When we think of growing food for our family right outside our door, there are all kinds of excuses that can crop up to stop us in our tracks. That’s because we have a certain idea of what a garden or micro-farm should look like. Here are five myths about micro-farming that can keep you from reaching your goal.
If there is an excuse as to why someone can’t have a backyard garden or edible landscape, believe me, I’ve heard it. That’s because when we think something will be too hard or too much work, we’re really good at procrastinating and coming up with excuses for why we can’t get started.
Of course, there are some circumstances that warrant delaying the start of a backyard micro-farm, but here are five misconceptions that—if we believe them—can keep us from reaching our goals.
Myth 1: You need a lot of space to have a productive homestead.
One hot August Saturday, we were working our way around our 0.10-acre edible landscape, harvesting bushels of fruits and vegetables. Our neighbor watched our work and quipped, “I wish I could have a garden. I used to have a garden when I lived in the country.” Maybe he didn’t see the abundance we were getting from our small space (which was smaller than the size of his yard)?
There was a time when we equated farms with open, rural spaces. In actuality, it doesn’t take much space to grow a lot of food–only creativity.
Researchers at the University of London, England demonstrated that one acre of suburban garden could be three times more productive than one acre of farmland (Click here to read the study). That’s because a household can intimately get to know their one acre. They can check on it daily, learn about its particular needs, and manage it effectively. On a commercial farm with hundreds or even thousands of acres, there is no one acre that will get that level of attention.
My 0.10-acre micro-farm proves this point. It produced enough homegrown food to incorporate into 50% of our meals.
The parking strip is an often ignored and underutilized space. We planted three dwarf cherry trees in our parking strip (between the sidewalk and the street), which produced 27 pounds of cherries in one year.
Myth 2: Farming is ugly and should be confined to the backyard.
Growing food can be more imaginative than simply planting a square garden plot in rows. Since our backyard is shady, we grow most of our fruit in the edible front yard. With beautiful leaves, flowers, and fruit, the strawberries, currants, black raspberries, and cherry trees compete with a traditional landscape for beauty.
Not only does it add beauty, it adds productivity at the same time. In fact, our shaded berry hedge lining our front porch produced 13 pounds of berries in one year and attracts hummingbirds when flowering.
Of course, there is always a high maintenance or low maintenance way to do anything. If a low-work edible landscape is what you’re after, check out my tips in my article See How Easily You Can Create an Edible Landscape.
See these articles about growing fruit in the landscape:
- Grow Chives for the Best Strawberries
- Growing Currants in the Edible Landscape
- How to Grow Black Raspberries
- The Cherry Tree Guild and Natural Pest Control
Myth 3: You need flat, sunny land to grow food.
Because most suburbanites didn’t choose their property for its farming merits, it is likely that your property has some challenges such as sloping land or shady areas. Have no fear!
Land with contours (hilly or sloping land) can actually be beneficial for growing food by allowing you to grow a diversity of crops.
See these articles about creating contours and growing on a slope:
A partially shady yard can still produce an abundance of food using cool-season vegetables such as leafy greens and root vegetables. In one year, we produced 80 pounds of cool-season vegetables in just two 8-foot-long raised beds in our shady backyard.
Would you like more tips for achieving your gardening goals amidst a busy and complicated life?
You’ll find loads of information just like this in my book, The Suburban Micro-Farm.
Myth 4: Only full-time micro-farmers can produce a lot of fruits and vegetables.
It’s true that the more time you spend doing something, the more you get out of it. But that doesn’t mean part-time micro-farmers and weekend warriors can’t pull off a successful garden. You will have to be realistic about the size of your garden, but if you can commit 15 minutes a day, you can start your micro-farming journey.
Committing to gardening for 15 minutes a day does a lot of things: It keeps gardening as part of the daily routine even when you’re busy and inclined to put it off until you have a big block of time (which rarely comes). The practice also eases anxiety about what “should” be happening in the garden and connects you to the joy of the growing process.
It’s the small steps made consistently that will eventually lead you to meeting your goals.
Part-time micro-farmers will enjoy these articles for more tips to manage your time and prevent garden overwhelm:
- Want to Be a Micro-Farmer? 6 Tips for Success
- 7 Ways to Start a Homestead (Without Being Overwhelmed)
Myth 5: A farm must have farm animals.
The vision of a traditional farm—with grazing livestock—is a beautiful one, and quite alluring to many micro-farmers who figure out how to raise animals thoughtfully and conscientiously in smaller spaces.
However, just as there are traditional farmers who specialize in lettuce or corn, for example, micro-farmers shouldn’t feel pressured to keep animals unless they really want to. In fact, busy micro-farmers who want to keep livestock should make absolutely sure that they have time in their schedule to properly research and care for the animals.
See my article about why we don’t have chickens (yet).
All in all, it’s our perspective that will determine whether we start working toward our goals or whether we get hung up on ideas of perfection. There isn’t a “typical” micro-farm; some will be small, shady, or sloping. Some micro-farmers will have to find a way to fit gardening into their busy routine. Others will have to decide whether keeping livestock is right for their lifestyle, and whether they have time in their schedule to keep both a garden and chickens.
The journey to micro-farming isn’t a straight line or a one size fits all, so don’t let myths of the perfect micro-farm keep you from getting started.
Have you been letting a micro-farming myth get in the way of your dreams?