Vegetable matter

Looking for a way to beat the recession? Start your own front-yard garden.

Japheth Abdallah, owner of Backyard Farms, teaches clients how to get the most out of a limited amount of space.

Japheth Abdallah, owner of Backyard Farms, teaches clients how to get the most out of a limited amount of space.

Photo By Anne stokes

Kim Glazzard calls Sacramento’s front yards “The Last Frontier.”

What she means is that while residents have planted gardens in backyards, empty lots and even rooftops, they’ve yet to transform front yards from water-thirsty lawns to money-saving vegetable gardens.

For advocates of the burgeoning local-food movement, conquering this last frontier is necessary to increase our food security and reduce our dependence on petroleum by limiting the miles food travels from farm to kitchen table. The U.S. economic recession, Glazzard said, presents the perfect opportunity for people to make the switch to growing their own food.

“People are worried and they are feeling the pinch,” said Glazzard, who serves as director of Organic Sacramento. “This is a way for people to feel that they have some power.”

Historians estimate that during World War II, victory gardens supplied as much as 40 percent of the produce for the United States. If there’s any place ripe for a victory garden rebirth nowadays, it’s Sacramento, Glazzard said, noting the region’s climate is suitable for growing a wide variety of fruits and vegetables—such as tomatoes, zucchini, herbs, cucumbers and peppers—that require minimal care and water.

What separates today’s grow-local efforts from the victory gardens of seven decades ago is the emphasis on growing everywhere and anywhere, including front yards—until recently, a place off-limits to edible landscapes. The city of Sacramento’s landscaping code forbade front-yard gardens until 2007, after advocates spent three years urging the city council to pass an ordinance allowing this change by drawing on the city’s campaign to eliminate hunger and its commitment to sustainability.

“It’s sustainable, because it’s growing close to home and not using fossil fuels,” Glazzard said. “It’s what we need to do for our future.”

The city of Sacramento is offering free classes taught by professionals from the UC Cooperative Extension Sacramento Master Gardeners program to assist residents in planting gardens.

Businesses have also sprung up to offer help. Japheth Abdallah launched Backyard Farms at the end of last year. He designs, builds and helps maintain garden spaces for clients, who then have daily access to fresh, healthy foods.

“I’ll make certain the garden keeps producing all year long, so it’s not just a hobby, but a highly efficient, totally organic food source,” said Abdallah, a landscape contractor who’s grown his own food for 12 years at his Fair Oaks home using biointensive-farming techniques. He showcases his yard—full of hanging herb boxes, raised vegetable beds and trellises of fruit trees—as an example of the “little edible oasis” he creates.

“The success I’m having is what I’m offering to share with people,” said Abdallah, clarifying that he’s not offering a blow-and-mow service, which means his work is a bit more costly because it’s a long-term investment. “I want to help people move toward what I call ‘grocery-aisle independence.’”

Eventually, he hopes to encourage his clientele to start crop swaps, in which neighbors trade excess or unwanted produce with each other. No money is involved in the transaction. As Sacramento Area Community Garden Coalition’s Bill Maynard notes, crops swaps are an excellent means for members of the community to share resources. Maynard, for instance, doesn’t like the grapefruit he grows in his yard, so he takes the fruit to the crop swap, which he trades for produce he does enjoy.

Last year, residents in Oak Park started an Urban Fruit Harvest, in which residents help one another pick fruits and vegetables. Workers keep what they want; the rest goes into crop swaps or is donated to food closets. The group has gathered more than 2,500 pounds of produce so far, Maynard said.

Back in World War II, nearly 20 million Americans planted victory gardens, alleviating the pressure on the public food supply, while boosting morale.

“It’s critical that we all help each other through this [time],” Glazzard said. “It was done once. And we can do it again.”