Eartha Steward: Greenhorns: Old school thinking |

Eartha Steward: Greenhorns: Old school thinking

Who knew that something our grandparents used to do would come back as the new hip trend? I’m not just referring to hippies either; school teachers, soccer moms, college kids, accountants and teenagers across the nation are turning their televisions off and turning soil instead. These backyard homesteaders and urban farmers have found empty windowsills, whiskey barrels, decks, and street lots to grow edibles – vegetables, fruits, herbs and, in some cases, honey.

The young farmers, also referred to as “The Greenhorns,” include 20- and 30-somethings that get the bug to grow their own food. Many Greenhorns abandon city life and move to small “country” plots to form farming communities. The system is based on being neighborly – sharing plots, sharing the work load, and sharing the harvest.

The urban farmer thrives on city chickens, rooftop bees and potted tomatoes. One of my favorite food books, “Farm City: The Education of an Urban Farmer” by Novella Carpenter, talks about the author’s experience raising chickens, geese, ducks, rabbits, bees and pigs in a scary section of Oakland. Regardless of the common encounters with drive-bys, crack addicts and gang fights, the author risks her life to Dumpster-dive for food waste to feed her city livestock.

On the urban farm, lemon trees thrive in sidewalk slits while garden beds are resurrected on small patches of green and asphalt. Urban farmers worry about homeless people stealing vegetables before their prime or a loose pack of dogs breaking into the chicken coop. Vegetables and bees don’t really care about the difference between country and city; as long as they have each other, they are happy. Throw in good soil, water and sun, and an urban farm will thrive in the Bronx or Denver.

It seems that folks can be farmers just about anywhere. What about here in the high country? If the urban farmers can farm a small patch of an abandoned parking lot, a kitchen table, or a tiny deck, Summit County should also inspire mountain farmers. Maybe you’re growing greens in a sunny window or off your front porch. You have to start your farming somewhere.

These days, small-scale farming and gardening is quite successful, and the reason that growing your own food is making a comeback. Small garden plots and raised beds are easier for most of us to take care of, especially when we aren’t paid to farm all day. It’s not about the money anyway (not that farmers are paid enough to survive), it’s about the sweat and the tears, the first carrot you pull out of the ground, and the first meal you cook from strictly garden produce. It’s about feeding your family and your friends the most healthy, organic produce there is – homegrown!

There’s another type of farmer that I haven’t mentioned: the struggling farmer! Farming isn’t easy on any scale but large-scale farming – huge farms that have been passed down through generations – are becoming quite the endangered species these days. Some farmers have seen the benefits of CSA’s – Community Supported Agriculture and have ditched conventional farming techniques for more organic practices. Such a farmer, Farmer John Peterson, experienced hard times in the 1980s when the economy hit farms across America. After selling off farm equipment and most of his family’s land to survive, Farmer John was at the point of giving up. In the 1990s, Farmer John reconnected to his farm and through newly established organic practices and CSA support, the farm became Angelic Organics and is still running a successful business to this day.

The story of Farmer John is now a popular documentary – “The Real Dirt on Farmer John.” You too, can share in Farmer John’s trials, heartaches and happiness. The Conservation Center and Grant Family Farms is showing “The Real Dirt on Farmer John” followed by a short food discussion tonight at 7 p.m. at the Alpine Earth Center in Silverthorne. The movie is part of a Sustainable Food Film Series through the High Country Conservation Center. To find out more about Farmer John, Food Films, and to download a Summit County Food and Garden Workshop Calendar, please visit our website at

Eartha Steward is written by Jennifer Santry and Erin Makowsky at the High Country Conservation Center, a nonprofit 501(c)3 organization dedicated to waste reduction and resource conservation in our mountain community. Submit questions to Eartha at

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