Urban Farming and Self-Sustaining Gardens

Yes, it’s easiest to put grass clippings by the curb for the city to
haul away. But if you really want to beautify Los Angeles – and your own yard – you can recycle the clippings by leaving them on the lawn, scattering them as mulch in planter beds or composting them.
Grass recycling is one component of sustainable landscaping, a concept whose time has come. The idea is that a person’s landscape can easily provide its own fertilizer, compost and soil amendments in the form of grass clippings, leaves, hedge trimmings and tree prunings. Instead of taking these garden leftovers to a trash bin, people can recycle them directly into the garden.
No more will bags of fertilizer, mulch and amendments have to be lugged home from the nursery.
Two weeks from today, Feb. 24, an all-day conference on sustainable landscaping and gardening will be held at the Ken Edwards Center, 1527 Fourth St., Santa Monica. This conference has been organized by a nonprofit sustainable agriculture group located in Davis. Anyone interested in attending should call (916) 756-6967 or register in person at 7:30 a.m. The registration fee, which includes lunch, is $65 in advance or $75 after Friday.
One of the sponsors of the seminar is Urban Organic, a Los Angeles company which specializes in “products and services for the organic edible landscape.” Rani Jacobs, founder and president of Urban Organic, practices what she preaches on her own sunny patio in West Los Angeles. She has put casters on whiskey barrels to create portable vegetable planters that can be moved in deference to the sun – as it changes its position in the sky from one season to the next.
Jacobs started her urban agriculture career on a bare strip of public utility land in the Bernal Heights area of San Francisco. Before long, she garnered municipal grants to work with neighborhood kids and former gang members growing vegetables.
It’s fascinating how small patches of dirt in asphalt-covered cities can transform human beings. First there are the people who are inspired to plant, then there are the people who come by to marvel at what’s been done and decide that humanity is not doomed after all, and finally, there are those who, having seen it, want to plant themselves.
Being witness to the germination of seeds is a horticultural experience second to none. Harvesting wheat, gathering mushrooms, picking apples, smelling roses and even crushing grapes with your feet cannot compare to the simple pleasure of watching a newborn plant emerge from the earth. How long you lovingly gaze at those lacy little carrot tops, or the even lacier California poppy leaves that are coming up now with the rain – to say nothing of the incredible beet, each of whose polyembryonic seeds contains several baby plants that sprout in unison.
You can create the most glorious ornamental garden of ready-made, nursery-grown plants – usually at great expense – yet feel that something is lacking. The problem, of course, is that you have missed the growth process; you may as well have installed a garden of silk plants. No matter how glamorous, a ready-made landscape will quickly become boring unless you are personally involved in its development.
Meanwhile, Jacobs’ goal is to create not only sustainable individual gardens, but entire self-sustaining neighborhoods, where everyone on the block will have some horticultural contribution to make.
Someone might have a shredder for grinding up tree branches, while another has a huge compost pile from which all can share. One neighbor has an exceptionally sunny front yard, so it is there that the neighborhood’s tomatoes are grown. One person has orange trees, another has lemons and still another grows plums, apricots and nectarines.
In this manner, everyone on the street has fruit to eat year-round. During the week, a retired couple take responsibility for watering delicate seedlings while the younger Ipeople on the block go off to work.
Is this an idealistic fantasy? Actually, this concept is based on a movement known as CSA (Community Supported Agriculture). Throughout the United States, there are small farms supported by nearby families and individuals who pay a certain amount each year to sustain them. Contributors receive a weekly basket of fresh, organically grown produce harvested from the farm they support.
Jacobs offers classes and consultations in edible landscaping. She can be reached at (310) 280-0875.
Tip of the week: To attract hummingbirds and butterflies, and to keep pests away from your cabbages and tomatoes, Jacobs recommends planting spearmint or pennyroyal mint. She also advises growing sunflowers around corn and cucumbers to keep these crops healthy. Yarrow, she says, has a beneficial influence on most plants.

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