When Susan Webb-Grimmett drives up to the Portland, Ore., home she shares with her husband Henry, she’s greeted by a growing crop of pea shoots, 6-foot-tall tomato vines and strawberry plants that blush with berries. It’s a welcome sight for those whose work schedules leave little time for pursuits like growing their own food.
“We’ve tried to put in gardens, but we sometimes work 80 hours a week. The gardens we did before were very expensive failures,” says Susan. The difference this time is that Henry hired Donna Smith and Robyn Streeter, owners of Your Backyard Farmer (yourbackyardfarmer.com), to plant and tend a miniature farm in their yard.
Smith and Streeter, who started their business in March 2006, tend 70 backyard gardens in the Portland area. They work with families to determine plant and eating preferences and household size. Then, they visit homes every week from March through November to build raised beds, truck in soil, and plant and tend the organic gardens. At harvest time, they gather and clean the produce and arrange it in baskets to leave at the families’ back doors-much like a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture program), except that the food is grown in the member’s own backyard. The average cost for a 20 by 20-foot plot is $1,575.
Like Susan and Henry, most clients soon realize that the business goes beyond providing good food. Adults enjoy the transition from processed foods to seasonal dishes made from produce grown in their own backyards, and their children gain a greater connection to their food source.
“Once the parent is interested in growing food, children learn that they can get it out of their backyard. They get that very deep connection that we’re trying to bring back,” says Smith.
“They have transformed not only our yard but our entire life,” says Susan. “It’s been grand.”
—Ashley Gartland, a food writer in Hillsboro, Ore.
- Don’t yet have a backyard farmer in your neighborhood? Find success growing your own bounty using these tips from Smith and Streeter.
- Nurture your soil. Healthy soil grows healthy plants. Add only good, organic materials and nutrients to your beds. Be sure to test your soil’s PH, minimize tilling, and keep the soil surface covered as well.
- Use a cover crop. Plant your beds with cover crops, like crimson clover, in the fall. Cover crops protect the soil from erosion, help control weed growth and keep the soil nutrient-rich.
- Keep your beds weed free. Pull weeds as soon as they emerge, or at least before they go to seed. Spread good garden mulch 2 to 3 inches deep around your plants and over soil surface to reduce future weed growth.