Microfarming in Suburban Wisconsin

  • Fukoaka Masunoba’s One Straw Revolution (hence the blog
    name).  It’s about taking the
    “work” out of gardening.  More poetry and
    philosophy than how to.  Very very important to shift in perspectives for
  • Toby Hemenway’s Gaia’s Garden This book blew
    my mind. I recommend it to everyone.
  • Bill Mollison (Intro to Permaculture, Permaculture a
    Designer’s Manual).
    Tropical focus,
    but helps to change thinking about gardening as a battle with nature to partnership with nature. More ideas on integrated systems in gardening
    than I have ever seen.
  • David Holmgren Permaculture – a philosophy book.
  • David Jacke’s Edible Forest Gardens Vol 1,2 – Vol 1 is
    fantastic though wordy. Vol 2 in insanely
    detailed and I still haven’t finished it, but the best appendixes and plant lists are in Vol 2.
  • Sara Stein Noah’s Garden – Restoring nature
    and ecology by gardening.
  • Ruth Stout’s No Work Gardening – Crazy old bat
    that is a joy to read. Proves that
    gardening can be simple and that we
    need to talk to the generation that came before us before they take their knowledge to the grave.


  1. One-Straw Revolution is about how Masanobu Fukuoka developed no-till farming in postwar Japan by trying to mimic natural processes (he freely admits inadvertently killing trees in his orchards that had been accustomed to human intervention). It has very little to do with gardening or farming in the sense we are all used to, which is its major strength, IMO.

    It is also unfortunately no longer in print in the US and not easy to get a copy. You can either order it used and hope the seller actually has it, or order from a bookseller overseas. It’s still in print in India.

  2. I mean, I’m not bored with re-use, organic gardening, sustainable development, layered plant combinations, etc. But I’m happy calling that “gardening”.

  3. I have been following the blogs of this family for some time now. I am amazed at the energy and enthusiasm.
    Rob,since most rules for the HOA are the work of the developers, was it hard to get changes made? Did others understand what you wanted and support the changes? Are new comers still supportive?

    I like that you not only grow much of your own vegetables but that you can sell to others looking for local food. There was a discussion here just days ago about how inefficient it is in terms of transportation to buy from such small producers. What are your thoughts on that?

    Gardening is seen by some as the endeavor of an older generation. We need a more encompassing definition to appeal to a more diverse group.I have read Masanobu Fukuoka’s work and was moved by his philosophy to try a new way.
    I hope someone reading of your family’s work will be similarly moved.

  4. Gloria, our HOA is in a starter home community and the rules from the developers were not very stringent to start with. My goal in becoming Pres. was to ensure that those rules were not interpreted overly aggressively so I only set precedent in tone. In respect for my neighbors I have kept the front yard fairly tame-the only nod to edible landscaping being two peach trees, and I keep the native plantings tidied up. Cross into the backyard, behind the fence and things get interesting very, very quickly. Think of my house as a “mullet”: all business in front, and party in the back!

    In regards to the Buy Loca argument: here in semi-rural WI, if you don’t go straight to a farmer, you have to travel about 20 miles to get decent organic produce. The several hundred pounds of produce we did sell to a local coffee shop was delivered by Honda Insight at 70mpg, usually when we were already going out on another errand. The produce that I replaced is delivered from a semi trailer driving out of Milwaukee (50 miles) and making 30 stops @ 5mpg. Most restaurants want lots of little orders, making the efficiencies of a large truck irrelevant. If they needed 30 TONS of something it would be different. But they only need 10 lbs of lettuce a day. That is saying nothing of the fact that the lettuce on the truck was grown over 1000 miles away in the first place.

    The Whole Foods in Madison buys much of their weeks produce after the farmers market, from whatever the growers can’t sell. This essentially ad zero miles to the food, which again, only traveled 30 miles in the first place in a vehicle getting 5x the mileage of the semi.

    I strongly believe that local food is essential to the long term viability of our local economies.
    The money paid for that lettuce goes back to California to a Fat Cat CEO of an Agri-Business. The money paid for my lettuce often went right back inside for a Soy Latte ensuring the long term viability of the shop.

    Besides, I prefer to have as little petroleum on the ingredient list of my food as possible.

  5. Good for you Rob,
    But you might have the wrong idea of what a Fat Cat CEO of an Agri-business looks like.
    After graduating from college I moved to California to study Ornamental Horticulture at an Agricultural school in the heart of Salinas Valley.
    I went to school with some of those CEO’s that you call fat cats and I think if you sat down with many of them at the local Denny’s, where you won’t find a soy latte or any other fancy coffee drink , you’ll discover some very environmentally and socially progressive people.
    You’ll meet group of very hard working family men and women of diverse ethnic backrounds who are just as concerned about all those other things you and you interfaith wife are concerned about.
    So come on down to Denny’s and have a regular cup of coffee instead of your latte and meet
    some very interesting farmers, truckers, packers, CEO’s , CFO’s, agri-students, agri-brokers, and others. We all sit at the same table discussing agri- biz, the rodeo, the farms, the weather, the cost of fuel and all the other regular stuff that normal people do. – Just like in Wisconsin.

  6. Fantastic! I don’t have the energy to accomplish as much as you are doing, but my yard is mostly woods, prairie, and a hopefully-to-be-better vegetable garden!

    You certainly are an inspiration! I hope the multitudes flock to your standards! I’m ready to go out and plant right now (except for the 6 inches of snow:)

  7. Rob-

    I noticed the house you have is backed up to open space. Was the space your house now resides on once agricultural land or just an open space?

    Did you ever consider creating this type of thing in an already established (more urban) area. Was it HOA’s or was it more cost efficient mortgage wise. It can’t save you in oil can it?

  8. CaliGG,

    My land was a corn field 18 months before I moved in. That guilt ways heavily on me and is the impetus for much of the action in this article. That “open space” is actually I-94… Yes, one of the great ironies of my life is that my permaculture gardens butt up against a freeway. Ever wonder who those people are that live on the freeway? Well at least one of them is an aspiring sustainable farmer!
    Basically, 3 years ago we needed to back out of a farmette due to really bad home inspection results (mold), but our current home was sold w/ 4 weeks to close. With an 18 month old baby and one on the way we needed a home FAST. This Spec home was the result. We are trying to make lemonade until we can get our farm while also trying to prove what is possible in Suburbia. Bloom where your planted…

    There are lots of Urban Farmers doing similar things as myself. Check the earlier comments and go to Ed’s Blog and search his blogroll (or his blog!) for lots of examples. In many ways it works even better in Urban areas as you are even closer to markets and have more access to things like restaurant waste for compost. Roof tops, vacant lots, etc all work fine. Have 300 sq feet? Give it a shot!


  9. Rob –

    Thanks for the response.

    I’m a gardener and a landscape designer, I’ve been growing my own veggies for 5+ years now, have rain barrels and a water wise landscape in the front of my home. I will be getting chickens soon.

    I know many people who do the same as you, but in a very urban environment.

    I asked those questions because as a landscape designer (and as a conservationist), the main worry I have in the environment is land and its use. How is it being used and why? Everything has to come from something, and loss of mid-size farm land to suburbia is disturbing.

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