Welcome to the Urban Farmhouse!

By Chrissa Carlson
[email protected]

Think about it: before the turn of the millennium, you may have used the word ‘local’ to differentiate between bus routes, to indicate a library branch or school, or to describe the proximity of a business. But say the word now and your mind immediate jumps to the origin of your food. Concern over the ecological and social implications of the source of our food have progressed from an elitist trend to a social norm—in fact, “locavore” was the Oxford American Dictionary word of the year in 2007. Since then, we have seen a progressive expansion in the number of farmers markets and in the variety of foods available there; grocery stores regularly highlight items from local farms, and a restaurant isn’t worth their salt if they aren’t showcasing local heirloom tomatoes on August menus.

As our desire to procure food from friendly, familiar farmers grows, so does our interest in getting some of our food from the most local source there is: our back yards, porches, and balconies. Growing some of your own food is a journey that nurtures an intimate connection with your food, supplements food budgets, and further informs a healthy critique of industrial farming practices. However, the rise in interest in food gardening has re-emerged in a world that is drastically different from the nostalgic image of a 1950s backyard harvest.

Consider this: in 1975, 49% of households had vegetable gardens. This number dropped to a low in 1998, when only 24% of households grew some of their own food. However, food gardening is back on the rise: in 2009, 37% of households had vegetable gardens, and annual consumer spending on fruit, vegetable, and herb gardening surpassed spending on ornamental flowers, shrubs, and trees. While this is encouraging, we can’t ignore how lifestyles have changed in the last 35 years: in 1975, only 33% of households with children had two working adults, compared to 58% in 2009. Vegetable gardens are re-emerging into a world that has less time to dedicate to gardening, and are being tended by folks who may not have grown up with a garden to learn from. Add to that the tough economic times, and the pressure to make sure the time and space dedicated to the garden yields output is higher than ever.

I’ve been fortunate to work as a gardening and food educator in Baltimore City for the past six years, developing gardens, teaching cooking skills, and promoting good nutrition in schools, recreation centers, and senior centers throughout the area. In my work in the community, I have thrilled at the enthusiasm of those who have discovered the allure of homegrown food, and cringed when they excitedly tell me they planted their beans in March. I’ve marveled at the beautiful tomatoes that proud new gardeners have shown me, but longed that they might also grow carrots, okra, and sweet potatoes. From these interactions and experiences, Urban Farmhouse was born.

Urban Farmhouse (UF) is dedicated to helping homeowners and small businesses plan, install, maintain, and prepare healthy fruits, vegetables, and herbs on urban and suburban properties. Through consultation, planning, installation, and maintenance, UF helps folks make the most of their gardening efforts, and reap all of the delicious rewards, so that they might continue to garden for years to come.

At its core, Urban Farmhouse uses a different service model than traditional landscaping outfits: typical UF clients want to connect with the gardening process; therefore, they DON’T want someone to show up, plant the garden, and disappear (although we’ll do that if you want). Our clients want to learn and grow with their plants; we work to fill in the knowledge and skill gaps to help them be successful. As such, our services are based around client education, and creating custom service packages that provide the clients with what the information and services they need while still allowing them the freedom to engage in the great gardening experiment.

Basic consultations include a visit to your property, a soil test, advice on the best place to locate your garden, and a follow up summary of the best plants for your site. Clients can then choose to purchase a custom garden plan, which includes a garden design, a three-season planting plan, a calendar of gardening tasks, and a narrative describing the whole process. Many of our clients take it from there, while others discover that they’d rather have us install their garden. If needed, we return for garden coaching sessions, or we provide season-long maintenance.

I am happy to be making regular contributions to CompletelyEco.com. Each month I’ll share information and tips that will help you grow as a gardener and a local eater. In the meantime, start thinking about your spring garden…and if you find yourself wondering how far to space your radish seeds, the best way to trellis peas, or when to plant your eggplant, contact [email protected] to schedule a consultation.

Image: Urban Farmhouse operates from Chrissa Carlson's home in Waverly, where she lovingly tends her blueberries, radishes, sweet potatoes, grapes, and cabbages (just to name a few).