Local food, one yard at a time – Backyard Harvest in your own backyard

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The food revolution will begin in your own backyard, if the Backyard Harvest program takes off. The Permaculture Research Institute – Cold Climate hopes this year’s pilot project in Minneapolis will have people clamoring “IMBY” — in my backyard. Their mission: to strengthen the Twin Cities local foods infrastructure one yard at a time.

Backyard Harvest has hired three “urban farmers” to turn urban backyards into productive gardens rich with summer vegetables. The farmers contract with Minneapolis homeowners, renters and communities to convert the backyards, do the garden landscaping, planting, garden maintenance (even the weeding!) and garden education. The urban farmer also harvests the produce weekly and puts it in a box at your backdoor. The farmer will keep a garden journal with the client, to educate them on keeping the garden going next year. The growing methods will be organic and chemically free.

“The new urban farmers are really good, passionate, and excited to do this!” said Krista Leraas, Backyard Harvest Program Director. They are already very experienced, but will receive additional training to help future farmers who aren’t as experienced.

Getting involved with Backyard Harvest

SIgn up! Site assessment begins soon, so while there isn’t an application deadline, signing up as soon as possible is recommended. If you’d like to set up a consultation, or have questions, contact Krista Leraas at harvest[at]pricoldclimate.org

Make a journal On Monday, April 13, 7-9 pm people are invited to join the Backyard Harvest team for an evening of mutually beneficial fun hand crafting the garden journals for this year’s Backyard Harvest gardens. Artist & teacher Jonathan Maki will lead participants through the process of making a few different kinds of journals. There is no charge, and all materials are provided. Just bring yourself. Kids 10 & up may also enjoy this activity with a caring adult. Location, to be determined. RSVP (requested but not required) to harvest@pricoldclimate.org

Leraas, Backyard Harvest Program Director, was inspired during her Masters Program in Agriculture and Sustainable Food Systems at New College in Santa Rosa, California. She said the big question for the program was: “Since most people live in cities, how would they get sustainable food?” Clearly, they would need to include urban agriculture in their system.

In 2007, Leraas and her classmates saw an article on Portland, Oregon’s Your Backyard Farmer, a program on foodscaping and backyard farming. When Leraas returned to Minneapolis a year ago, she became involved with Permaculture Research Institute, where people were also thinking about the foodscaping concept. They formed Backyard Harvest using the established and successful Portland, Oregon program as the model.

Urban Farmer in Minneapolis

What do you get? A farmer to work your garden once a week, providing several varieties of vegetables and herbs for a family of four over a 16 – 20 week season. People choose from three garden designs ranging from 80 – 120 square feet. The Backyard Harvest website has a sample list of foods and further details.

Your backyard farmer begins by testing the soil, finding out about nutrient needs and possible contaminants. The soil will be fertilized and enriched as needed. If your soil is contaminated, it will be recommended not to grow food in it directly, but to incorporate alternatives that work, such as raised beds, or a plastic barrier under new soil. Also, plants that that don’t carry contaminants will be swapped in place of those that do.

For this first year, Backyard Harvest seeks 20 – 30 clients in South Minneapolis. They’re halfway there. The basic package cost ranges $1,065 – $1,295, averaging $1,165. The areas the urban farmers turn over in the next 2 – 3 years will increase with the success and growing resources of this program.

What if you want to exchange lawn for garden, grass for food, but can’t afford to participate in Backyard Harvest? Leraas said the Backyard Harvest team is working on grants to help people in a lower income bracket afford to participate next year. Also Backyard Harvest encourages sponsorships, and a couple of people already are sponsoring gardens for others.

The cost for your second Backyard Harvest garden next year will be les, because the initial set-up work is done the first year. If you want to learn how to maintain your own yourself, the urban farmer will help educate you via the garden journal and observations over this season.

Have more veggies than you can (or want to) eat? Or simply want to share the bounty with those who don’t have a home, let alone a garden? Backyard Harvest is making a concerted effort to get excess produce to food shelves. There’s actually an option in the contract for clients to donate 10% of produce to go to a food shelf of your choice — examples of these include Sisters of Camelot or the Emergency Food Shelf.

Backyard Harvest has found high levels of interest, due to increased public awareness, and their strong grassroots publicity and promotion efforts, led by volunteers. They currently have some signed contracts, and a large stack of interested parties. More than 300 people interested in the program and its progress are on their email list — many from across the nation.

“I really feel it’s important for people to get food that is as local as possible, and that we build community around food,” says Leraas. “It’s about human needs. We need to be creative and social. I really want it to connect people to each other, and to their food.”

The local food movement is taking root with Backyard Harvest, and will spread like weeds – only much better for you.

Cyn Collins (cynth@bitstream.net) is a Twin Cities freelance arts and culture writer. She is the author of West Bank Boogie, a substitute programmer at KFAI, and an assistant producer of Write On Radio.

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