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DIG! Inner-City Gardening and the Future of Food Sustainability

At Original Fuzz we strive to make everything we do more sustainable. Whether it's a repurposed strap or a greener shipping box, we try to be as environmentally friendly as possible. This month our contributor Robyn Robichaud walks us through the positive effects of inner-city gardening, how to build a great working garden no matter where you live, and what you can do to in your local community to make a difference. Life's a garden, dudes!


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I’m a plant, human, and planet-lover, but I’m also a realist. Nashville is such a beautiful, diverse city, full of some of the most wonderful and creative people I’ve ever met, and I’ve come to love it. What’s happening here is happening everywhere. A massive amount of people are moving back to cities, and with that comes a whole slew of problems like overcrowding, traffic, and food shortage. I want to be real with you, I believe that the cultivation of inner-city gardens here in Nashville, and in every city, is one the essential building blocks that could help put us on the path to a truly thriving place to live instead of one forever struggling, and at its worst, teetering on the brink of collapse.

That might sound intense, scary, or pessimistic to some. I can see where we’re heading as a species if we don’t switch up what we’re doing and how we’re living. It’s not an ideal picture, unless we start making a communal effort to become more self-sustaining. We are all extremely reliant on the system. It provides us housing, healthcare, all the essentials, especially food, yet it seems increasingly more difficult to access these necessities, especially for the less fortunate among us.

Healthy food accessibility and clean water is one of the biggest issues we face right now worldwide, and it is an essential part of a high-functioning lifestyle. Food scarcity doesn’t seem like an issue to anyone with money to spare. You can go to a grocery store every few miles, or so, and get basically anything you need to nourish yourself. Yet, so many barely have enough money to survive, so the food they can afford is cheap and extremely nutrient deficient, and is killing them slowly.

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In Nashville, the struggle for survival is visible in every neighborhood if you look close enough. Even those with money find themselves eating toxic foods since there has been a severe detachment from food sources with the development of industry, plus a huge lack of education when it comes to nutrition. On top of that, most of the food offered at stores contain unhealthy additives and is heavily coated with pesticides or grown using unnatural GMO methods that could have dire consequences we haven’t had the time to experience yet. We’re going against the natural system, and our planet is being pushed to its limits.

Time to Start a Garden

Just imagine the possibilities if we started gardens in every community and actually had a significant connection to the food we eat and an awareness of what we’re putting into our bodies. We have the power to do something about it, especially when we work together. The more we localize, the less we rely on these unsustainable practices and the more self reliant we become. We can completely transform the way we live, and the way we eat with a bit of effort. It doesn’t have to be scary or hard, and it will have a plethora of benefits.

You can make a garden work in any environment if you have the patience and drive. If you do have soil soft enough to dig into, take advantage of it, plant all the plants you can get your hands on! Instead of a boring grass yard, you could have a thriving community food source! In my last place, I tried to dig into the ground with a shovel and it took my roommate and I about 15 minutes just to make a foot-by-foot hole, so we had to resort to raised beds. It’s more expensive than just planting in the ground, for obvious reasons, but you can usually get materials for pretty cheap at your local hardware store. My mom’s a genius when it comes to DIY-stuff, so I have her to thank for the relatively cheap, but efficient beds we raised.

gardening-method

Here’s my method.

I went to Lowe’s for my materials. You can buy fence posts for around $2. You’ll want untreated wood (which is cheaper) because any toxic chemicals will seep into your soil and into your freshly grown food! You can start small with just four, or if you want to go bigger, get six, or even eight; but you’ll need a lot more dirt.

Then, I bought a few packs of corner brackets and screws for just a few more dollars. I bought two brackets per corner, so eight all together. They usually come in two packs! If you’re going for a big rectangle, then you’ll also need straight brackets for the long sides.

Then, you’ll need a power-drill. I borrowed one from my neighbor, which is a great opportunity to meet your neighbor and let them know you’re down to trade your future fresh veggies for whatever! You then drill the corners and sides together to make a giant square or rectangle shape depending on how many fence posts you bought. Next, all you’ll need is the dirt to fill it.

First, put down a layer of newspaper (try to avoid colored ink, it’s more toxic) or the brown paper bags you’ve been saving from your local grocery store, for whatever reason, and drizzle with water to weigh it all down. This layer serves as a barrier between the plants you’re covering up and your new bed. It will help curb their growth for a little while, but you’ll definitely still have to weed frequently when the grass and other plants start popping up. For a 2x1 fencepost rectangle bed, I bought four topsoil bags, four compost bags, and four humus bags at about $1-$2 each. I poured them all in and mixed it around with my feet and hands because I, personally, love the dirt. It wasn’t enough for mine, so I had to go back and get 1 more bag of each blend, but then I was ready to plant!

My roommate and I got a little ambitious with plants because we were just so excited about gardening for the first time, and also Bates Nursery had an amazing selection. We bought multiple kinds of peppers and onions, kale, swiss chard, cauliflower, chives, onions, and about ten different types of herbs, so they definitely didn’t all fit in the one bed. We needed an additional 1x1 fence post bed to fit the rest, besides the herbs, which we kept in pots, but we made it work!

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We chose to buy plants over seeds just because it was our first attempt, but next year I’m definitely going to try out seeding myself. It's much cheaper, but a little risky for beginners since you need to pay more attention to the temperature, timing, and care. Just make sure you also pay attention to the instructed spacing between plants because some of your plants will get HUGE, and the more room they get, the happier they will be.

Make sure you water your beds daily. Raised beds retain much less water than the natural ground, so it evaporates very quickly under the hot sun.

You can also fertilize every few weeks. I don’t recommend Miracle Gro products because they contain synthetic chemicals and I’m an all natural kinda gal. There are plenty of natural organic fertilizers you can find. Be wary of the ingredients if you’re vegan, I somehow missed that the fertilizer I bought had fishbones in it.

Better yet, compost! You can try it yourself. If you’re in Nashville, High Garden offers starters to guarantee compost with a healthy pH and Compost Nashville offers bins. They’ll pick up for your composting waste and drop off compost ready to use! Plants are definitely alive and aware, and the better you treat them the more they will bloom and produce happy fruits, veggies, and herbs for you.

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If you don’t have a lot of space, or if you live in an apartment, or your obnoxious landlord throws a fit at any slight personal adjustment to the property, then there’s always the potted method. You’re more limited, but you can still grow a variety of plants in pots that are big enough. Plastic is one of the least earth-friendly materials, but if you’re on a budget, it’s your cheapest option for pots and it’s better than nothing! I was able to get some for free from the nursery since they were used and they didn’t need them anymore, just ask!

There’s also a method I’ve heard about, but haven’t tried yet, of using recycled tires as planters which is even cheaper and it’s reusing an item that could have been taking up space in a landfill!

No matter what, there’s a cheap way to plant in any environment if you take the time and effort to do so. I’m very optimistic about the future we could grow together. If we all had gardens and a big enough heart to share then we could eradicate hunger in our lovely cities and possibly everywhere. If we educate everyone, especially the youth, about the importance of eating fruits and veggies we could possibly even eliminate cancer and other diseases. We could start our own community bartering system where we could trade goods and services, because we are all talented at something.

We’re already off to a great start with local shops offering so many herbs and herbal remedies, groceries offering organic and local produce, and my personal favorite shopping stop, the Farmer’s Market, where you can literally buy fruits, veggies, juices, flowers, herbs, tempeh, healthy meats, and more from your neighbors! It starts here, and it starts with getting back to our roots, literally. Now go plant some plants!

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Check out backyardboss.net for more information and resources on building your own compost pile!


Robyn Robichaud is a creative soul residing in East Nashville. She is passionate about the planet, people, and co-creating a thriving sustainable future full of life and art. She is a frequent contributor to the Original Fuzz Magazine. 


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