Mulching, community, and community gardening

The Urban Homestead, a book I’ve previously mentioned on this blog, is the book that I give credit for really getting me started in urban gardening. I’m reluctant to call it “urban farming” just yet, as I’m not growing all that much food, certainly not enough to live off of. But it’s been one of the most rewarding undertakings that I’ve ever done. One thing I like about The Urban Homestead is that rather than saying, “Oh, you should do this, as it’s the cool lefty thing to do,” or ruminating about the demise of the ruling capitalist forces (the very sort of thing that I cannot stand) , it approaches urban farming in a way that says, “Hey, this is really cool! Check this out!” Some of the details are a little light, but in this age of The Internets and The Google, dozens of sources of questionable merit are a few clicks away.

But I digress.

Between a strip of land that our landlady tilled and a community garden plot, so far I have harvested about five pounds of lettuces, and equal amounts of radishes and turnips. Tomorrow my daughter and I will go to the community garden to harvest snow peas and purple beans. I know there’s at least one turnip lurking in the bed there. And all of this stuff is just light years beyond anything I’ve bought at any grocery store. Plus, when I bring something in from the garden, there’s no plastic wrap to deal with, and no styrofoam to dispose of. Just a little dirt, and some plant scraps that can go back outside to become compost — future dirt.

I think mulching — a tip gleaned from The Urban Homestead — really made the difference for the gardens this year. Two bags of cedar mulch helped the vegetables in our plot grew wildly, and we had little to no trouble with bugs or weeds. During the brief dry weeks, our garden was still slightly moist even when the other un-mulch-covered plots were cracking and dry. I’m going to take advantage of a friend’s front yard garden to plant some more beans, radishes, and lettuces.

While I love noshing on pickings straight from the garden, I’ve found a whole community of people in Milwaukee and the Milwaukee area who are really into this stuff. As an roving evangelist (shareware and Linux were two of my past causes), I know I can take this one far as food prices rise and people become more interested in where their food comes from. Plus, the garden has made so much food that I’ve had to give away much of the lettuce, radishes, and turnips. My friends and neighbors have all received super-high quality and truly organic food, for free. There’s selling for profit, and then there’s building community. For now, I’m a lot more interested in building community through gardening than in making money from it. Some things are important. And in Milwaukee, we need strong communities just as much as we need well-paying jobs. But if you can’t eat, you can’t work. Which comes first, then? Truly a chicken-egg situation, albeit one I’ve never before considered.


Author: Jason Haas

Jason is an elected member of the Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors, occasionally moonlights as an amateur gardener, and is a proud father of two, or three, depending on how you do the math.

One thought on “Mulching, community, and community gardening”

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