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Business helps folks turn backyards into farms

By Monica Chen

Article from individual.com

Rickie White and Chris Guidry picked handfuls of edamame in a friend's back yard in Carr-boro on Thursday, getting ready for a healthful snack of the soybeans boiled in salt water.

Surrounding them were the fruits of their labor: tomato plants, muscadine grapes, blueberries, asparagus and orange and yellow Zinnias in full bloom.

Carrboro resident White and Chapel Hill's Guidry, along with Katherine Gill in Durham, launched City Farmers several months ago. The business helps people develop and maintain their own backyard farms, chickens included.

White said he's wanted for many years to start the business and help people learn to grow their own food.

"It's a good opportunity to help people who have more worries to make them feel more independent, to be able to grow a fraction [of their groceries], especially in this economy," he said.

At his own home on Broad Street in Carrboro, White has grown radishes, heirloom tomatoes, strawberries, asparagus and fig trees in a sustainable garden, fueled by horse manure and compost and a 1,000-gallon cistern.

His crops rotate on a seasonal basis. After recently harvesting onion and garlic, White put buckwheat as a cover crop for those beds. The buckwheat acts as a nitrogen fixer, putting nutrients back into the soil.

About 20 percent of White's groceries come from his own plantings. Coils of garlic hang in his dining room window, and baskets of Vidalia onions take up counter space in his kitchen.

For Guidry, who has five chickens in addition to produce on his property in Chapel Hill, about half of his groceries come from his backyard farm during the peak harvest. The chickens lay four eggs daily.

Guidry said there's been growing awareness for sustainable farming recently, especially since President Obama and the First Family planted a vegetable garden on the White House property.

"So you're buying it from a local farmer, how about growing it in your own yard?" Guidry said. "It's becoming a part of pop culture awareness."

So far, City Farmers' clients have been friends who've heard through word-of-mouth.

The business provides free initial consultations, but pricing varies because of differences in landscaping. For instance, a sloped backyard would call for more skills and materials to build beds for plantings.

In this first year, the business will be more experimental, White said. The three are still developing their organization. A Web site has been set up, at www.city-farmers.com.

They've kept their day jobs. White is an ecologist with Nature Serve, a conservation nonprofit with an office in Durham's Southpoint area. Guidry works in information technology for Bank of America.

Eventually, Guidry said, he'd like to create software to help clients keep track of their plantings, including a calendar for local seasonal crops to help them time their planting and harvest.

White admitted most clients probably won't make back what they put into the garden.

"You can probably go to the Wal-Mart and get them for cheaper," he said, but noted that while you gain in savings, you sacrifice in variety.

Guidry noted that nutrition declines significantly with the length of time supermarket foods are stored.

"A lot of people just look at food like how much per pound without looking at the nutrients," he said.

"This is actually very retro," White said. "Our grandparents did this."

To see more of The Herald-Sun, or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.herald-sun.com. Copyright (c) 2009, The Herald-Sun, Durham, N.C. Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services. For reprints, email [email protected], call 800-374-7985 or 847-635-6550, send a fax to 847-635-6968, or write to The Permissions Group Inc., 1247 Milwaukee Ave., Suite 303, Glenview, IL 60025, USA.

 

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