made sure that the landlord would be ok with me digging up the backyard to put in two 4 x 4 raised beds before signing the lease. I also continue to have a plethora of potted plants scattered around the house.
What got you started?
Recently, my mother found some photos of me as a toddler that I find quite telling – in one, I am in my great-grandma’s garden playing in the dirt. I think I must have ingested something in that dirt, or perhaps it’s just in my genes to feel a connection with the land. Whatever it is, the connection grew stronger by gardening with my mother throughout childhood, and by spending as much time as I could frolicking through nature, especially in the woods behind my home. These childhood experiences developed into a deep appreciation for and understanding of my interdependence with nature. Nature became my refuge, and gardening became one of the ways I could retreat into nature.
In addition to my personal development, I had a variety of experiences in college that helped me to see a larger picture about the interconnectedness of all things. As a psychology major, I began studying how important it is for people to see and be in nature for our psychological and physical health. Gardening is one of the best activities we can engage in to feel more connected with nature and boost our well-being. Beyond my studies in psychology, my intellectual understanding of the importance of nature and gardening only continued to grow as I learned about issues like peak oil, climate change, soil depletion, GMOs, and the pollution/pesticide concerns of conventional agriculture. These and other environmental concerns highlighted the importance of shifting toward a simpler lifestyle, encouraging more localization in our food production, and living simply so that others may simply live.
What does your backyard farm look like? Where is it?
Currently, my food-growing garden space consists of two 4 x 4 raised beds and at least 20 additional containers. This is all happening in a residential neighborhood in Cleveland. I live on about 1/8th of an acre.
What has been your biggest success and your biggest mistake?
A large part of learning to grow your own food is making mistakes from which you learn what not to do. However, this is all interspersed with successes that you created that make it all worthwhile. Bringing in a basket of vegetables that were nurtured from tiny seeds covered with soil many months earlier provides an amazing sense of success.
In fact, I consider every vegetable that I bring into my house a small success. I still have a strange habit of telling most of the plants I grow how cute they look. However, I guess my biggest success was the first year I realized I could grow a lot of tomatoes in a small space. I was filling up my countertop every couple of days and frustrating my roommate of the time with yet another tomato salad that needed to be consumed. There were plenty of tomatoes for sauce, plenty to can whole, and it was a major turning point for me and my gardening adventure where I realized, “Wow, I really can grow a lot of my own food, AND I can preserve it to last all year!”
As far as mistakes, where should I begin? Just a few days ago I realized that despite being able to tolerate the cold, you shouldn’t leave your carrots in the ground too long because they might split open and you will find an entire ecosystem of bugs and slugs in their cracks. I’ve had other mishaps with cabbage worms winning the fight for the broccoli, and although not really mistakes, I would like to be better at companion planting, integrative pest management, and ensuring a more constant stream of harvestable foods from the garden. I like to think I am improving every year and with every gardening book I read, but there is always more to learn!
What plans do you have for the future?
Big plans! In addition to continuing to develop my backyard farming and simple living skills, my partner and I are in the dreaming stages of a lifelong project that we hope to begin before too long. We are looking for land that we hope to use as a permaculture education center and demonstration homestead. There are a lot of projects we have envisioned for this, but to begin we’d like to use the site to teach people permaculture design techniques, as a venue for learning about simple living skills, and for people to stay as an experiential bed and breakfast.
As time goes on, we hope to have demonstrations of natural building techniques and because my partner is a nurse practitioner interested in sustainable, holistic healthcare, we hope to integrate that into our offerings as well. In essence, we think that a lot of today’s chronic health problems and psychological distress are caused by our disconnection from nature, our fast-paced increasingly hectic lifestyles, poor diet, and inactivity – all of which can be addressed by moving more toward the lifestyle we’d like to lead. However, there are still health concerns that come up above and beyond things that can be treated with lifestyle modifications and homemade remedies and so we hope to offer a way of addressing some of those needs in a sustainable manner as well.