Published: August 28, 2013
Christine Faith is to urban farming what John Chapman was to apples. Chapman, aka Johnny Appleseed, was a nurseryman who introduced apples to a large swath of the Northeast, essentially developing apple orchards in America.
Faith and her husband, Ben Gleason, are spreading the word about what can be done with a small backyard space. Their less than 2,000 square feet of land in the Ivywild neighborhood is devoted to raising ducks, chickens, bees, fruit trees and vegetables.
It's more than a garden: It's a backyard farm. And they made their Ivywild Farm official with the city. They took all the necessary steps to be sure their micro farm was legal, clearing it through city planning and filing LLC tax forms.
"We wanted everything to be on the up-and-up," Faith said.
As for taking on the role of urban farmers, "we did this for ourselves," she said. "It was a way to maintain quality food and not get eaten alive with grocery store prices. We wanted to eat well, conserve energy and be a model to other people who might want to duplicate it."
It helps that Faith grew up on a small farm in Oregon and is a former middle school science teacher. She has knowledge about plants and animals.
Gleason is an engineer who designs and builds impressive infrastructures on the farm. Like the house for fowl.
"Duck Knox, as we affectionately refer to the duck-chicken coop," Faith said, "has unistrut roofing cross-beams, polycarbonate roof panels, wooden fence-walls and wire buried underground to keep out digging critters.
"It's so secure, there's no way a predator can break in to harm the ducks or chickens."
And there's the greenhouse powered by an aquaponics system, a method of using fish waste to grow plants in a closed-loop system.
"The koi are the engine that makes this system go," Faith said. "It's a two-step process driven by bacteria that turns it into plant food. We have 11 fish that really crank and help us grow about 40 pounds of food (a month) in this small space."
A Gleason-designed solar-powered electric fence surrounds a stack of bee hives.
"Ben tends to over-engineer," Faith said. "We're in bear country and in a neighborhood. Bears are attracted to the larvae in the hive. To discourage bears, we have bee houses protected by the electric fence that is powered by a small solar panel."
The farm has evolved over a five-year period, and it wasn't cheap. Faith is quick to say that she and Gleason have made a long-term investment in this.
"We keep track of our expenses with QuickBooks," she said. "Over a three-year span, we spent about $10,000 per year. Most of the expense has been for the infrastructure build-out."
To offset some of the expenses, Faith offers NSAs - Neighborhood Sponsored Agriculture programs - which are a smaller version of Community Supported Agriculture programsin which people can pay farmers up front for food from their farms. They sell eggs, honey and produce to neighbors. And, in her quest to educate, she consults with others who are venturing into urban farms at her Right to Thrive blog (righttothrive.org) where she dispenses homesteading information, resources, articles, class schedules and newsletters. She is also the founder of the Colorado Springs Urban Homesteading group, a social network for established and new homesteaders.
Faith and Gleason grow a variety of greens in their greenhouse. They capitalize on limited space by using vertical Zipgrow Towers. There, huge heads of cabbage and other greens grow to maturity. On the small farm there are several varieties of fruit trees sprinkled around. Grapevines flourish as do Jerusalem artichokes and various berries. Raised beds are home to tomatoes and other vegetables. The couple enjoy the bounty of their harvest all year by storing and preserving the food.
Allison Buckley, who with her husband, Ed, owns Buckley's Homestead Supply, 1501 W. Colorado Ave., has seen the rise in urban farming. As a matter of fact, the reason they opened their store was because they were having a hard time finding supplies that would enable them to be more self-sufficient.
"It all started with our vegetable garden," she said. "Then we decided it would be fun if we added chickens, and it just snowballed from there. As we were talking about learning how to do more things for ourselves, we realized that there was no place locally to get the supplies we needed. Living on the west side, we could see that the urban chicken population was growing and figured that many of those people were on the same path. So we took a leap of faith, opened the store and we couldn't be happier."
Now the store is in its second year, and they have seen an increase in their customer base.
"I would say that the interest in urban farming has been steadily increasing. We get new customers every day who are just starting to build their own urban homesteads," Allison Buckley said.
Not surprising, Faith is one of Buckley's heroes.
"Honestly, I can't say enough good things about her," Buckley said. "I'm a fan of her Right to Thrive page and am a subscriber to her website because the information that she gives out is invaluable when it comes to homesteading on the Front Range. She speaks from experience and is not afraid to share her failures along with her successes. What most impresses me about Christine is her devotion to the community and to making positive change happen."
With Faith sowing urban farming information and Buckley stocking the shelves of her store with the supplies necessary to become a DIY homesteader, it may not be long before more people in Colorado Springs are growing their own food in cost-saving, sustainable ways.