Friday, April 22, 2011

Urban Homesteading- The book

My friend Ruby Blume from the Institute of Urban Homesteading along with Rachel Kaplan wrote this beautiful book on urban homesteading

The book is awesome, full of colorful pictures and great description on how to do things and why to do them, they have a good explanation on the politics of why to do this type of work, join this movement and remove your self as much as you can from the established system.

The most exciting part of this book, for me, is that there is a write up about me and the work that I have been doing at the Algarden with Giancarlo

Here is what they wrote about me, Giancarlo and our project at the Algarden. Enjoy.

"Patricia Algara is a landscape architect who practices urban agriculture on a double lot in Berkeley, CA that she borrows from a neighbor. Having come from a family of farmers in Mexico, working the land is instinctive to Patricia, but when she came to this country, she felt overwhelmed by the difficulties of finding a place to farm. During a winter storm a fence got blown away revealing an empty lot with perfect sun exposure two blocks from where she works. She met Giancarlo Muscardini the neighbor to the right of the unused lot, she asked him about the empty space that was a huge contrast to his own  lush garden, edible garden and orchard. He knew the neighbors and had dreamed of doing something on the next-door site for a long time.

"It drove him crazy to see the neighbors mowing the weeds every other week. So together we wrote a formal proposal for the use of the land," Patricia recalls. “We met with the neighbors. They were excited but had some issues. I had a lawyer draft an agreement so they aren’t liable if anyone gets hurt. They didn’t want an open community garden, so they fenced the property in a way to keep it private for them and usable for us. I have keys and can bring people and we have work parties and events, but always in collaboration with the owners’ needs.”

Together, Patricia and Giancarlo designed and built the garden. During the first work was done on setting up infrastructure—putting in a greenhouse, and garden beds, but mostly amending the soil which was really hard clay so that things could grow. Water was piped into the garden from Giancarlo’s place next door. “When we first started, it was all grass so we had a lot of work to do," Patricia says. "It’s been two years and it’s finally a working garden. We sheet mulched, and did compost and used a chicken tractor and did what we could to build the soil. Everything here is done through permaculture principles and the soils are much better now. They can still improve, but now they are productive and there’s a lot of food.” 

Patricia and Giancarlo get food from the garden, as do the owners and people who live in the units below Giancarlo’s house. To share the excess produce, Patricia hosts an informal Friday lunch where all the food is prepared using the fruits and vegetables from the garden. The food gets harvested the night before to assure the freshest and most ripe flavors. The menu changes every week depending on what's in season. The lunch is also an opportunity to show people how the vegetables plants look while they are growing, their benefits to the garden and their nutritional properties, is mostly a way to expose people to local, organic, fresh flavors and get them excited to grow their own food.

     As this demonstration urban farm project keeps growing, Giancarlo is inspired to deepen the permaculture design of the garden, as well as his own garden on the other side of the fence. He’s looking toward planting more fruit trees, trees which can be coppiced (cut back to encourage the growth of straight suckers which can be used for building and garden projects), a more evolved food forest, and planting biomass-producing trees which add further nutrients to the soil. 

Patricia’s success with this garden leads her to work on food security projects in Richmond, one of the most impoverished communities in the Bay Area. “The more I learn, the more I see how this needs to happen everywhere" she says. "It is so daunting at an environmental level to understand what is going on, and sometimes it feels like a huge thing I can’t do anything about. But growing food is something I CAN do."

"The more research I do, the more I see what a big impact food production has on so many aspects of the environment. We can have an impact every time we eat, breaking away from industrial agriculture, the fuel to transport the food, and the toxins that are used to grow it. If everyone grew something, one little small thing, it would matter. Food is basic. We need it 3 times a day. At least! Even if you just have a little window, you can grow mint. And that’s one less thing to buy at the store.

“Food is the gateway drug to a more sustainable lifestyle. You start to become aware of the cycles of nature, the cycle of the moon, what’s happening with the seasons and the climate, and you start to pay attention to the world. And it has a trickle down effect—just doing this changes your behavior. It happened to me. Seeing this garden and the changes it’s brought me makes me want to work so that more people can see this and do this. And it’s not that hard. It’s a basic human thing. It’s easy and we should all be doing it."

Here is a scanned version of how the page looks on the book. I highly recommend you buy the book, it is a great resource.

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