The Urban Homesteader: Sharing The Spoils
I recently received an email from a reader who asked how to “beautify” her urban agriculture efforts so as to make nice with some apprehensive neighbors. Her question hit home for a couple of reasons.
First, when we redesigned our yard (we essentially started from scratch, reclaiming the landscape from invasive exotics and poorly trimmed bushes) we had similar concerns at the top of our minds.
The only yard we have is front yard and a tiny ribbon of side yard where we ended up putting the chicken coop to screen it from the street. Since we were not sure how our closely packed neighborhood would respond to vegetables in the front yard and chickens clucking in the distance, we put a lot of effort into preventing problems.
Second, we are about to embark on a move to a new home (equal parts heartbreak and excitement). That means we’re going to be facing similar concerns again.
As I think back about the lessons we learned in our current neighborhood – both to share with this reader and to apply to our new adventure – I think our efforts generally fall into two categories: design and public relations.
Let’s face it, not everyone is as educated as to the value of growing your own food or shares the same aesthetic. We also know that some times of the year (late fall/early winter), a garden can look, well, less than its best, but come October and April everything will look amazing again!
To proactively counter any concerns, we got creative about using native plants that serve two purposes: bringing in pollinators and wildlife and screening parts of our yard from the neighbors and street. These natives always look nice and block the garden beds, though we also built raised beds to give the growing spaces a neat and tidy look.
For our chickens, we created a coop that is nice enough that our toddler thinks it’s a play house. Since our neighbors can see it from their yard we wanted to be respectful of their views and went out of our way to make it adorable so people love it rather then wrinkle their noses at it.
To help avoid concerns from the beginning, we talked to our neighbors and explained what we were doing, showing them cool things about the yard. Even more importantly, we invited people over frequently to pick fruit and share extra veggies, and welcomed new neighbors with fresh eggs (particularly those who can see or hear the birds).
Socializing the yard so everyone had a fun memory there was really useful and helped us become a part of the community. It also meant the neighbors cut us slack when one of the chickens was being rowdy or when the garden inevitably goes through its “ugly phase” in the transitions seasons.
I think of the whole approach as meeting people halfway. Building in a buffer to ensure the outside view looks nice, while creating a little breathing room to let things be a little messy on the interior. Being respectful of those who lean toward more traditional landscape design, while introducing a new way of thinking … and fresh food … to the neighborhood.
The extra effort is worth it: At the least, you’ve shown you care about your community; at the most, you may not only create good neighbors, but good friends.
“GARDENS, scholars say, are the first sign
of commitment to a community. When people
plant corn they are saying, let’s stay here.
And by their connection to the land,
they are connected to one another.”
– Anne Rave