Garden 2.0

For three seasons of the year (all the ones that aren't buried in snow), I like to talk about gardening. You may have noticed. I've posted about it a few times.

Lest you think I'm all talk and no action, let me assure you that, each year, I (eventually) get a garden in. And I really enjoy the fruits of my labor - until it gets too cold to cultivate anything in my tiny, northern backyard.

Each year I put in old favorites like basil and arugula and, each year, I try a few new things. This year, my favorite new item is malabar spinach. It's a slightly viscous leaf - thicker than the spinach we're used to - but the plant vines up the fence and is really prolific. I love vertical farming because it takes up so much less space! Any space-saving gardening scheme is right up my alley (see: "square foot" gardening).
Which brings me to the point of today's post - gardening for maximum efficiency and output.

Cassandra always teases me about loving everything in miniature. It's true - as a rule, if something is extra-small, I generally like it better. But I think the core reason I like small things is because they're efficient. My dogs weight 10lbs and 7lbs. I can bathe both dogs in the sink in under 10 minutes. They eat less and take up a lot less space. This is super-efficient.

With gardening, you can certainly choose smaller versions of plants, such as my dwarf cherry tree or globe basil, in order to be efficient. But, there are much better ways of maximizing yield with minimal space - both in theory and in practice.

In theory:

Today, I found an article about a Dutch design firm that conceived of a rooftop sustainable gardening model that they're calling "Polydome".  Basically, this is a self-sustaining ecosystem that can be built on rooftops in major metropolitan areas. Theoretically, at its peak, the Polydome can produce 15 pounds of food per square foot - and that includes fruit, vegetables, eggs, and fish. A single Polydome is designed to last 30 years and has small-farm commercial viability with high-yield items such as herbs and mushrooms.

The Polydom (I want to live here)

In practice:

Something akin to the Polydome is being practiced in downtown Milwaukee right now. I've written about Growing Power before but the place always deserves another mention.

The Growing Power Urban Farm is self-sustainable, uses everything it produces (fish poo becomes fertilizer, for example), and produces a big yield in a small space. From their website: 
In a space no larger than a small supermarket live some 20,000 plants and vegetables, thousands of fish, and a livestock inventory of chickens, goats, ducks, rabbits, and bees. 
I toured this facility and, let me tell you, the worm composter alone is worth the trip. Or maybe the fish tanks with the recycled water that's used to feed the plants that are planted above it. It's just a marvel all the way around.

Will Allen - founder of Growing Power - on the farm

When it's all said and done, I'm just glad that someone is thinking about (and doing) this kind of gardening today. I'd like to believe that the small farm will rise again and that we'll all start respecting and improving upon the agricultural cycle in a way we haven't for decades. And, frankly, I'd really rather eat locally produced, considerate food than, say, a tomato that was grown in a hot house, picked before ripe, and shipped half-way across the continent so I can have a slice on my sandwich. That well-traveled tomato just ain't worth it.

- Alex

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