Grit Blogs > Growing Possibilities

A Country State of Mind

By Paul Gardener


Tags: farm, Salt Lake City Utah, gardening, small-scale farming,

I’d love to own a farm.

There are very few days that I get up and go off to work as a computer programmer that I don’t wish I was just throwing on my overalls and heading off to a day working the earth, feeling it between my hands, smelling it. I’d rather be tending animals, building relationships with them as I master the role of steward and gain understanding of how lives are intertwined. But for now, I head off to an office and code away my day. It’s a normal life; one not unlike most people around us. I make a good living and we have a nice home in the suburbs a little ways north of Salt Lake City Utah. All around us are more average homes with green lawns, a few flowers and maybe a dog or cat, and you know what? There’s nothing wrong with that; the suburbs have been given a bit of a bad wrap I think. Yeah, they have some shortcomings, close proximity, nosey neighbors and the dreaded Home Owners Association, but over all they’ve been exactly what we wanted them to be, safe, clean, stable neighborhoods with decent proximity to everything we need at this point in our lives. So it warrants the question, what can a person that wants to work more closely with the earth and its creatures do while their stuck in Suburbia? The answer: Quite a bit actually.

Paul's suburbian garden

Is it a farm? No. But truth be told, if I did have a farm tomorrow, I wouldn’t know everything that I would need to do to maintain it anyway. I’m a city kid, or more to the point, a beach bum. Yes I know I said I live in Utah, and yes the Salt Lake does have what some consider beaches, but I grew up on the beaches of Southern California about as far away from farm life as one could imagine, so really I’ll always be a bit of beach bum truth be told. The point is that as much as I’ve always felt a calling to grow things and to have my hands in the earth, and I have felt it, I’ve never had an opportunity to learn how to do it. So when, a couple of years ago, my families circumstances led us down a path that brought us to a closer relationship with our food and our surroundings, I began truly yearn for that idyllic little piece of acreage with the barn and the fields where we could begin to provide more for ourselves. Unfortunately, we were not yet in a position to try and do something like that, nor could I see it on the horizon. I began to feel like I may never be able to have my dream place as I imagined it and honestly become quite depressed about it. Then I had the awakening. “You fool,” I thought, “You’re complaining about not having the land you want, that you wouldn’t even know how to work anyway, while you’re squandering the land that you do have…why not use it to its maximum potential and learn a few things along the way?” And so began a process of transforming our lives.

We had a little bit of a garden, a very little bit, and we decided to start improving and expanding it. We’d us it to use it to learn how plants, earth and insects related to each other and how we could grow things organically and efficiently. We wanted to keep chickens too, but they were currently illegal in our zoning, so along with some support from other neighbors and some lobbing of the city planning commission and council, we got the laws changed and now have a healthy flock that provides us with daily eggs as well as organic soil amendments.

Chickens in the garden

This year we managed to get over 500 lbs of food from our yard growing in a little less than 400 sq feet of garden as well as some 450 or so eggs. We’ve added another couple of hundred square feet again this year and expect to expand it again in the spring by about another 2-300 sq feet as we move into our front yard a bit. We’re also learning how to preserve and keep all of this bounty and to cook healthy and simple foods. Oh we still have a frozen pizza from time to time, and you will indeed find “sugar cereal” in our pantry, but we’re learning a lot more of the old ways of doing things and how to make things from scratch and loving doing it. It’s made our family a little more secure, and brought us a little closer to each other I think. We’ve seen what’s possible and now we want to show it to others.

I’ll be focusing on a lot of the small scale side of things that really separates me from some of my fellow writers here at Grit. I’d love to be in the country one day, but for now I think that the country life style is really more of a mind set than a location. I’ve decide that I’ll focus on what’s possible for me where I’m at, learn a few things along the way, and see where I end up. Maybe I can help you see what’s possible where you’re at too. Either way, I think it’ll be a great time!

P~

You can reach Paul Gardener by email, or check his personal blog at A posse ad esse.

becky and andy
12/15/2008 5:20:41 PM

Welcome, Paul! We're glad to have you. Remember, he who is faithful with the small things can be trusted with the big things. If you ever do make your way to the farm of your dreams, you will be well equipped to make a very successful go of it. And even "farmers" like Andy and I have very much to learn from people like you. So, please, don't hold back! Becky


paul gardener
11/25/2008 2:09:45 AM

Cindy~ Thanks for the warm welcome, I'm really glad to get to write for Grit. I wish we could afford in this market to buy a couple of acres but I don't see it happening. In our city, we're surrounded on our outskirts with fields but everything where we're at is 1/4 or less acre per home. There is a lot we can do though, so that's where I'm keeping my attention. I bet your yard is a wonderful place to relax, it sounds beautiful! I look forward to hearing more from you and the other Grit readers! P~


cindy murphy
11/22/2008 10:16:42 AM

Hello, Paul. Welcome to the Grit Community from non-farmer to another. I'm not a suburbanite - there is no such thing as suburbia around here. I am a "city" dweller - "city" being a very relative term; we are a small town on Lake Michigan, surrounded by rural countryside. The boundries are blurry, but when people ask, "Where do you live?" "In town", I say. People here proudly call ourselves "locals", as do the tourists who visit from the "real" cities, Chicago and Detroit - and their suburbs. They are drawn here to our quaint little towns, and Lake Michigan's beaches. Real beaches! Southern California beach bums probably couldn't imagine a place like Michigan can have real beaches, huh? I grew up in a small town, and after spending years of my adulthood in cities like DC, Philadelphia, and Cincinnati, I am thrilled to be back in a small town. We are lucky to have nearly an acre - it's a rariety to have a lot this big in town. Like you, I have looked at what was once a vast expanse of green lawn, and thought of altnerative ways it could used. While we vegetable garden, it is nothing to the extent of what you've done on on your suburbia lot. Rather, I've taken my expanse of lawn, and have slowly been turning it into what I have a great deal of respect for - a place closer to nature; a more natural setting that is devoid of chemicals and lawn pesticides; a place that welcomes our city-dwelling wildlife. I look forward to reading where you end up in your country state of mind.