FARMING SILICON VALLEY: TURNING A BACKYARD INTO A MINI-FARM

Mar 15, 2015 · 4 minute read

By: Colleen Valles

Let’s talk about good food and bringing it to our table.

You see, I have recently been granted permission to take over the care of my parents’ back yard. With my dad starting chemo, my parents won’t have the energy or time to work the garden, where they’ve grown quite a bit of veggies for the past couple years. So they’ve turned over the reins to me and my daughter.

backyard
We’ll use the back half of this yard for planting. The front half is for the dogs. You can even see one’s head in the picture.

Our plan? Turn this puppy into an urban farm, right smack dab in the middle of Silicon Valley. We’ll be learning as we go, I’ll post progress, questions and answers to problems here, so you all can follow along on the journey of transformation from back yard garden to urban farm.

No Grocery Store Veggies … Maybe

Our goal is to grow all our veggies — enough to feed me and my daughter, my parents and possibly my older brother as well. He’s an athlete and eats a lot, so I make no promises in his regard. We also plan to keep chickens for eggs and insect control, plus we hear they make good pets, though I’m a little worried that our dogs will be hen-pecked.

No Experience Necessary

Let’s just be clear: I am not a farmer. I have managed to keep some herbs alive, and I’ve got a potted tomato plant that gave me a more bountiful harvest in February than it did last summer, but I am in no way an expert. Despite efforts to grow veggies and herbs in the past, I’m still a novice – a novice who has yearned for a long time for a small plot of land to farm. That this will also be helping out my parents is a bonus.

Cramming it all in

I’m going against every fiber of my being and planning this out. My tendency is just to jump in and see what happens, but I really want this to work, and I’d rather have more living plants than dead ones, so I’ve planned out where I’ll put the raised beds and the chicken coop, what we’ll plant and how I’ll prepare the soil.

For the most part, I’m following John Jeavons’ Grow BIOINTENSIVE method, detailed in his book “How to Grow More Vegetables…” (It’s a really long title. Check out the link for the whole thing.) The idea behind it is you can get more food out of less land, but you have to take good care of the soil. You can’t just deplete the nutrients and then wonder why nothing will grow.

This method is also supposed to use less water, which is important as we are now in our fourth year of drought.

I am tempted to half-ass the soil prep, but I know if I do, that could wind up affecting our success in the long-run, so I’ll bite the bullet and double dig our plots.

side backyard
This is the big side of the yard, to the right of the smaller area. That’s an orange tree in the back there.

Why Bother?

Why are we even doing this? Why grow our own food when there are grocery stores and farmers’ markets and farm co-ops and all kinds of ways to get food?

Well, because there are all kinds of ways to get food, but only one lets you truly know where it came from, what went into producing it, and lets you go grocery shopping in your own (or your parents’) back yard.

I’d like to teach my daughter what it takes to grow food, to show her what healthy soil looks like, to help her understand that there are ways to work with the environment to get what you need and that it’s important to give back to the land when you take from it.

It matters to me that my food is organic, that it’s not sucking up fertilizers that then wash into our water, and that it’s not genetically modified beyond the typical hybrids that have come from crossing one plant with another.

After the initial outlay of money for seeds and raised bed materials plus a rain barrel, this should be a money-saving endeavor. (I plan on saving seeds after harvest. Oh yeah, I dream big.) I think it will be satisfying to achieve a level of self-sufficiency that isn’t the norm nowadays.

Lastly, I believe in good, whole, fresh food and using healthy, wholesome unpackaged ingredients to prepare it. Sure, once in a while it’s OK to have a bag of chips or a box of crackers or a candy bar as a treat, but I do think there’s more enjoyment, and things taste better, when they’re made with care and savored with friends and family.

Ultimately, that’s what this is all about — taking the time to do something for ourselves, for others and for the earth, and to savor the fruits of our labors and the company we enjoy them with.

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Colleen Valles
I'm Colleen, a writer, mother, knitter, pet mama and tiny house enthusiast who truly believes that everybody should slow down and simplify to make room for the things that are most important in their lives. I'm on a journey to do just that, to be able to spend more time with family and friends, riding my bike and working in the garden. Sign up to get awesome content right in your inbox, or follow me on social media.