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In the twenty-five or so years before returning to the family farm in Southeastern North Carolina, I designed and installed landscapes in the Richmond, Virginia suburbs. Yes, I'm one of those guys that can give you the botanical name to almost any tree, shrub, perennial, or annual you can point out, and, if you get me started, you'll probably wish you hadn't. It's hard to stop. Back then we also maintained our clients' properties, which, I think, gives the designer a more focused eye for ergonomics - designing properties that are easier to maintain. I often “drew in” specific gate dimensions on design plans to be wide enough to get larger mowers and aerators into back yards, and at least a couple times, we built between-post fence panels that were removable, knowing we would need to do heavy work inside the fence at a later date. These are just a couple of the many design considerations that are often overlooked but make a big difference over time.
After raising my two sons, I returned to and eventually inherited the family farm on my mother’s side. For the last fifteen years I’ve become highly proficient in all areas of specialty vegetable crop production: in the field, in high tunnels, and in heated greenhouses. I’ve also helped design hydroponic systems in shipping containers and other climate-controlled structures using agricultural grade LED lighting. What I’m known for among my peers is being an expert in intensive vegetable crop rotation and succession planning; a skill that is much, much more complex than most people know. My point here is not to boast about expertise, but just to point out to my readers that I have both the knowledge and experience to write on the subject. I also have my own mentors in the field from academic soil scientists to preferred seed sources to equipment manufacturers, and even to experts in related practices like backyard chicken egg production. If I don’t know it, I know someone who does.
Over the years, I have put a good deal of thought into how vegetable crops, and fruit and nut trees could be used in the landscape, partly out of my own necessity as the old farmhouse yard has needed landscape renovation for years now. In my daily farm work, I noticed that a lot of vegetable crops are highly attractive, and vary in color, texture, and size, (groundcover, shrub and tree types) just the same as any standard landscape nursery plants. My goal in this writing project is to prove that almost any suburban homeowner can grow a significant portion of fresh food on his or her property without compromising the conventional suburban landscape design aesthetic. I am a proponent (mildly put) of self-sufficiency and self-sovereignty. Growing your own food is an ever more important skill to implement in these uncertain times. There’s nothing more “local” than your own yard.
Buckle up my friends, and thank you so much for reading. --------- Farmer Steve