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Suburban Agriculture

Thanks to Pablo Elliot for this guest post. Pablo is a Washington, DC native, running a Community Supported Agriculture project with his wife, Esther Mandelheim, on the family’s Stoney Lonesome Farm in Northern Virginia.

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“Suburban Agriculture” is gaining footing as a term to describe the small-acreage agriculture that takes place outside of cities in areas of sprawl. It features direct relationships between farmer and food-eater, whether through CSA programs, farm stands, or farmers’ markets. “Suburban Agriculture” is not quite “Urban Agriculture” or “Rural Agriculture,” hence the new term, which I despise.

I suppose you could call our CSA program “suburban agriculture,” in the sense that our farm is located in Gainesville, Virginia, a car-dependent non-metropolis. Yet our farm work takes place in a setting that preserves a timeless way of living and calls for an intimate, restorative, symbiotic partnership with nature. This relationship is distinctly not suburban, both because of the intimate relationship between people and the land (a concept that is foreign to suburban design), and because of our focus on the long-term viability of this intimacy (i.e. sustainability) through replenishing soil with compost and creating, restoring, and preserving habitats for wildlife.


Meanwhile, rumbling bulldozers and other beeping giants roll ever closer, and most of our CSA members in fact live somewhere in this tangled mess we refer to as “sprawl.” But we are supported by them. Together with the members of our CSA community we are creating a project entirely contrary to “suburban.”

Our farm program works to be a small but flavorful antidote to an excessive dose of bland suburbia. “Suburban agriculture” sounds like a couple of tomato seeds that accidentally sprouted on a golf course. “Suburban agriculture” sounds, well, really boring, like musak wafting from speakers along strip mall parking lots. Contrast that with Music, a potent fresh garlic variety we grow, which can make your breath an instant outcast in the antiseptic aisles of any Big Box.

Rather than label this agriculture by what it seeks not to be, we can embrace our bundles of Swiss Chard and generally refer to our sweaty farm endeavor in suburbia as a small bit of Tikkun Olam.

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6 Responses to “Suburban Agriculture”

  1. Isaac Hametz Says:

    Hey Pablo,

    I would also be a little peeved if someone called my farm operation “suburban agriculture”. What ever happened to calling it “micro-farming”?
    Either way, all the power to you brother. Its great to hear people ripping up the grass and putting in the veggies!

  2. Bobbi Says:

    Tikkun olam, exactly. And a political statement with every tomato plant and squash blossom. We ripped up the side yard. The backyard will go next spring. The front yard grass is going brown…dare I herb up the front?

  3. Roxanne Christensen Says:

    Whether or not “suburban” gives agriculture a bad name, “agriculture” can help to redeem suburbia’s negative image. And more and more suburban farmers are cropping up due to a new sub-acre farming method called SPIN-Farming. SPIN is a franchise-ready vegetable farming system that makes it possible to earn $50,000+ from a half-acre. SPIN’s growing techniques are not, in themselves, breakthrough. What is novel is the way a SPIN farm business is run. SPIN provides everything you’d expect from a good franchise: a business plan, marketing advice, and a detailed day-to-day workflow. In standardizing the system and creating a reproducible process it really isn’t any different from McDonalds. By offering a non-technical, easy-to-understand and inexpensive-to-implement farming system, it allows many more people to farm commercially, wherever they live, as long as there are nearby markets to support them. By using backyards and front lawns and neighborhood lots as their land base, SPIN farmers are recasting farming as a small business in a city or suburb and helping to accelerate the shift back to a more locally-based food system. SPIN is now starting to be practiced throughout the U.S.,Canada, UK, Australia, Ireland and the Netherlands, and you can see some of these entrepreneurial farmers in action at http://www.spinfarming.com

  4. Liz McLellan Says:

    What is a ‘hyperlocavore’?

    A hyperlocavore is a person who tries to eat as much food as locally as possible. Growing your own is as local as it gets!

    What is ‘yard sharing’?

    Yard sharing is an arrangement between people to share skills and gardening resources; space, time, strength, tools or skills, in order to grow food as locally as possible, to make neighborhoods resilient, kids healthy and food much cheaper!

    Why would I want to set up a yard sharing group?

    Yard sharing is a way to connect people who love to garden, people who love healthy fresh food and people who have yards! Often people who have yards have little time time for a vegetable garden. And sometimes gardeners have trouble finding soil to garden in because they rent an aparment! Sometimes older people lack stamina and are socially isolated, finding younger people to partner in growing food together works wonderfully for all. There are all kinds of reasons it makes sense.

    Yard sharing works for:

    * apartment dwellers
    * busy parents
    * older people
    * frugalistas
    * foodies
    * treehuggers
    * cheap bastards
    * farmers lacking land
    * land holders lacking farmers
    * people sick of leaf blowers
    * curious kids
    * folks with a disability
    * people who want to get outside more
    * people that want to eat better
    * people that want to eat cheaper
    * people who want to make their community resilient
    * people who like their food super fresh
    * people worried about peak oil
    * and maybe you! (if you’re not on the list – send me a note!)

    Yard sharing cuts down on greenhouse gases by limiting the travel time of fruit and vegetables to your table.
    Yard sharing is a great way to connect with your family, friends and neighbors!
    Yard sharing helps you eat more veggies!
    Yard sharing can be a workable solution for people with physical limitations who want to eat better and more cheaply.
    Yard sharing is an excellent way to teach children about food and biology!
    Yard sharing is a great way to get cheaper produce to older people on a fixed income!
    Yard sharing helps you get enough vitamin D from sunshine!
    Yard sharing is a way to avoid pesticides and other chemicals on your food!
    Yard sharing is a fun activity to share!
    Yard sharing helps to create independent local food systems that are less sensitive to the price of oil.

    And nothing tastes as good as food you grew yourself!

    Who can yard share?

    Anyone! If you don’t see a group for your area just create one! Then send invites to people in your neighborhood, your friends and
    their friends and maybe you will find someone willing to start with you!

    I hope you enjoy Passover with your loved ones this year, and that your dear can be near!

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  6. Frederick Burtts Says:

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