Carol Garrison and Daniel Bell’s front yard urban garden here in Garland on April 27, 2014.  Today it is even more lush and beautiful.  Read more about them, their urban garden and their chickens at Hipster Farmers.

Even the very definition of home is changing.

Part of this change includes a return to lifestyles that were more familiar to the 1940’s—a time when every family had their vegetable garden. As I drive around my hometown of Garland I see more and more gardens—in people’s backyards and also in their front yards.  It would be interesting to take a census to learn how many urban gardens we have where edibles are growing and how long they have been in existence.

And speaking of definitions:  All this attention to urban agriculture has resulted in the addition of many new words to our vocabulary.  Now we have words such as “Agriburbia, agritopias, agritopian future, urban farmers, farmtopia,” and no doubt more to come.


Building New Mini-Communities

Recently I wrote an article titled Creating Thriving Urban Neighborhoods in which I discussed the concept of Pocket Neighborhoods-- small clusters of 8 to 10 houses, gathered around a shared area, that foster community and yet preserve some privacy. One of the features of these pocket neighborhoods is that these cottages (average 1000 square feet) are arranged around a beautifully landscaped commons that often also includes a community garden.  The landscaping is layered so as to preserve a sense of depth and privacy to the front porches of the homes.  Homes are very carefully designed with features such as skylights in the bedrooms to preserve privacy.  All the homes have porches that face the commons area.  The residents share in maintaining the beautiful grounds and gardens.  These small clusters of homes are designed to provide privacy when one wants it and to also offer opportunities for interacting with one’s neighbors at times when one desires that.  All the front porches face the commons area.


Transforming Existing Suburbs Into Community Friendly Environments

Equally interesting are actions that people are taking to develop their own existing neighborhoods into real communities where people know and talk to one another.  Anonymity is losing the high value it once had on the American psyche.   As mentioned previously, some of these steps include moving a picnic table to the front lawn and building a Little Free Library for their front yard, and not replacing a backyard fence (a good way to save several thousand dollars).  Other steps residents have taken include blocking their alleys to through traffic.  Only city workers and residents have access to these alleys.  Studies are showing that such a move reduces crime in the neighborhood.

In the 1990’s Ecke Ranch, once the nation’s largest producer of poinsettias in Encinitas CA (coastal beach city in San Diego County) sold 850 acres of land to developers to create tract homes.  Last year the Leichtag Foundation, a Jewish nonprofit organization put Daron Joffe, a 38-year-old agricultural consultant, in charge of the remaining 68 acres they purchased from the Ecke Ranch.  These 68 acres are in the middle of all the tract homes.  Joffe’s plan is to introduce a farm into the existing suburb.

Last fall Joffe and his team began work on a five-acre food forest that will be layered with plants like plum, date and pistachio trees and will link up to a public trail.  Food not donated to charity will be free for taking.

Note:  If you want to read more about a food forest, or woodland garden as they are sometimes called, I recommend WOODLAND GARDENING – a book on woodland garden design published by Plants for a Future (An English charity)  ISBN 9781484069165

Agriburbia, a Colorado land-planning company, hope to transform the nation’s burbs by converting 31 million acres of idle lawn to food production.  Among the visions of this group include transforming the roughs of fairways into kale and corn gardens.  They have developed a three-quarter acre model outside Denver.


Garland Texas Is Exploring the Possibility of Agri-Urban Designs for Our Community

Doug Athas, Garland’s forward-thinking mayor, is leading efforts in our community to rethink the design of our neighborhoods to make them more neighborhood community friendly.  Among other things, Mayor Athas has been a driving force behind transforming the harsh brick-scape in the center of our square into a softer more people and agri-friendly environment that is designed to serve people better.  In addition to this project, the mayor is supportive of many other efforts to rethink and transform our urban and suburban areas into more community-centric spaces.  Read more about these efforts in “A better plan for the other side of the tracks.

And speaking of the development of food forests, our Parks and Recreation Department here in Garland also seem to be a little bit ahead of the curve.  Most of our parks feature mature pecan tress that are over twenty years old.  Residents come and harvest pecans from these trees for free every fall. 

And as far as turning our community-owned land into urban gardens, our public schools here in the Garland ISD are also getting into the act.  In February of this year Beaver Technology Center, a magnet school here in Garland, offered an elective, URBAN GARDENS FOR KIDS (a course developed by members of Loving Garland Green and some teachers from Beaver Tech).  The eight-week course was so well-received that it was offered again for the last eight-week term of the school year. 

Then, just this week, I received an email from Marcie Romero, a counselor at Beaver Tech, who told me that they are installing some blackberry bushes at Beaver.  In the fall, members of Loving Garland Green hope to assist the Beaver Tech students in planting and seeding a butterfly garden.  This garden in the spring can be used as an outdoor botany/biology lab for studying plants, butterflies as well as beneficial and non-beneficial insects.

In addition to the efforts mentioned above, Garland has not one but two demonstration gardens in the making:  the Garland Community Garden located at 4022 Naaman School Road and a Texas AgriLife Demonstration Garden located on Rowlett Road in South Garland.  Both gardens are new as the life span of gardens go. The Garland Community Garden was begun last year on April 12, 2014 and the Texas AgriLife Demonstration Garden was begun just a few months ago. Both are dependent upon volunteer support and donations from the public.


NOTE ON BLACKBERRIES - When it comes to Blackberry bushes in Garland, you can call me “the Johnny Blackberry Seed.”  There are just not enough good things that I have to say for this edible. It is rich in antioxidants.  If you want to preserve some for future use, all you need to do is rinse them, pat them dry, and store them in freezer bags.  They freeze very well and they taste like fresh berries when thawed. 

As for growing them, nothing could be simpler:  Find a place in your yard with enough space to allow for the bush to grow to 7 or 8 feet tall and up to six feet in diameter.  I suggest you purchase a potted thornless blackberry bush with a Native American name such as Apache or Arapaho.   Dig a hole twice the size of the root ball.  Mix the native soil with some expanded shale and plant.  Blackberry bushes are drought tolerant and like Okra, appear to thrive on neglect.  They would be a perfect edible to plant on our school grounds here in Garland. 

Also consider that by the end of June Blackberry prices will be at about $5 for six ounces.  I’ve had my four bushes for three seasons now 2013, 2014 and 2015.  Last year these bushes yielded 61 pounds.  If you calculate the value at peak prices, that’s over $600 worth of food.  And beyond occasional watering, they require no care.  They also appear to be pest and disease resistant, as I’ve never had any problem with them. [Bush Blackberries are not nearly as invasive as the vine variety, but you do need to keep the longer branches from draping on the ground or they will take root.  Another solution to that “problem” is to allow the branches to root, dig them up, and sell the transplants.]  

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