Flying the Coop 

Feature: Araucana Hens in Mill Creek. Eight-foot tomato plants in Rose Park. How Plucky Can Urban Farmers Get?

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The view of the Wasatch mountains from Jonathan Krausert’s small Rose Park back yard is obscured by breathtaking growth. Not untamed, wild or weedy, but purposeful and productive—cultivated with love for the past 21 years. It’s a garden with seven varieties of fruit trees, grapevines, strawberries, rhubarbs, potatoes, peppers, onions, corn, beans, beets, carrots, squash, tomatoes and almost every other kind of vegetable you can grow, as well as seven chickens, a beehive and herbs growing in the park strip. It’s a garden without compromise; every inch of land on Krausert’s verdant eighth-acre bears edible produce. The docile bees from the hive float around the garden as if a part of the summer air and, once in a while, the chickens leave their coop to till and fertilize the soil. Soon Krausert hopes to start crops growing in containers on the roof.

“When I first got here, this yard was just grass, a few Pyracanthas, lilac bushes and one poor apple tree in the back yard that I took down a couple of years ago that never produced anything,” Krausert says. Most people would have left that yard alone, the typical American yard in the typical American neighborhood. The lilac bushes undoubtedly looked pretty swell set against a well-manicured and plush-green lawn.

But now, that sort of yard seems like a wasteland—a remnant of the days of DDT-dusting and bomb shelters. Mini-farms like Krausert’s scattered around the Salt Lake Valley are, according to present-day futurists dealing in words like “organic,” “local” and “sustainability,” a glimpse of the post-industrial urban landscape. When gas and food prices become intolerably high, our hopes apparently lie in getting food locally grown—ideally from organic and sustainable producers, community gardens or, even better, from our own back yards.

{::INSERTAD::}This is what old-time industrial cities like Detroit are experiencing. Dramatic urban collapse has sent the population steadily into the suburbs, and the resulting decayed buildings and empty lots are becoming open gardening spaces thanks to heavy-hitting and volunteer-based organizations like The Greening of Detroit (GreeningOfDetroit.com) and Earth Works Garden (Earth-Works.org), which work to promote urban farming plots, the sale of local produce and urban reforestation.

It seems odd to ask Salt Lake City to skip over the development-focused “bustling metropolis” stage to a post-industrial urban return to the land, but cultural and consumer tastes are shifting in that direction. The marketability of locally grown, organic produce and the “you are what you eat” phenomena dissected in recent bestsellers like Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle and Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma signal the turning. But are people ready to pay the increased price for food that urban artisan producers would need to ask? Or are people actually going to get their hands dirty and spend time uprooting their roses and making crop beds, even in high temperatures and with high initial costs? It seems like a pipe dream, but it’s one that’s becoming a reality. Slowly. >>
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Chris Adamson

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