FEAST: Farms, gardens, chickens, fruit -- how to homestead without going rural
DIY food production classes abound everywhere in the Bay Area but the one-stop shopper won't find a better resource than the Institute of Urban Homesteading (www.iuhoakland.com) in Oakland. It offers a comprehensive curriculum ranging from beekeeping, butchery, goat farming, brewcraft, herbal medicine, bread making, fermentation, berry patches, and other topics of the same ilk. It's a real crash course in manifesting your inner Laura Ingalls Wilder. With no central location, classes are taught in the teachers' homes, which presents a neat opportunity to see real-time urban homesteading and the different ways people create sustainable places in an urban setting. Also consider Urban Kitchen SF (www.urbankitchensf.com) and BioFuel Oasis (www.biofueloasis.com) in Berkeley for supplementary courses.
If you're feeling overwhelmed and green behind the ears, several services will landscape your yard into a cornucopia of organic delectables and even continue the maintenance if you just can't do anything with that black thumb of death. Star Apple Edible Gardens (www.starappleediblegardens.com) provides a range of services throughout the Bay Area, the simplest being consultations and composting tutorials. You also can order ready-made kitchen gardens or go whole kit and caboodle and have customized "garden design and installation, pathway and hardscape installation, irrigation design and installation, planting, plant feeding and cultivation, regular harvesting of your garden crops, and design, installation, and maintenance of composting systems." Other similar businesses include All Edibles (www.alledibles.com), which specifically works with East Bay dwellers, and Chris Sein of Wildheart Gardens (www.wildheartgardens.com), who also consults on backyard chickens and mushrooms.
For a lot of us in the Bay Area, the dream of having a backyard is about as likely as Glenn Beck admitting that Obama is not a herald of an impending Orwellian dictatorship. So what can the more dispossessed among us do to return to the soil? Popular in Europe and becoming more so here, rooftop gardens are a great solution to space issues. Graze the Roof (www.grazetheroof.blogspot.com), the community vegetable patch on top of Glide Memorial Church, hosts rooftop gardening workshops. You can also gain experience by volunteering on work days every Thursday or first Saturdays. For those feeling less than philanthropic or sociable, pop over to your local bookstore to pick up the Use Your Roof Guidebook by Bay Area Localize (www.baylocalize.org). Seven bucks and four easy chapters gets you on your way to a more edible roof.
For balcony-less apartment dwellers, and maybe those with vaulted ceilings, window farms have become the new rooftop gardens. An open-source project that's evolved over the past year, Windowfarms (www.windowfarms.org) gives how-tos for its innovatively cheap and space-conscious hydroponics system — jerry-rigged from repurposed plastic water bottles, tubing, and fish tank pumps that hangs in vertical columns in the window — as free PDFs on its Web site. It also hosts community boards where members share improvements to the system, which is constantly being updated. Alas, window farms can only really successfully raise leafy greens, but having a homegrown salad in a studio apartment is still pretty darn amazing.
If you already have your urban farm bustling along — or even just a prolific citrus tree — then yard-sharing is a great way to spread the fruit of your labor throughout the community. Neighborhood Fruit (www.neighborhoodfruit.com), SF Glean (www.sfglean.org), and Produce to the People (www.producetothepeople.org) will gladly help you to unload the excess bounty and distribute it to the hungry.