Kathleen Callum and her husband, Robert Sloma, practice what they preach. As volunteer managers of the Hemlock and Fairview community garden, not only are they happy to share their gardening knowledge with anyone who is interested, but they also grow their own vegetables and fruits in their front yard.
Their reliance on their garden is actually carrying on an important tradition. In the backyard of their 1928 bungalow, there is a raised bed garden that served as a Victory Garden during World War II.
Callum is a Master Gardener, Master Composter/Recycler and chair of the Master Gardener soils committee. She and Sloma are both archaeologists.
While working in another community garden, they’d heard of the Food Not Bombs movement, in which volunteers set up soup kitchens to share food with the hungry. In 1999, some of those volunteers formed Food Not Lawns to become, as their website states, “a global community of avant gardeners, working together to grow and share food, seeds, skills and resources.”
Callum and Sloma have become involved with the group and enjoy teaching others about urban homesteading.
“Last year, we began converting our front lawn to a high-production garden,” Callum said.
“Our family grows about 70 to 100 percent of our year’s supply of organic vegetables, in addition to a lot of our own fruit. We also grow produce in the community garden and glean a lot more fruit and nuts thanks to the generosity of our neighbors.”
This year, some of the crops they’re growing include garlic, leeks, parsley, kale, kohlrabi, tomatoes, blueberries, artichokes, chicory, raspberries and basil.
Callum follows polyculture planting practices, in which multiple plants are grown together to bring diversity to the bed. For example, legumes are planted to add nitrogen to the soil. Plants with taproots are added to drill down into the soil, making it more permeable.
How have their neighbors responded to the front yard garden?
“Lots of people like it,” Callum said. “Some of our neighbors are now involved in the community garden and have built a couple of raised beds at their home. Passers-by will stop and ask me what a plant is. The bulk of them say it looks beautiful. One lady even squealed on the brakes as she was driving by, just so she could ask me questions about our garden.”
Growing a food garden in place of a front yard lawn makes a lot of sense. As Callum learned through her research, about 80 percent of American households have lawns that, as a whole, occupy about 63,000 square miles of land, or over 40 million acres. That’s nearly the acreage used for growing wheat nationwide.
“We are farming a crop that we can’t even eat,” she said.
According to the EPA, these lawns collectively use 63 billion gallons of water per week, which ranges from 30 to 60 percent of America’s daily water usage.
Callum believes it is time to stop that trend, ditch the lawnmower and plant edible crops in place of our lawns. She shared her tips to help homeowners be successful:
“Evaluate your goals and how best to meet them.” Determine the amount of time and money you and your family are willing to invest. Select an area of your yard that gets the most sunlight and do a soil test.
“Grow what you eat, within reason.” Start small and expand as you have interest, time or money. Plant in containers first, then graduate to a small garden or edible landscape.
“Start planning to eat locally one year in advance.” Use charts and tables to calculate your family’s food needs and revise them frequently.
“Lawn conversion is a challenge, so make it easier.” Again, start small and then expand. Consider hiring someone to remove the sod for you or look into sheet-mulching over the lawn for a rich, organic growing medium.
“Urban farmers are able to innovate in ways only dreamed of by commercial growers.” Use your energy and creativity to pursue sustainable agriculture to grow the maximum amount of food out of the space you have available.
Susan Mulvihill is co-author, with Pat Munts, of “Northwest Gardener’s Handbook.” Contact her at Susan@susansinthe garden.com.
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