This Isn’t Our First Rodeo

The JAZ Farm homestead isn’t our first trip to the homesteading trough.  Coming from a family that was gardening before Urban Farming was even a term, and having roots in the world of Iowa cornfields  back when farms were still farms, not the mono-culture, CAFO, ethanol producing factories they are now, it was inevitable that this kind of life blossom.  One of my very best friends, who I hadn’t spoken with in a decade, mentioned when we got caught up, “you know this isn’t too much of a surprise, if I remember right your mother had something of an organic operation going in her backyard while we were growing up”.  I was surprised that he remembered that but yes its true.  Other than her teaching music lessons, one of my vivid memories of my mother was seeing her bent over in her garden.  Zina’s father was an Italian farmer in Sicily and he too has always had a garden in his backyard.  In fact, one of his first jobs in America was working for a grocer.

So with that background, and as I (Jon) learned more about Peak issues, the disastrous state of our food supply, and the deteriorating water conditions in Colorado because of climate change, we began the transformation to a more sustainable way of life.

When we bought our suburban home, it had the world’s ugliest front yard.  It was poorly cared for and pavement quality clay made up most of the available yard.  We didn’t want to add anything like traditional Kentucky Bluegrass seed (grass in an arid climate is the height of stupidity) so we delved into the world of Xeric landscaping.  The front yard was transformed into paths of flagstone, granite lined water efficient plant beds, Russian Sage, and a growing bed made of landscaping stones.  We hauled in thousands of pounds of stone, gravel, rocks, topsoil, and plants we had never used before…. we jumped in head first.

Here is the end result:

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This has been Zina’s playground for several years and she has become the resident expert on Xeric growing.

Now that the front yard required very little water, the next evolution was working to find a way to start growing food in an urban setting.  I experimented with outdoor hydroponics with less than stellar results, so I moved it indoors.  I built a grow room in a spare room in our basement.  Of course, when one looks for information about this type of production, the internet gives you every manner of how to grow marijuana!  I really do grow lettuce and tomatoes down there!  In a 9×12 room I was able to grow all of our greens year round.  I also grew tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, and cucumbers throughout the winter.   Here is a sample:

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There were 3 drawbacks:

1.  It is very limited quarters and the tomatoes, as you can see, get HUGE!

2.  If you get insects it can be very difficult to get rid of them.  We had a serious issue with Whiteflies.  While they stayed confined to the grow room they were an infuriating nuisance.

3.  As it requires supplemental lighting, it is NOT energy efficient.  I have 3000 watts of lights on timers.  The big Halide lamps use enormous amounts of electricity.

To get around the energy issue and in keeping with a desire to be more sustainable we contracted with Solar City to put solar panels on the house.  As we didn’t have room in the backyard for a greenhouse of sufficient size, this was a way to take the sun, turn it into electricity and use it to power the grow lamps.  To date we have had almost no electric bill.

In the late winter, the hydroponic system would get shut down and converted into a room to start seedlings for the urban farm.  After getting a taste of the produce just from a small hydroponic operation, I had a burning desire to have it on a grander scale.  We wanted to see just how much our yard could produce.

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Enter JAZ Urban Farm:

The back yard had no access to vehicles so everything needed to be brought in and built by hand.  30 yards of topsoil and all of the materials for the hoop covers were all brought in by wagon.  My pick-up got quite a workout … and so did I.

JAZ Urban Farm:

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This has been an amazing success.  The hoop covers add close to a month on each end of the grow season.  By starting the tomatoes and peppers, indoors the first week of March, they can be set out in the covered hoops, usually, the first week of May.  We have harvested hundreds of pounds of produce and by learning to freeze, can, and dehydrate much of what we produce lasts just about through the winter.  We have guessed that we grow all of our produce in the summer, and have most of our dinner ingredients available in the pantry.  We have canned, frozen, and dehydrated onions, tomatoes, beans, peppers, Kale, celery, eggplant, Zucchini, and cucumbers (pickles) and we grow all of the garlic and most of the herbs we need.  Not bad for a 70 X 25 foot plot.  We have 25 raised beds.  Even with the work out at the JAZ Farm homestead we currently have the grow room filled with plants once again and are waiting for the snow to stop for the season (it is May 1st and snowing).  Perhaps when Grandma comes out at the end of the month she’ll want to get her hands dirty and help plant (hint!)

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The JAZ Farm homestead evolved out of all of this.  Evidently we have the gardening and sustainability bug.  It is all wonderful therapy – Especially in a country that seems to think that food comes from a drive through or is wrapped in cellophane.

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6 comments on “This Isn’t Our First Rodeo

  1. Paul says:

    You have been a very busy beaver! You really need to come see me when you visit Michigan!

    • aghippie says:

      I am looking forward to it! What is it you are up to?

      Have you gone to the Ann Arbor farmers’s market yet? It’s great!!

      Jon

      Sent from my iPad

  2. Paul says:

    We’ve regularly gone to the Eastern Market and the one in Royal Oak. There are so many out here! One of the advantages of the severe economic downturn seems to be that everyone started figuring out how to produce their own food. Back yard chicken operation are very common! BTW, was that Aaron driving the tractor? He got a lot bigger since I saw him last. Are you living at the farm or is it PT thing for now? I just hadn’t realized the level of accomplishment you had realized regarding your vegetable patch operation.in the burbs and how it has become JAZ!
    Winter hung on here til about 2 days ago and now summer has arrived with temperatures being in the eighties. I still can’t believe how fast things get green out here. The soil is so dark too.

    Oh well, I need to get to work now. Say hi to the family from me, and keep this blog going!

    • aghippie says:

      Check out a documentary called Urban Roots. It is a movie about the urban farming movement in Detroit. The big bad business man they talk about toward the end, John Hantz who is creating Hantz Farms, is my old boss and one of the big reasons I came back to Colorado.

      Michigan has the privilege of being able simply to stick a seed in the ground and have it grow. Here? One needs to learn a few tricks.

      My chicken coop will be able to house over 100 birds. Doubt that I will though. Maybe a goat or too as well. The farm is PT. Still having to earn a living. Hopefully more full time someday soon.

      Yes that is Aaron. He turns 18 next week, graduates the end of the month and is headed to CSU’s mechanical eng. school in the fall. Time flies!

      Jon

      Ps: my mother was going to the one in Royal Oak when I was in elementary school. That place is about 4 or 5 miles from where I grew up. Used to be as bad as Detroit. From what I hear it is a new yuppie zone. I grew up just west of 12 mile and Woodward.

      Sent from my iPad

  3. Paul says:

    I know about the Detroit Urban farming efforts. I love the concept, but have learned that some of those sites are so polluted that they can’t use them. A friend has a patch that the lead is way too high to eat anything grown on it. Sad.
    Hey, I was looking at some of your recommended reading and documentaries and noticed a lot of them are fairly vegan. Did you go to the dark side of nutrition? You said you are building a chicken coop, so I would guess not. No offense, but I find that much of the Vegan propaganda to be fairly cultish. In the last few years I’ve looked at as much of the data as possible on the subject of keeping my body running within normal tolerances and have come to the conclusion that the human race is diverse enough in nutritional genetic expression to confound any definitive knowledge on what constitutes a specifically “human” diet. There are enough people who can’t remain healthy without meat protein to show that the argument that those who make the claim we should all be shooting for a meatless world are a few sandwiches short of a picnic. There is also all that pesky evidence showing sustainable agriculture isn’t possible without animal inputs. Have you become more Joel Salatin/WAPF, or did you lose your mind and go all T. Colin Campbell on me? :p

    • aghippie says:

      Yes on the lead contamination. A lot of them are bringing in new soil or they are doing something like planting sunflowers for a number of years to bring the contamination down. The irony is that it is such a rich growing area. Having it so close to the Detroit river makes it ideal for creating rich soils. Ironic though that our cities are all on water sources and have paved over some of the best land in the country. I am a “mostly-Terrian”. I am very much a Joel Salatin kind of guy (met him once). I believe that the healthiest way to eat is a mostly plant based diet with protein being supplemented with lean animal products. I am a combination of Joel Salatin and Colin Campbell. The problem we have is that we have turned what should be a side dish (meat) into the main course. Think your basic Texas Road House steak, mashed potatoes, and corn dinner with a side salad that has lettuce with no nutrient content. I am VERY against CAFO meat and all of the environmental issues associated with it. Our industrial Ag system is responsible for more than 30% of greenhouse emissions (UN stats). I do not however, eat much red meat or consume much dairy. Colin Campbell’s study on the protein Cassiene hasn’t been documented by him alone. Yogurt occassionally, but I haven’t had milk in years. BTW. Have you tried Olga’s yet? Its at that mall near you. MMMMMMMMM Gyros and Greek salads. Also, you can give yourself an early Coronary with all the Coney Islands around you!! I miss them both – so no I’m no Vegan! I just usually prefer “real” foods. Another guy, and I’m not sure whether or not I put this on the list: Do a search on You Tube for “Growing Power” Will Allen in Wisconsin has this GREAT operation in Wisconsin that he does in the city on three acres. Detroit needs one of these. He is also in the movie “Fresh”and also “Dirt – The Movie” I could be him no problem. I heard an interesting statement today: If you are Hummer owner but eat a mostly plant based diet your carbon footprint is LESS than someone who drives a Prius yet eats a typical western diet. The problem with all of our systems these days is travel distance to plate. Shorten it down to 15 yards instead of 1500 miles and there are a lot of solved problems. Animals like cows, being fed grain when they are grass eaters are the direct cause of ecoli contamination (spinach doesn’t get ecoli unless you spray cow shit on it!) Super bugs mutating because of the over – use of antibiotics in CAFOS will be the undoing of us all if it isn’t stopped. Spraying Roundup on all of our crops has created super-weeds and NONE of it has increased nutritional yield. Everything needs to be re-ruralized and re-localized. Most grain production goes to make Ethanol and feed animals. This, for me isn’t so much about meat or vegetables going into my face, its how it is produced and the systemic problems it is causing. I have rejected the system. My farmer relatives ate pig and chicken and vegetables all their lives and lived to be a ripe old age. Salt, Sugar, and Fat, that is thrown at us in massive quantities so that Phillip Morris can add to the bottom line, so that Monsanto can sell more chemicals, and ALL of them benefiting the oil industry, is the night mare that sparked all of this. Globalization is Capitalism with a terminal tumor. It will be brought down and so will the whole world of Suburbia (The one book for you I would recommend the most from the list is James Howard Kunstler’s “The Long Emergency” or Richard Heinberg’s book, The End of Growth) One of my favorite quotes from Kunstler: “Suburbia has been the greatest mis-allocation of resources in the history of the world!” Re-ruralization and decentralization is going to happen through civil or violent means, but it will happen. I read MIT’s study, “The Limits To Growth” and they re-iterated it here in the last year, that by 2030 due to population increases and essentially Peak everything, that weare right on track to landourselves in an irreversible depression. People in cities and suburbs, when our deisel intensive food system only has a 2 day supply, are going to wonder where all the Ding Dongs and Ho Ho’s and Frozen pizzas went. I have issues here with water, but I am also working to alleviate some of that with water catchment systems. We are a population of frogs in slowly warming water. I decided to say fuck the pan of water and get out as much as I can. At some point, vegetarian vs animal won’t matter. It will be “food” and how do we get it. If anything I am an awakened Homesteader. I’m no member of the “Michigan Militia” or some sort of doomsday Prepper, but I have the ability now to live true to my beliefs and here I am. The motion sensing claymores for the perimeter are due in next week! (haha) I am not a cult Vegan/Vegetarian. There is ample evidence that our diet and food processing is poison both to the environment and to humans. As a result, I grow a vast amount of my own food and will be growing most of my own animal protein through fish and chickens. And I will be doing the processing with my own hands. My bibliography lists the majority of what I have “studied” over the years. It doesn’t mean I agree with it all. It is, however, more than most people will ever investigate. If CAFO facilities (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations) had glass walls, people would eat significantly less meat. 1 million chickens are killed everyday in filthy, unhealthy conditions. When is the last time any of the 300+ million Americans saw even one animal slaughtered? Watch the movie Fast Food Nation….. eye-opener. My basic opinion about food boils down to Michael Pollans credo: “Eat Food, Not too much, Mostly Plants”. Pretty simple. Also, if it comes in a box and has more than about 5 ingredients (and if you can’t pronounce them) it likely isn’t food and shouldn’t be eaten.Also, if your grandmother wouldn’t recognize it as food, it is probably a good idea to avoid it. There is a direct correlation with the beginnings of the obesity and diabetes crisis and the explosion of processed foods(right around 1980). Growing on a farm solves most of these problems. Funny thing today. I decided that in order to start getting the soil out here up to snuff that I would grow some beans, corn and sunflowers and then be able to turn them under at the end of the season. It was a stark realization of how big this has become vs. JAZ Urban farm. In Westminster I bought seed by the typical packet. Yesterday I ordered seed in POUNDS. Yikes! Also, the plant based, lean meat, non-CAFO issues don’t even begin to address the whole crime of Genetic Modification or how we have commoditized everything and have created disposable people in the process. “The Jungle” is back with a vengence.We are so totally fucked. So glad to hear from you!! Jon

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