Anna Lebedeva writing on growing your own food…

Growing your own food once meant living in the country, owning acres of land, and plowing fields.

Today, you can turn your driveway, backyard, or rooftop into an urban farm and enjoy home produce as part of your city life.

Vegetable patches, beehives, chicken coops, and mini-barns for goats in a city setting are far less surprising now that the urban farming movement has gained popularity across the country.

Craig LeHoullier grows 2,000 pounds of fresh produce in his driveway in Raleigh, North Carolina every year.

“The joy of being active outdoors…hearing birds singing, thunderstorms coming, breathing fresh air, and working up a sweat…all that gives me a sense of wellbeing and is beneficial to the soul,” says Craig.

“Equally important is that we like healthy food and want to avoid chemicals. When you grow your own food, you decide what you do or don’t spray. I garden for my family so that we eat well.”

When he retired from the corporate world in 2010 – having worked for the pharmaceutical industry for 25 years – Craig embraced gardening full time.

“When I worked for a big company, it wasn’t a happy job because I was being told what to do by people I didn’t always respect…and some of the things they told me to do didn’t always make sense,” he says. “Now, I am my own boss. If I am not having a good day, it is my own fault.”

Craig grows huge amounts of tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants in a very small footprint of land which gets plenty of sunlight.

“Some people buy fancy LCD TVs, but I put my money into the gardening at the beginning of the year and it pays off beautifully. If you can preserve your food, it can be an activity that sustains you until the next spring.”

Craig and his wife had a vegetable garden in their backyard. After a while, the trees there grew too tall, casting a shade for most of the day.

“We didn’t want to take the trees down. Our driveway became the sunniest spot, so we decided to move all of our containers and straw bales there to grow our crops in, and we’ve had great success with that.”

Craig’s driveway isn’t very big, roughly 30 feet by 50 feet, but that doesn’t stop him from growing serious amounts of vegetables.

“If I owned acres, I would plant acres. I have made the best use of the space we have,” he says. “We have 200 to 250 plants growing in straw bales and containers. If we have a good year, we average 10 pounds per plant, so that is 2,000 to 2,500 pounds of produce.”

Craig and his family love the homegrown vegetables.

“We have such an insatiable hunger for tomatoes, eggplants, and peppers that a lot of them get eaten by us fresh. Neighbors and friends get some of the produce. I use some of it for seeds and the rest we freeze, can, or use to make salsa.”

Craig says that gardening is a privilege and not a job for him, although it keeps him busy all year round.

“With the weather, critters, and disease, there are no guarantees with gardening, and that’s what makes it fascinating and fun. Each day, there is something new to discover. I find that gardening naturally lifts the spirits.”

He wants everyone to grow food.

“There are a lot of people in North Carolina who have an acre of land, and it is a perfect lawn with nice shrubs and flowering plants. When I look at those properties I think, ‘What a potential for foodscaping,’…mixing ornamentals with edibles.

“Right now, a lot of people want to get back to nature, try to avoid the news, and learn positive things that will enhance their life. Growing fruit and vegetables gives you personal pride, something to eat, something to do, and something to talk about,” he says.

Craig’s advice to aspiring urban farmers is to start slow and small. “Don’t throw yourself into a lot of capital investment and physical work until you find out if you enjoy it and whether your techniques are going to work well for you.

“Have hope. Even if things don’t go the way you planned, you get to do it again next year, and it will be better because you’ve learnt something new.”

P.S. Discover how you can enjoy a more laidback, authentic, independent way of life in Truth & Plenty. Sign up below to have it delivered – free of charge – to your email inbox.

Image: ©iStock.com/ChiccoDodiFC

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