Ron Finley – Gansta Garden… Urban food deserts can become urban food forests, as demonstrated by Ron Finley of South Central LA. Anyone can grow food on the curb, on a wall, on a cement patio… it just takes knowledge and initiative, and it transforms communities. You can do this, too!
Food is the new gold. People say that money doesn’t grow on trees, but food does, and food can be sold for money. Even during the worst economic depression, people will pay for food.
The urban poor look for opportunity and rely of food stamps to help feed the family. Urban food production is opportunity for the urban poor, who can not only feed their own families with healthy food, but can then sell excess food for profit.
Learning how to grow food in an urban environment is perhaps the ultimate survival skill. It is like giving yourself the Midas touch, because empty lots, rooftops, abandoned buildings, barren walls, curbs, and patios all begin to look like opportunities..
Even in times of no electricity, hyper-inflation and complete economic collapse, knowing how to grow food in an urban environment means that people will be trading wheelbarrows of money for your food.
There is a book called MetroFarm: The Guide to Growing for Profit In or Near the City. The tag line is, “Earn up to 8 times the average income – on as little as 1 acre of land…” (and he doesn’t even use the most hyper-effective production methods)
If you could earn up 8 times the average income by doing something fun, would you do it? Might urban gangs turn to something besides drugs and crime if they knew it could make more money, was fun, and they didn’t have to get shot at while doing it?
And the economic opportunity is not just growing and selling food locally, but also in building food production systems for people to grow their own food, like making Grow Sticks, Garden Barrels, Vertical Hydroponic Towers, Patio Aquaponics Systems, Biointensive Food Forests in Micro-Spaces, selling seedlings and tree grafts, selling compost, worm castings, worm tea as fertilizer, selling local honey, selling eggs and goat milk, providing a Garden Care service where you do gardening for people and get paid for it, creating local Farmers Markets and Food Cooperatives as an alternate food distribution system.
THAT is opportunity, and it comes from knowledge, the knowledge of how to grow food in an Urban environment. It is something you can take with you wherever you go.
Stephen Ritz – Green Bronx Machine… Stephen demonstrates the impact that learning how to provide healthy local food has on a community at multiple levels, and especially for children. Think of what you can do.
In our Water Harvesting section, we profile an example of passively harvesting road runoff to water curbside “gardens”, converting the curbsides into a no-work food forest, a pharmacy, and a craft store, making the curbside a neighborhood economic engine where people can make $25 per hour just by harvesting food growing passively on their curbside. This can be done in any city, any climate, once people gain the knowledge and take the initiative. Help us spread this knowledge. Tell people about FoodAbundance.com so that the masses get educated and inspired to solve their own problems.
Urban Permaculture This is a 20 minute mini-documentary that goes into much more detail than the previous videos, and takes place in Southern Australia. Here, a professional engineer takes his attention to detail and calculation to maximize productivity on his 1/63rd of an acre cement patio. This is BY FAR the most sustainable and hyper-effective urban food production method/example we have ever found.
On his 686 square foot patio he has created a literal food forest, with 14 kinds of fruit trees, 7 kinds of berry bushes, 20 kinds of vegetables, and no pesticides or herbicides or chemical fertilizers and takes only 2 hrs per week to maintain. Angelo was kind enough to meticulously document the results and share them with charts and graphs in the attached PDF.
He also has prepared, with the help of Geoff Lawton, some instructions on how to create your own food forest at your own place, which is the second PDF. Imagine feeding your family while making thousands of dollars per year off of the production from a tiny amount of space, with very little work.
Farm City – Novella Carpenter… Novella lives in a food desert … the inner city in West Oakland, California. Even though she cannot buy fresh food locally, she discovered she can grow it. She decided to convert her parking strip into a garden, ultimately creating a micro-urban homestead.
Who said you cannot grow food in the inner city? She even has chickens and goats, and has written a book about her experience, Farm City. Let her example be your inspiration. This is a great example of adding animals to your urban system, which is great.
30x nutrition from sprouts – According to Dr. Mercola, can contain up to 39 times the nutrition of organic vegetables grown in your own garden. They make vitamins, minerals, amino acids and essential fatty acids more bio-available. The quality of the protein and fiber in beans, nuts, seeds, and grains improves when sprouted.
Sunflower seeds, broccoli seeds, and pea sprouts are at the top of the list. Sprouts support cell regeneration, are powerful sources of antioxidants, minerals, vitamins and enzymes that protect against free radical damage, alkalize the body which protects against disease and cancer, and are abundantly rich in oxygen which protects against abnormal cell growth, viruses, and bacteria. Sprouting sunflower seeds will augment their nutrient content by as much 300% to 1,200 percent, with plenty of iron and chlorophyll, which chlorophyll detoxes your blood and liver. Sprouting peas improves the bio-availability of zinc and magnesium. Sprouting can be done in soil, but can also be done just using water in a tray.
Indoor Sprouting System – This is the most hyper-efficient indoor sprouting system we know of, for residential use. It can be used to sprout human food, or can be used to sprout grain as enhanced feed for animals. Grain is only 30% digestible, but sprouts are 80% digestible. Wheat fodder is about 22% protein.
Strengths: The 18 tray kit profiled in this video can be purchased as a kit or you can use the information as a guide and work with the various components and make one on your own. When used for sprouting wheat or barley for animal fodder, it can produce up to 45 pounds of fodder per day, which is enough to feed up to 3 horses, or 21 miniature milking goats that are lactating, 120 chickens, 90 meat sized rabbits (lactating does), or 12 pigs.
It takes 10 minutes a day to maintain the 18 tray system, and you will need to change the water in the tank every other day. You could even “spike” the water in the reservoir with Azomite to provide the sprouts with water soluble trace minerals, from whatever portion of the Azomite that has actually dissolved in water. This is a method for dramatically cutting your feed costs, by using sprouted grain purchased in bulk instead of feeding your animals pellets.
Weaknesses: Unless in the PVC pipes you put a ball-valve in between each column of trays, you have to run all 18 trays at a time (which is a lot of sprouts). However, by installing on the PVC pipes 2 ball valves in between the 3 columns of trays,you can then easily dial down your 18 tray system to a 6 or 12 tray system, if needed.
This might be the case if you sell some animals or if you’re allowing your animals to forage outside on the spring growth instead of feeding them yourself like you did during the fall and winter.
18 TRAY KIT
Here is where you can purchase the different kits. They have kits of varying sizes, from a Micro-Kit that can sit on a table top and feed up to 5 hens and 4 rabbits, to a Mini-Kit, a 6 Tray kit, a 12 Tray Kit, and the 18 Tray kit profiled in the video, which feeds up to 120 chickens or 90 rabbits per day.
The kits consists of PVC pipe, 3-way joints and 4-way joints, a water supply line, and aquaponics rated submersible pump, a 24 hr mechanical timer, a plastic reservoir/storage container, and super duty trays. Once you have all the parts, it takes about 30 minutes to assemble.
If you don’t want to purchase the entire kit, you can simply purchase the instructions from them and get tech support from them. We, at FoodAbundance.com do not provide instructions nor tech support for any fodder kits or sprouting systems.
TOWER GARDEN AEROPONICS
Strengths: The strength of this system is that tou can grow 30% more, 3 x faster, with 98% less water. This can work on a patio or balcony as well.
Weaknesses: The weakness of this system is that the set-up is somewhat expensive. Electricity is required to run the pump, the plant nutrients have to be purchased on a regular basis, and only water soluble nutrients are available to the plants, since there are no microbes in the system to make other nutrients bioavailable.
NIWA HIGH TECH INDOOR HYDROPONICS
Smartphone Controlled High-Tech Indoor Hydroponics If you like high tech, smart phones, and apps, then this would be cool to have. Weakness: it doesn’t produce very much food and is very reliant on outside inputs like electricity and plant nutrients.
GREENSTALK STACKABLE GARDEN*
The most cost-effective and most sustainable way to perpetually grow the most food and the healthiest food in a limited amount of space, either indoors or outdoors, with the least amount of effort and human intervention.
GreenStalk Garden System – Grows 30 plants in about 4 square feet of space. This system is also vertical gardening with a drip watering system and takes up about a much space as the Tower Garden, but it uses soil instead of Aeroponics with nutrient solutions.
Strengths: Compared to TowerGarden, GreenStalk is much less expensive, does not require electricity, and allows for microbes to make minerals bioavailable to the plant and to feed plant health. Also, the different layers of trays makes it so that the plants at the bottom do not experience heavy compaction from the weight above them, and the soil doesn’t settle in the bottom due to watering.
Weaknesses: GreenStalk was not designed with an internal composting system to enhance bacterial and fungal formation or release of plant nutrients.
However, adding red wriggler composting worms and food scraps to each tray on a regular basis would facilitate composting on the surface, to enhance fertility and microbial growth.
For composing below the surface, you could leave root balls of plants in the soil when harvesting plants, instead of uprooting the entire plant, so that the microbes and red wrigglers can eat the decaying roots and leave aerated soil and plant nutrients in their place.
You could also enhance microbial growth and plant nutrients by adding well strained compost tea or worm tea when watering, but be careful that you are not plugging up the holes of the drip irrigation components.
You could get a Worm Tower 360 or something similar to compost your kitchen scraps in an aerated environment outside of the GreenStalk system, and then use the worm tea and worm compost from that to synergistically enhance your GreenStalk system.
GreenStalk also has a frost cover to extend the growing season, and a spinner/lazy-susan that you can place it on so that it is easy to access the plants on the back side, if it is sitting on the corner of your balcony or patio.
Note: There is another similar stackable system called Mr. Stacky, and it is even less expensive than GreenStalk, but the Mr. Stacky doesn’t have the same watering system and trays are not very deep, so the types of plants able to be grown is severely limited, unless you’re just doing herbs and strawberries. The GreenStalk trays are much deeper for larger root balls, so you can grow lettuce, squash, tomatoes, potatoes, kale, flowers, watermelon, broccoli, corn, sweet potatoes, cucumbers, spinach, carrots, onions, and more.
* Ideally, a GreenStalk system + a Worm Composting system would probably be the most cost-effective and most sustainable way to perpetually grow the most/healthiest food in a limited amount of space, either indoors or outdoors, with the least amount of effort and human intervention.
To really maximize the system, you would NOT want to use potting soil from the store, as that has no microbial life in it. Instead, get some source of manure (goat, rabbit, cow, horse, etc) for your nitrogen and microbes, and some type of source of lignen (leaves, compost, straw, wood chips, etc) for your carbon and fungi, and use those instead, with the manure on the bottom layer of each tray and the lignen on top. Add a sprinkling of Azomite inbetween the manure and lignen layers, as your source of minerals.
When planting, scoop out a handful of material and replace it with a handful of worm castings. If planting seeds, first dip the seed in water then dip it in a powdered form of micorizzal fungi. If planting seedlings, water the seedlings and the lignen layer with a soluble form of micorizzal fungi (See Paul Stamet’s MycoGrow Micronized Endo/Ecto Seed Mix or MycrGrow Soluble).
Here’s where you can purchase GreenStalks
GARDEN TOWER 2
Strengths: You can grow 50 plants in 4 square feet of space. And over a 9 month period it will compost 50 gallons of kitchen scraps, and the plants will be able to access that worm compost through their roots. It is lifted off the ground, making it easily accessed by people in a wheel chair. It also has a spinner/lazy-suzan built into it so that it can be easily spun around, and can be placed on a wheeled platform so that it can be wheeled around.
Weaknesses: This system does not have the drip watering system that GreenStalk does, so soil can get compacted and nutrients washed downward when watering the Garden Tower 2 from the top. In the compost tower, the red wrigglers will always remain at their food source, so, in reality, they do not transport nutrients to the trays outside of the compost column. Also, the compost column does not get a lot of outside air, so it can easily become anaerobic, which smells bad and can breed unhealthy bacteria, not to mention breed a lot of fruit flies.
You can purchase here Garden Tower 2
GARDEN TOWER 1 / GARDEN BARRELS
Strengths: You can grow 50 plants in 4 square feet of space, and over a 9 month period it will compost 50 gallons of kitchen scraps, and the plants will be able to access that worm compost through their roots. It is lifted off the ground, making it easily accessed by people in a wheel chair. It can be placed on spinner/lazy-suzan so that it can be easily spun around, and that can be placed on a wheeled platform so that it can be wheeled around.
Weaknesses: Same issues as with the Garden Tower 2, the nutrients are washed downward and the soil is compacted when watering from the top. The potential for this is even more so since there are no trays, so you have a 3 foot vertical column of wet soil, and wet soil gets very heavy, so the lower plants get compacted and the plants in the top row get pulled downward.
Also, because of the height, the top sections of soil dries out while the lower section gets over-watered. Grooves form in the dry soil, and sometimes the water is lost when it runs through the grooves and spills out through the pockets in the 2nd and 3rd rows.
The Garden Tower 1 is no longer for sale, but can still be made at home, using a plastic 55 gallon barrel (which you can find on your local Craigslist), a jigsaw, drill gun, and a propane torch (all of which you can find at Home Depot, Lowe’s, or Ace Hardware, etc).
Idea: once you learn how to make one yourself, making these could turn into a little home-based business, where you could sell these at swap meets for over $100 each. You could also sell the compost and the red-wrigglers to go with it.
Here is the instructional video of how to make one yourself:
VERTICAL HYDROPONIC TOWER GARDEN
Strengths: This is an excellent use of space. A smaller version can be made that is only 6 feet long to place in a balcony. It can grow a fairly wide variety of plants, including small onion, chives, spinach, basil, mint, cilantro, oregano, peppers, chilis, arugula, lettuce of all types, cabbage of all types, radishes, strawberries, parsley, zucchini, squash, small cucumbers, broccoli, cauliflour, green beans, cherry tomatoes, and any above-ground vegetable. Mycorhizzal spores can be added to the reservoir to improve root growth. Plus, vertical hydroponic towers just look so cool, with all the color and variety.
Weaknesses: This is hydroponics and there are no soil microbes in this system to feed plants humus and to make inorganic minerals bioavailable (make sure you watch the John Kempf “Core Concepts” video in our Plant Health section to see why active fungi and bacterial communities are so important to plant health). As a result, the plants can only uptake water-soluble nutrients. Human activity replaces natures activity. So in turn, it requires labor and expensive inputs and yet the plants still cannot possibly have optimal health as there will be pests, especially lots of aphids. With pests come predators, meaning lots of spiders and spider webs, which is great around Halloween, but kind of a nuisance during the rest of the year, so you might want to wear “Gorilla Grip” gloves ($5 at Home Depot) while handling plants that have been in the tower for a while.
Also, in hydroponic systems, different plants have different nutritional formulas, and those formulas differ based on if the plant is a seedling, in growth phase, or in flowering phase, so it is difficult to optimize the nutrient mix, because you have different varieties of plants in different stages of growth in the same system. The nutrient mixes can be expensive. The least expensive, one-size-fits all plants for all stages of growth, is Dyna Grow Liquid Grow 7-9-5, but it is not optimal.
You also have to balance not just the nutrient mix, but continually balance the pH as well as the total dissolved solids, which can get pretty tricky. Each of these require chemicals that you have to purchase on a regular basis.
The root balls of the bigger plants can clog up the 4” PVC pipe and cause overflow, so that your system runs completely out of water in less than 1 hr. The roots from different plants will intertwine, making it difficult to remove the plants around when the larger ones shade out the smaller ones.
The pump is electric and can pull a significant amount of electricity. The taller the tower, the greater the pump size, the cost of the pump, and the amount of electricity it uses. This usage can be lessened by putting the pump on a timer, to run only every other 15 minutes, but if there ever is a scenario where the power is out for an extended period of time, all of your plants will die.
There is a company in San Diego, CA that makes and installs these vertical hydroponic towers locally for $1,000 and will perform weekly maintenance for a recurring fee, which is a great business model for anyone to do locally, since the towers only cost about $200 to make.
Here is how you build a DIY version
Green Bronx Machine
In this video, Stephen Ritz shares his experience in creating the Green Bronx Machine and showcases something called a vertical wall planter. The vertical wall planter is a convenient way to convert a vertical hard surface, like a wall, into a lush vertical garden. Genius! Whilst their vertical planters are custom made, and you can certainly make your own custom version, there is also the option to buy them pre-made. Stephen does an excellent job of showcasing the economic opportunity that opens up once you gain this kind of knowledge. His context is public schools, but this can be applied in any social context with any demographic of people in any geography.
Strengths: This solution can be used indoors or outdoors, is easy to set up and maintain, is highly productive, and is aesthetically pleasing. When used outdoors, the wall serves as a thermal mass that will extend the growing season by keeping the plants warm even when there is a frost. Also, if on an external wall under a roof overhang, the roof will prevent the plants from getting frosted, so you can actually have a longer growing season in a vertical wall planter than you can in a normal garden.
There are many different versions, but the simplest, most affordable, and most rugged one is Vertical Gardens USA. There are over 4 gallons of potting per planter, for good root ball growth and water retention. A box of 6 planters covers over 12 vertical square feet of space. The irrigation system is gravity fed from the top down. It is modular, so you can build as high or as wide as you like.
Weakness: Due to the limited amount of space for the roots, the roots and therefore the plants cannot grow as large as they can in a normal garden. With that said, you are able to grow tomatoes, peppers, chilli, strawberries, carrots, celery, lettuce, kale, as well as herbs such as ginger, lemon balm, oregano, parsley, mint, basil, thyme. Also, due to the limited space, you’ll want to make sure that you go through the content on the “Soils” section of our membership site, so that you know how to create the ideal soil to provide maximum nutrients to the plants, instead of making the mistake of using store-bought potting soil.
Another option is the UZ Planters, but that is primarily just for herbs, which would be great once you get into natural herbal remedies.
In this 10 minute video, Geoff Lawton profiles an underutilized resource on the top of a high-rise… a rooftop garden. Instead of placing just a couple of flower pots up there, consider getting permission from the property manager to build an Angelo Eliades style food forest up there. Angelo had massive production on just his 686 square foot cement patio. Most rooftops are essentially cement patios with great access to sunlight, and are several thousand square feet. A well designed rooftop garden could actually add aesthetic value to the building and walking the roof top garden would be an added bonus to the residents.
The rooftop garden profiled here is Brooklyn Grange, a 2.5 acre rooftop garden. 1 acre on a building straddling Astoria and Long Island City and the other atop the Brooklyn Naval Yard. Remember, a rooftop garden doesn’t have to be this large and this expensive to set up, but this is a great example of what can be done. Any size of flat roof will do.