MicroFarms: Welcome to the Fun Food Revolution

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Kim Ohanneson

Recently a fabulous new neighborhood website was launched featuring happenings specifically in Highland Park and including Mount Washington. Long time Mount Washington resident Kim Ohanneson had taken up where Jack Smith left off in writing about our community.  She wrote the following article on the MWA Community Garden folks.  Please enjoy our reprint and sign up to get the Patch.

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There's a small revolution going on in Mount Washington. Like others before it, the revolution involves pitchforks and shovels, rocks and boards, blood and bone. But the staging grounds are front yards and backyards, patios and terraces, balconies and decks. 

Welcome to the MicroFarms Project, in which a group of Mount Washington homeowners are growing their own vegetables, feeding their families and donating 20 percent of the bounty to the Los Angeles Food Bank.

MicroFarms--part of a burgeoning, national, urban gardening movement--is spearheaded by Anna Carpenter, vice president (action) for the Mount Washington Association, along with fellow board members Natalie Seaman, vice president (programs), and Connie Rohman, director, historian/arts/culture.

"I wanted to do something to bring about change," says Carpenter, an avid, life-long gardener who used to live on an organic olive farm in Italy. "We all feel so powerless in our lives these days.  [With the MicroFarms Project], we're taking control, we're taking charge, we're making our own food. I believe it's political, because it will change the way we do things as a society."

Fiber artist Rohman happily volunteered her front yard on West Avenue 37 for the project's first model site in order to show that "a garden can be created in any space and be beautiful as well as well as edible." 

"It was a good challenge," agreed Carpenter.  "It's a very small front yard with a lot of traffic, so it can inspire others."

Rohman's MicroFarm has taken almost a year to come to fruition, with community and association members, as well as invited experts, sharing their time and knowledge. 

According to Carpenter, the project was blessed with a "one-time miracle" when she asked noted landscape architect Rob Steiner for advice. Steiner, who was featured in the September issue of Martha Stewart Living, visited the model site and liked the project and participants so much that he drew up a greatly discounted design plan that included a screening fence--which doubles as a support for beans, cucumbers and tomatoes and was built by Steiner-recommended artisan and craftsman Matt Norton of All Grain Carpentry.

Next, says Rohman, Tim Tarbell, a neighborhood arborist and master gardener, "took Rob's design and walked us through the necessary steps to complete the project": clearing brush, installing irrigation and planting rosemary and an edible plum tree. Mount Washington man-of-all-trades Freddy Chic finished the hardscaping, including patios, back fences and retaining walls.

The final two steps, to be completed in the next few weeks, will be to construct the raised beds and plant winter crops like chard.  Instead of planting seeds and seedlings directly into ground soil, the MicroFarms group is using the "lasagna method": Layers of bone meal, blood meal, newspaper, hay, straw and compost are built up into "no-dig" piles, with seeds and seedlings planted in the top layer.

The raised beds are fairly stable, but for tidiness and aesthetic purposes, especially for her front-yard farm, Rohman opted to contain the planting material in 8-foot-by-4-foot-by-11-inch renewable cedar frames (lined with copper netting to discourage root-eating rodents), built by another Mount  Washington neighbor, Conor Fitzpatrick. 

The boxes have proved to be real conversation-starters, reports Rohman. Neighbors, both known and newly met, frequently stop to inquire about the project, examine the Mount Washington Association-funded "MicroFarms Project" sign and share their own gardening experiences.

In addition to being a support group, with people sharing ideas and "coming and going as they need inspiration," there are financial advantages to being part of the MicroFarms Project, Carpenter said,

There are currently 30 households participating in the project, with a core group of 10 or 15 micro-farmers. A raised bed built with materials from Home Depot and a local retail source for hay and straw runs approximately $50, not including the wood for the box.  The cost of materials drops when they're bought in bulk at wholesale; the more participants, the cheaper the price.

In their role as umbrella organization, the Mount Washington Association covers some of the project's expenses; in addition to paying for the official "MicroFarms Project" signs, they've given out free seeds, free lavender and free plantings and sponsor a number of seminars for various urban farming projects, such as beekeeping and worm bins.

Carpenter acknowledges that the MicroFarms Project is revolutionary, but "it's a fun revolution. I can do it with my neighbors, I can have fun with my girlfriends, and in the end, I'll feel like I did something to make a difference."

For more information, check out the Mount Washington Association website http://www.mtwashington.org/, and the Micro-Farms Project blog http://mwamicrofarms.blogspot.com/.

 

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