A microfarm grows in Brooklyn
by Tammy Scileppi
Jul 21, 2011 | 4619 views | 0 0 comments | 47 47 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Frieda Lim on her rooftop garden.
Frieda Lim on her rooftop garden.
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You don’t need a green thumb to become a savvy gardener and urban farmer. We’re seeing a new era of personal food production unfolding, and it’s all about DIY and sustainability. With prices for fresh produce rising almost weekly, it’s the perfect time to learn how to grow your own. All you really need is a patch of outdoor space and ample sunlight—like a rooftop, balcony, porch, fire escape, or even a friend’s concrete driveway. A viable alternative for city folk, micro-gardens have amazing advantages over the old-fashioned kind.

From May to December, busy Brooklyn mom, Frieda Lim grows a bounty of succulent vegetables, herbs and edible flowers in her rooftop micro-farm atop the 2-family Gowanus home she shares with her husband and 4-year-old daughter.

“I grow over a dozen varieties of tomatoes, more than 6 kinds of peppers, cucs, peas, beans, eggplant, okra, zucchini, Asian greens, goji berries and strawberries,” she said. Since 2008, Lim has successfully transformed unused space into a self-sustaining environment. Here, in her green haven, she and her family enjoy a lot of summer down time.

Lim’s farm in the sky boasts 75 Rubbermaid planters filled with lush, healthy plants.

Using a clever system called SIP, or Sub-irrigated Planting, caring for her lush harvest requires very little work. And, “you only need to water once or twice a week,” says Lim. Unlike top to bottom watering, where water is wasted, with SIP the plant is fed via a plastic fill tube, and water collects at the bottom of the container in a reservoir, bathing the roots, so more goes directly to the plant.

Lim says starting your own garden farm is really simple: all you need are several 18-gallon Rubbermaid totes, and some materials you can find at home. To DIY (a Rubbermaid roughneck is about $7), it costs about $15 per container; using SIP is optional, but if you want to learn how, visit: http://www.insideurbangreen.org.

One of the wonderful attributes of a sub-irrigated micro-garden is its nomadic portability. A growing trend in challenging urban environments, this new way of gardening is easy and economical, accessible to everyone and virtually weedless—it’s also a lot of fun to do, and teaches kids about sustainability

In fact, Lim, who is very community-minded, just helped launch a pilot garden at P.S. 39, in Park Slope. “My neighbor, who’s a gardener/herbalist by profession, saw my garden and thought it would be a perfect method to build here,” she said. “We hatched the idea in the fall and opened P.S. 39 Edible Community Garden at the end of March. The idea of ‘community’ was key,”

There are ready-made SIP’s; anyone can enjoy delicious homegrown veggies, fruits, and herbs grown in an EarthBox (starting at $30), being the most popular. They can also be concealed in decorative planters: http://store.earthbox.com/EarthBox-Complete-Kits

“We like using up cycled food grade plastic. Another key component is using potting mix versus soil,” said Lim.  “You know when to accurately water next by using a soil probe (like the one from Soil Sleuth.com), not by using the tip of your finger.”

Lim learned about SIP’s on urban gardening guru, Bob Hyland’s blog, insideurbangreen.org. “I completely lucked out with Bob, whom I refer to as the man guarding the Holy Grail. He has been my mentor since day one,” she said. And, she was inspired by Hyland to use SIP’s because it just makes more sense in an urban environment.

“No offense to all the urban gardens that have taken root on rooftops and empty lots; but given the challenges of urban living and climate change, why are most people farming as if they were still in the country, especially with all the curve balls mother nature throws,” Lim said.

Best of all, it’s simple.

“SIP’s are not rocket science; the self-watering containers are more of a plumbing system,” said 77-year-old Hyland, who lives in Bay Ridge, and has been educating and motivating gardeners to try this method.

Hyland says that SIP’s go a long way in the fight against obesity. And portable micro-gardens like EarthBox, provide an ideal way to bring urban food production to the people who need it most--like inner city kids who otherwise wouldn’t have access to fresh produce.

Anyone can do this. So why aren’t we all doing it? The only thing standing in the way of this becoming a widespread practice is lack of education about SIP’s and their advantages.

“I had grown up gardening, but since I moved to the city my gardening opportunities were limited to fire escapes and windowsills,” said Lim.

Growing up around food, Lim cites her mother as the impetus of her immersion of food while her father imparted the technological aspect.. “The chance to create a rooftop garden was a dream come true,” she said.

Visit Freida Lim at http://www.slipperyslopefarm.us/
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