Jennifer: Greg Peterson is the founder of the Urban Farm and Urban Farm U and is a green living and sustainability innovator, who is well known regionally as a resident of Phoenix for the last 48 years. Greg is well versed in urban sustainability and food production in dry lands. This is really wonderful, guys, because you’re going to get to ask him questions about gardening in the desert or dry areas, because I know I get a lot of questions about that. He is an expert in that area. I can’t wait to ask him some of those questions.
He was first introduced to desert gardening at the age of 12, in 1991. He discovered the concept of permaculture, bringing together many sustainability concepts into one cohesive system. Yes, also going to talk to him about permaculture. In 2001, Greg created a new concept called the urban farm, which is at UrbanFarm.org. A real world environmental showcase home in the heart of Phoenix, Arizona. He applied all of his extensive background to transform this 1950s built track home into an innovative holistic home site. The urban farm, featuring an entirely edible landscape, get this, including over 70 fruit trees, rain water, a greywater harvesting, three solar applications, and extensive use of reclaimed and recycled building materials. The site is opened periodically throughout the year to the public and offers classes, lectures, and tours. If you’re in that area, this is something you might be interested in. Greg is the host of the Urban Farm podcast and that was launched in 2015. Welcome, Greg.
Greg: Thank you for having me. I’m very excited to be here.
Jennifer: I read your bio and I’m just so intrigued by all of those things that I mentioned there. Can we just hear from you about what your mission is and a little bit about yourself and how you got to where you are?
Greg: Absolutely. How many hours we got? When I was 15, I started gardening. That was 1975. That same year, I had to write a paper for a biology class and I actually wrote it on lined paper and pencil. The paper I wrote was on how we were over-fishing the oceans. To this day, I don’t know where that came from. I just knew that there was something really wrong with how we’re living on the planet and how we’re eating on the planet. That has really stuck with me for most of my life. I’m 55 now. Along the way I discovered permaculture. I read a book called Ishmael by Daniel Quinn and Ishmael talks about, it’s a conversation between a gorilla and a man and the gorilla is the teacher. It’s a work of fiction. It really frames out how we came to be where we’re at, over the past 10,000 years, and how we’ve become really consumers of the planet rather than contributors on the planet. That’s where permaculture really plugs in for me. I like to call permaculture the art and science of working with nature. How do we plug in and work in the flow of nature rather than against nature?
Over the years I have started the Urban Farm. The Urban Farm is the house where I live. I’ve been here 27 years. I started calling it that in 2001 and it was out of a project that I had to do when I was … I went back to college and I got a Bachelor’s and a Master’s, so I had to write a, what’s my mission in life? What am I going to do here? I realized I was already doing it, here in this space, at the Urban Farm. I like to call the Urban Farm an environmental showcase home. I just invite people here to see all the cool things we’re doing.
I have over 80 fruit trees on the property now, so I need to update my bio. Thank you for that. We have three different kinds of solar panels on the roof. I do rainwater and greywater harvesting. The landscape is primarily edible, or it supports edibles. Really, over the past three years, this has become a thing.
Jennifer: Wow. It’s awesome. I’m just so envious of those fruit trees. Oh my goodness. That’s just such a blessing. Since you are totally invested in this and this is your life, can you explain to me, for somebody who is maybe new to these concepts, about growing your own food. What’s the benefit of that versus just going to the grocery store or trying to be good, “Oh, I buy organic.” What is the motivation that you have that growing your own food is the way to go?
Greg: There’s a couple of answers to this. It really depends who you are, what your answer is. I’ll just review some of the possible answers, here. One is, I want to know what’s in my food. We have an industrial food system on the planet that pretty much puts out bad food. I was going to use a different expletive, but it puts out bad food. There is not enough nutrients in it, it’s full of chemicals. If you want to know what’s in your food, the best way to do that is to grow it yourself. That’s the number one thing I get. I’m not even going to number these in order of what people think, because another thing is we have a three-day supply of food in pretty much every major metropolitan area in this country. That comes from, really the beauty of our, what they call adjusting time food system.
In this country, we figured out how to feed 330 million people, pretty much three times a day, and get food to them so it’s fresh and just in time. Our grocery stores can only hold so much. They did a study a few years back and they found that we have a three-day supply in any urban area. From a being prepared point of view, that is a problem. I want to reflect back. In the past decade, I’ve spent two and a half weeks in Italy and two weeks in Croatia, about 10 years apart. I was in Croatia two years ago and in 2005 I was in Italy. These were both extended trips. One of the things that I noticed on both of the trips was that everybody’s got a garden. Everybody is growing their own food over there. We don’t really do that in this country.
The other thing is, in Europe, it doesn’t feed everybody everything they need, but just imagine, in this country, in the United States, if everybody on your street had a garden and there was a power outage. In September of 2011, there was a three-day power outage in San Diego County. I have friends that live there and students that were there then, when that happened. I’m not talking end of the world stuff here, I’m talking, guess what, there’s a power outage for three days. Everything in your refrigerator is gone, everything in your freezer is gone, unless you have a backup supply of power, so if you have a garden and there’s a power outage, guess what?
Jennifer: You have food.
Greg: You have food. We can eat something. Whether you love kale or not, right now I have 20 pounds of kale in my garden and that could sustain me for a few days, although it might be pretty, “Okay, enough with kale,” but it’s here and it’s growing. I live in the sixth biggest city in the country, the Phoenix metropolitan area. We have 4.4 million people here. I’m pretty much the only person on my block of 26 homes that has a garden. I’m working on it. The lady across the street just planted one. Some people are doing a little bit of this. Really my point is to get people inspired and excited about growing their own food in their yard. It could be as simple as growing herbs.
This is what I tell people about gardening: Herbs are the most expensive thing that you can buy. They’re $50 or $60 a pound. Obviously you’re not going to use that much of them, but you pay 4 bucks for this much basil. Stuff grows wild in my yard. It’s practically a week here at the Urban Farm.
Jennifer: Yeah, it’s crazy. The price difference is … It almost doesn’t make sense not to grow some of the stuff yourself.
Greg: Right, exactly.
Jennifer: Tell us a little bit about your property, the setup on your property. Please tell us more about the fruit trees. I just love that. You’re also using solar energy and you’re harvesting rain water. You’re doing above and beyond just the normal sort of garden. You’ve got a whole ecosystem going on.
Greg: Yeah. In nature, nature works a particular way. Nature works like this. It’s called regenerative. Everything in nature regenerates itself. Humans work a particular way. When they design systems, it’s a linear system. It looks like this, I’ll do it this way. Beginning, middle, end. I’ve been looking for 30 years at this. Every single human system that I have found is designed this way. What I love about permaculture is that permaculture looks to see how nature works, which is this way, and then mimics that. In permaculture, we look to see how we can step into the flow of nature rather than against nature.
My friend Toby Heminway says, “Nature always bats last.” Nature is always going to win, so we best figure out how we can plug in and flow with it. I use this metaphor, and I’ll get back to the specifics of your question. I’m not pulling a politician here. I’m going to get to your with specifics. I love this metaphor: How many people out there, raise your hand, please, I’m watching, not really. Raise you hand. How many people have gone tubing or river rafting? We don’t start at the bottom and river raft up the river, do we? No, we start at the top and we float with the flow down the river. I say nature does a down the river thing.
We, as human beings, we think we know how to do it better than nature. We like to start at the bottom and try and go upstream and it doesn’t work. It does not work. What I have done here, I did my first permaculture design course in 1991 and what I have done here at the Urban Farm is I have looked at permaculture and I’ve looked at the natural flows and I’ve started putting natural systems in place here on the property so we can start getting this going, rather than this. It’s a human construct and I don’t know that we can completely get this going, but I’m letting nature do as much of the work as possible.
Stuff like this: I have chickens. We have chickens out here in the backyard, at the Urban Farm. I’m a big believer that if you have a yard out there, you should have chickens. At least three. Chickens are workers for your backyard. My chickens roam my backyard, they eat bugs, they eat weeds, they mow my grass, they fertilize for me, and they give me eggs everyday. In permaculture, we call this stacking functions. We have one asset, in this case a chicken, doing multiple things for us in our space. They’re helping me clean up, I don’t mow the grass in the summertime here because the chickens handle it, which is awesome. What I’ve done here over the past 27 years at the Urban Farm, is I’ve looked to see how we can put these regenerative or circular systems in place so that they’re doing the work and I don’t have to.
Jennifer: Right, so it’s a cycle rather than a linear sort of time frame. For those of you that are listening on the podcast, that’s what we’re talking about. We’re making circles with our fingers and then making a line. It’s also a Western Culture sort of thing, a linear time frame. I know there are other cultures who think in a cyclical sort of cycle thing.
Jennifer: I think that our Western Culture needs a little bit more of that. There are some things that are wrong, or can’t really fit into that mold, not that that’s a wrong way of thinking, it’s just not applicable to every single thing under the sun.
Greg: Here’s the problem with the linear way of thinking that we human beings have installed in our culture over the past 10,000 years. That’s that every linear system ends. Every one does. They ultimately end and go away, so that’s a problem. For us being here, that’s a problem. For the planet, it’s not a problem, but for us being here, that’s a problem.
Jennifer: Exactly. You have all this stuff, the solar energy and the rainwater. How long did that take you to set those things up? I know those systems are not an overnight sort of just install it and next day it all works perfectly.
Greg: Right, no, no, no. Well, I’ve been here 27 years. I’ve been studying permaculture for 25 of those 27 years, although before I started studying permaculture, I was doing permaculture, I just didn’t know that’s what it was called. Over time, if I were to get a space like this again … the Urban Farm. Let me tell you about the Urban Farm. It’s 80 feet wide and 160 feet deep. It’s a third of an acre. If you stood up on my roof and looked out 50 miles in all direction, you’d see city. I am literally in the middle of the sixth largest city in the country. What I’m doing here is I’m modeling different things, like rainwater and greywater and solar. I’m modeling these kinds of things so that people can come in and see ow to do this best for themselves.
Jennifer: I love what you were saying about setting things up and then your neighbors, trying to get them on board, and sort of just modeling this whole thing for everybody. I love that. Hello, Meredith. I am so glad that you could join us. Hello, Amanda. You guys, I am monitoring the comments here, that is why I’m looking down. I’m looking down, I’m looking at you guys, so please ask questions if you have them for Greg so that I can ask him. I know he would love to hear from you guys and answer questions.
Greg: I have a question. Janice, my podcast producer, just pinged me on Skype and said that it’s hard to see me because of the light back here. Should I move to a different space?
Jennifer: If you want to. We can see you. It’s bright behind you, but we can see the beautiful trees. Up to you.
Greg: Let’s do that. We’ll put the apple sign in the background now.
Jennifer: Okay, all right. That will work. Talk a little bit about the importance of eating in season. I just did an entire show about this but I just would like your input on why we should eat in season and why it’s better to do that for the environment, for us, for everybody involved.
Greg: For us, yeah. That’s the big thing. Here’s what I teach people all the time. I’ve actually asked multiple doctors, MDs and nutritionists about this. I say this and it’s a pretty powerful statement, what I’m going to say next. That is that 100% of the disease in our culture comes from three things. Those three things, we get to control. We have control over all three of those. We just have to know them. Like I said, I’ve asked Md before and there’s agreement here. The three things are lack of nutrition in our food, environmental toxins, and stress.
When we’re growing things, this goes to your in-season question. When we’re growing things and growing it when it’s supposed to be growing … Right now in Phoenix it’s cooling off and if I wanted to plant watermelons right now or squash, that’s a problem. They’re going to struggle through and if they do make it, the fruits and vegetables are going to be not great and they’re not going to be very nutrient dense and so on and so on. If we fast forward to March and I plant in March, those plants are going to thrive in March, April, May, June, July, August, September. They’re going to make more nutrient-dense, happier food for us to eat. When we’re eating in season, we’re getting more nutrient-dense food, which is better for us. When we’re putting good things in to our body, it does our body good. That’s the importance of eating in season and the importance of eating things fresh.
I recently did a segment on one of the local TV stations. They asked me to go to the grocery store and purchase some fruit that wasn’t in season, so that I could contrast and compare what’s in season right now and what’s not in season. We’re about 20 or 30 days off of citrus season here and they have citrus at the local grocery store. I bought oranges, limes, and lemons. None of them are in season here right now. The oranges came from Australia, that’s 7 or 8,000 miles. The limes came from Chile and the lemons came from Mexico. Okay, Mexico’s not so bad from Arizona.
What happens in these situations is when you’re note eating in season and you’re buying an orange that’s from Australia, in this case, they have to pick that orange early, before it’s ripe. What you may not know is when you pick something that’s not ripe, it’s not got all of its nutrients in it. It’s not as nutrient-dense as it could be or should be. Then the moment they harvest it, it starts breaking down the nutrients. When you pick something early, it’s already missing some of the nutrients, number one, and if it takes two weeks for that to get here, it’s going to take two weeks degrading, from a nutrient density perspective. Basically what we’re getting in this culture with food that’s not in season and is coming from 7,000 or 8,000 food miles away, is nutrient-denseless food. That’s really the nutshell of why it’s important to eat what’s in season.
Jennifer: Yes. An example of that, at least that I experience, that you can really tell, is peaches. You buy a peach that’s not in season, it will never ripen, it tastes horrible, it’s mealy, it’s … That is an example. I know a lot of people, they’ll just buy one peach and go home and then see if it tastes good or not, then go back to see. That is one example of it, I know is huge. That’s what’s going on. For people that don’t know, the reason for that, that’s what it is. It was picked so early that it just didn’t have a chance to really become a peach, as we know it.
Greg: Right, exactly. Here’s how to spoil yourself on that. I can’t eat a store-bought peach anymore. I just don’t do it. I eat peaches when they’re in season, which for us is May, June, and July, and that’s the only time. The peaches that I grow here, they will make your toes tingle. They are so good. They are amazing. The other thing about eating the peaches off my tree, I have to eat them … Let’s see, am I far enough out? You have to eat them like this because they’re so juicy, they will splash down the front of you.
Jennifer: I love that. We are getting a few questions, here.
Jennifer: Tracy asked, “I would love to set up a greywater system for our house,” so she’s asking about that. Meredith is asking, “How much rain are you able to collect annually?” Carol is asking, “What about food from cold frames? Is that as nutritious as something that was planted straight into the ground?”
Greg: Let’s go backwards.
Greg: Cold frames. Here’s the thing. Your single biggest challenge or job as a food grower, as an urban farmer, in growing your own food, your single biggest thing to do is to create healthy soil. If you’re creating healthy soil in a cold frame, then you’re going to have nutrient-dense food. I love nature and I love how nature works. There’s this magic that happens. When you have healthy soil, which means you’re not using chemicals, there’s lots of organic matter, you’ve added micronutrients, there’s this stuff that happens with the bugs in the soil, with the mycelium and all that kind of stuff, where they’re harvesting the micronutrients out of the soil and making them available for the plants. The plants take the micronutrients and those micronutrients go into your food. Then when you consume it, you have more nutrient-dense food. As long as you’re creating healthy soil, then you’re good to go.
Real quickly, there’s five components of healthy soil. They are dirt, which is what most people have, and if you just try growing in dirt, forget about it. You’re going to be hard-pressed to do that. Organic matter, air space, water, and everything that’s alive in the soil. The way to fix dirt is just add compost on the top. I don’t mean add compost, I mean add compost. If you’ve got a dirt garden and it’s compacted and all that stuff, you’ve got a dirt garden, add six inches of compost on the top and then plant your garden. You don’t have to dig, just plant your garden. Then the roots will do the work for you. Yes, absolutely, in a cold frame you could get great, nutrient-dense food. Your job as the farmer is to make sure that you create healthy soil.
Question right before that was on rainwater harvesting. Here’s the thing about rainwater harvesting. Don’t think of it as, “I’m going to harvest the water, hold onto it for later.” That’s one method of rainwater harvesting and really greywater harvesting, but plant the greywater and rainwater in your yard and then plant the landscape around it. A lot of the rainwater harvesting that I do here at the Urban Farm is simply just directing the water into the part of the yard where I have my fruit trees, so that when the rain comes, it waters the fruit trees.
You can put in rainwater harvesting tanks, they just get pricey and then, in order to make them work, you have to do something like hook up a hose and so on and so on, like that. The question about how much rainwater can we harvest, for every thousand square feet of rainwater harvesting space, so I’ve got 13,000 square feet here at the Urban Farm, for every thousand square feet that you have and every inch of rain, you get 600 gallons of water.
Greg: We’re in the desert, we don’t get all that much rain, but when it comes down, it comes down. In September of 2014, we had a one-day event, it actually happened two hours, where I got three and a half inches of rain in two hours.
Jennifer: Oh my goodness.
Greg: When I did the math on that, I got 29,900 gallons of water that poured onto the Urban Farm in a two-hour period. That’s enough to fill an Olympic-size swimming pool, or at least a swimming pool; I don’t know about Olympic-size. That will fill a swimming pool. That’s a lot of water. Our job as rainwater harvesters is to make sure that we’re directing it into the space, so it’s going where we want it to go. Then it’s going to a place where we’ve got things planted that are then going to grow.
Jennifer: Yeah, wow.
Greg: Right, then the greywater one. Remind me again what the greywater question was?
Jennifer: I think she was just saying that she would love to set those up. “We live in Oklahoma. Do you do rainwater systems?” She wants to do rainwater, but she’s not sure about greywater and what your opinion is on that.
Greg: Got it. Greywater is any water that goes down any drain in your house, except for your toilet or your kitchen sink. In the state of Arizona, it’s legal to use greywater in your yard. About 80% of the water that goes down all of the drains at the Urban Farm here, is greywater. That’s a lot of water. I like to use it to water fruit trees, to be quite honest with you. That requires, number one, that I figure out where the greywater is coming from and then get it into the yard; I’ll talk about that in a minute. Then number two, get it to the place in the yard and then plant the fruit trees around the place where the greywater is at.
There’s two ways to do greywater. This comes out of a book called Rainwater Harvesting for Drylands by Brad Lancaster. He’s a longtime friend of mine. Don’t get stuck with the drylands part, it’s a rainwater harvesting manual and it’s about an inch thick and it’s an amazing book. It’s well worth the investment, if you’re looking at doing greywater systems. There’s two ways you could do greywater system. You can figure out how to get the water from the drains inside and do it out, which requires replumbing and it’s not always feasible to do that, but it’s really doable. That’s the number one way. Or, the second way is you can bring the services outside.
I actually have, right over here, my outdoor shower. Why did I put my shower outside? So I can get the drain water draining out into the yard. I put a couple of sinks out in the backyard. I have one attached to my outdoor kitchen, right over here, so that when we’re rinsing vegetables and doing that kind of stuff, that water is actually draining out into the yard. I’m getting ready to put another sink out in the chicken area, so we’ve got an area out in the back left of our backyard that’s for the chickens and I’m going to put another sink in out there, so that again, the water that we use, we can direct it in the yard.
Jennifer: I love that. That’s wonderful. Can you talk a little bit about, because I want to go back to this modeling for other people and I want to talk a little bit about what’s been going on in Cuba in recent years. Like you’ve been saying, in other places as well, everybody has a garden. If you could speak to that and how that has really helped that country. Also, for people that want to do this, once you get started, what would you say to them if they have things like HOAs or barriers like that, that they have to face?
Greg: We’ll start at the last question, the HOAs. Your job as a person in the HOA is to get them to shift their thoughts on that. There are HOAs in the state of Arizona where it is not legal to grow food in your yard. As far as I’m concerned, that is a travesty of justice. It should be punishable by law. I don’t care where I’m at, if I have a yard and I want to grow food for my family, that is a basic human right. Fighting an HOA is not so easy, but stepping into the HOA and getting them to change their tune is a much easier way to do it. It’s a ground up way of doing it.
I have a friend, Justin Rohner, he’s with iAgriscapes. In fact, you should have him on your show. I’ll connect you with him. He’s cool.
Greg: He’s out in Chandler. The Phoenix metropolitan area is probably 500 square miles and out east we have Chandler and Mesa and Gilbert, so they’re like suburbs. He lives in a suburb, I’m pretty sure he’s in Chandler, and he lives in an HOA. A few years ago, what he realized was that one of his neighbors was keeping African birds, the macaws and that kind of stuff, and an aviary in their backyard. Perfectly okay for the HOA. However, chickens, on the other hand, were not. He changed the name of his chickens to, I think he called them African jungle fowl, or jungle fowl, and put chickens in his backyard. Then when the HOA came along and said, “Excuse me,” he went, “Excuse me.” Now, in his HOA, you can keep chickens and five of his other neighbors are also keeping chickens.
Really, what we have to do with the HOA thing is not fight them, we need to join them and get them on board. Here’s the big thing that HOAs are really concerned about, and for that matter, cities and so on and so on, how does it look? Even in my front yard, if I put something and let it get overgrown and it just basically looks trashy and somebody complains about me, the city’s going to stick a note on my front door and say, “Clean it up.” In my front yard, I have 40 fruit trees, in my front yard. We grow a lot of our groceries in the front yard. I just make sure that the space looks nice, it looks appealing, it looks well kept. That’s really the number one rule.
Number two, we do tours here at the Urban Farm and on a good tour day, quite honestly, I can get 200 people here. My street runs half a mile from one end to the other and it’s a double-wide, so we can park on both sides of the street and still drive down the middle, but on tour day, I’ve had people in the neighborhood say, “Oh, you’re that guy over on 13th Place that does the tours.” I said, “Yeah, that’s me. How do you know?” They said, “Well, we know when you’re having a tour because people are parking on our streets and walking around. One of the things that I do for the people on my street, I share eggs with them, I do a fruit tree program, where I teach people how to grow fruit trees in the drylands and deserts, and then they can buy fruit trees from me. Everybody on the street, over the past 17 years, has received at least one fruit tree from me. I really do a lot of outreach and positive work with people so that they love what I do.
Here’s what I do, about gardening. Imagine a cool garden right here. I’m holding out my hand and I’m looking at it. It’s like, this is what I do with people. “See this, growing a garden? You can do this too. Isn’t that cool?” You kind of feel the energy behind that, that’s like a fun and happy and cool energy, so I don’t fight the system, I work in the system as much as possible and I’m working in the flow, we talked about that earlier. I’m working in the flow, to work with my neighbors and to work with the city to make this a happy, positive conversation.
Jennifer: That’s wonderful. That’s such good advice, I think, to just kind of conquer from within. Then even for those people who it’s not possible for whatever reason for them to have a garden, if you share some stuff with them and make it a positive experience for them, they’re on board anyway. I love that.
Greg: I’m showing people my tower garden now.
Greg: This is a tower garden. I absolutely love my tower garden. You’ll notice here at the top, things are a little bit suffering. That’s because it’s too hot here. It is still too hot in Phoenix to grow some lettuces and stuff, which is really strange. It’s really late in the season for that, so the tower garden. The tower garden is an absolutely cool, cool … It’s hydroponic, essentially. Hydroponic technology. You mentioned that if somebody doesn’t have a yard, that tower garden, you can actually purchase with lights. You can keep it in a room at your house, so you can grow food inside in a room in your house, in the wintertime, in the summertime, and it’s four square feet, two by two. Call it six square feet, and it’s six feet tall. It takes up no room at all. It’s a product by Juice Plus, so if you know a Juice Plus rep, ask them about the tower garden. It’s an amazing piece of technology. You don’t even need a whole lot of space to grow food.
Jennifer: Yeah, that was going to be my next question about hydroponics and aquaponics and how you feel about that, in terms of food getting the proper nutrients and all of that, and just what your opinions are on those systems.
Greg: I am a big, big believer that the, capital T, and I’ll say this, the solution to our food system problem lives in our cities. We need to figure out how to grow food in the cities. My friend, Jenn Nelkin, runs Gotham Greens in New York City and Chicago. What they do, is they put greenhouses on top of office buildings. They have a greenhouse on the top of a Whole Foods in the Bronx. They’re growing food, they’re harvesting it, and they’re running it down an elevator, two, three floors, to the grocery store. That’s beautiful. It’s absolutely beautiful.
When you’re growing hydroponically, using aquaponics … Aquaponics is where you have fish in a fish pond and the fish poop, feeds the plants, and the plants clean the water for the fish pond, so again, it’s one of the circular things. It’s the regenerative piece. When we’re looking at urban cities, and more than half of the people on the planet live in an urban city, we need to figure out what kind of systems we can put in place in cities to make farms work, to make growing food work. Hydroponics, aquaponics, aeroponics, these are all systems, Garden Pool is another friend of mine here in Phoenix. Garden Pool, where they took an old swimming pool and they put a greenhouse on top of it. There’s all of these different things that we can do that really address growing foods in the city. The thing about the nutrient dense piece is it really depends what you’re putting in. You can raise better nutrient-dense food in hydroponics than you can in soil, if the soil is bad.
Jennifer: Right, yeah.
Greg: That’s an individual, piece by piece, person by person thing. It’s like, your job, I’ll say this again, you job as an urban farmer is to create healthy, happy soil. Your job in this case, with hydroponics, is to make sure that you have the right kind of nutrients in the hydroponic system so that you’re growing healthy, happy food.
Jennifer: Yeah, exactly. We have a course in hydroponics and we teach it as something that you can supplement throughout the winter, but that you still need to have a regular garden for micronutrients and minerals and that sort of thing. I was just wanting to get your take on it because it’s a fun thing to do.
Greg: Oh, yeah. Oh, absolutely.
Jennifer: Oh my gosh, Greg. There are so many more questions I have for you. I have got to have you back on the show.
Greg: Works for me.
Jennifer: Before I let you go, tell me a couple of your gardening heroes and who you follow and admire and why.
Greg: I do the Urban Farm podcast, UrbanFarmpodcast.org. I do the Urban Farm podcast and I’ve interviewed 170 people. My interview with Michael Ableman two weeks ago made me nervous. This was the first time I’d interviewed somebody and I was nervous. Michael Ableman has basically taken properties that are blighted properties and he’s turned them into incredibly cool spaces. I first ran into Michael Ableman at Fairview Gardens. Fairview Gardens is in Goleta, California, which is right next to Santa Barbara. This was in the early ’90s. The space they actually ended up purchasing was a farm for the past hundred years. What was happening in the area, in the ’90s, was that developers were coming in, they were buying up the space and putting houses on it.
In one year, I can’t remember what year it was, somewhere in the early ’90s, they raised a million dollars, they purchased this 11-acre farm, which is now called Fairview Gardens, and they have preserved it in a modern land trust, so that it will always be what it is. He doesn’t work there anymore. He’s gone on to do the same kind of thing up in Vancouver, Canada. The reason that he is one of my heroes is because he’s doing big work in the world. He does things that are structure changing in the world and that’s really what I’m committed to. I kind of hold the belief that if I’m not thinking out a hundred years … I’m 55. I’m not going to be around in a hundred years … But if I’m not thinking out a hundred years or the work that I’m doing today isn’t making a difference in a hundred years, I ain’t thinking big enough.
Jennifer: Yeah. I love that, yeah.
Greg: Michael does that. Michael is a visionary, looking out over decades and decades. It’s like, “All right. If I plant this seed, right here, right now, it’s going to make a difference for decades and decades and decades into the future.” One of my other heroes is Ron Finley. Do you know the name, Ron Finley?
Jennifer: I’ve heard of it, yeah.
Greg: Gangster gardener. He lives in LA, a blighted part of LA, kind of a poorer part of LA, he lives there. You know the space between the sidewalk and the street?
Greg: You’re driving down streets and there’s this, usually a grassy space between the sidewalk and the street, and he looked at that one day and the city didn’t take care of it, he was supposed to be taking care of it, and he decided he was going to dig up the grass that was suffering and not doing well, dig up the grass and plant a garden. You would’ve thought that World War II had started when the city of LA, or whatever town he’s in, came down on him, saying, “You can’t do that.” He stood up and said, “Hold on, I’m supposed to manage it, you guys don’t manage it. I’m going to do with it whatever I want,” and he did it anyways. He’s become an international hero because of it.
Jennifer: That’s great.
Greg: There’s one more, and I’m sorry, I can’t remember his name. There was this 12-year-old, about five years ago, that did a TED talk. One of the things that he said in his TED talk was, he was talking about organic food and GMOs and all that kind of stuff. One of the things that he said was, when people complain that organic food is too expensive, he says, “I tell them, you can pay for it now with healthy food, or you can pay for it later at the hospital.” That is so, so true.
Jennifer: So, so true.
Greg: What I said earlier, three things in our culture cause 100% of the disease, lack of nutrition in our food, environmental toxins, and stress. Grow your own food, you can handle all three of those things.
Jennifer: Yes. Totally agree. That’s wonderful. I think those are going to be my heroes, too. Oh my goodness, that’s great.
Greg: That’s a great question, by the way. I love that question.
Jennifer: Thank you. Where can people find out more about you? We’re going to have a link, I think Bill’s going to put it up. Yeah, he’s got it up already. Tell us where we can find out more about you and your website, how can people connect with you, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, all of that good stuff.
Greg: Yeah. On Facebook, the Urban Farm. I’m on Twitter, the Urban Farm, but I don’t really much … I’m 55. I’m kind of allergic technology, so I’ve kind of stepped back from it, although I got some youngins that are doing a better job of managing that. By the way, Janice just Skyped me and she said Birke Baehr was the 12-year-old that did that talk.
Jennifer: Wonderful. We can put that in the show notes.
Greg: Perfect. Facebook, Twitter, the Urban Farm, Facebook, the Urban Farm, UrbanFarm.org. You’ve got your links to our courses. We definitely want people to plug in there and take a look at our courses.
Jennifer: Yes, we have a link, I think it’s on the screen now, it’s … No, it’s not. It’s coming in just a second. Yes, okay. We’ll have that. It’s a special link where you can go and find out more about Greg and his courses. Thank you so much. Like I said, I’ve got to have you back, because I have not gone through half the things I wanted to ask you and it’s just been an absolute joy to have you on the show. Thank you so much.
Greg: Absolutely. I’ve got more time, we can talk.
Jennifer: Well, I do, too, but I want to try to wrap it up at around an hour or so, because going to try to be mindful of people’s time, but we can definitely do a part two, I would look forward to that. Thank you so much.
Greg: Plus, I sent Janice an email to introduce you to her because I want to get you on our podcast.
Jennifer: Oh, I’d love to. That would be wonderful. Thank you so much for coming on.
Greg: Absolutely. I really enjoyed it. Thanks for having me.
Jennifer: If you are just joining us, or you joined us in the middle of that show, I was talking to Greg Peterson of the UrbanFarm.org. If you would like more information about his courses, because he’s got courses in all of these things that he teaches at his home, it’s SelfReliantSchool.com/UFB. Go over there and see if there’s anything that you would like to learn more about because he’s got a bunch of options there.
Again, I was talking to Greg Peterson. He is the owner of Urban Farm U, an online platform that is designed to teach and inspire people to transform their yards into an edible area, edible garden. Remember, being self-reliant is not about being selfish, it’s not about just yourself, it’s about taking care of yourself so you can take care of the people that you love. Take care, until we talk again.