Q&A with Amy Stross, author of The Suburban Micro-Farm

By Shelley Pierce | April 29, 2018
by Shelley Pierce
April 29, 2018

Amy is an avid permaculture gardener, writer, and educator with a varied background in home-scale food production. Amy’s current adventure is transforming a 3-acre property into a micro-farm with her husband and mischievous farm cat. She shares her expertise and adventures in permaculture gardening at TenthAcreFarm.com. In her latest book, The Suburban Micro-Farm, Stross reveals how to take gardening to the next level by showing you how to transform your suburban yard into a suburban farm.  Read on to learn more and enter below to win a copy from Chelsea Green Publishing.

1. For those of our readers who are unfamiliar with the concept of a suburban micro-farm – what exactly is it, in a nutshell?

For many, the word farm brings to mind a rural landscape, but we are seeing some changes today in how land is used. Nowadays, half of all Americans live in the suburbs and half of all people in the world live in cities. Once-fertile land is being gobbled up and turned into housing developments at an accelerated rate.

Recently, there has been a rising interest in reclaiming a portion of lawn to grow food for the household. These suburban ‘micro-farms’ have taken on a different look than their rural counterparts to match the lifestyle and challenges of their modern caretakers.


2. How does his book help us to create a beautiful, edible yard with only 15 minutes a day? What features in the book will readers find particularly useful and helpful?

It’s true that the more time spent doing something, the more you get out of it. But that doesn’t mean part-time micro-farmers can’t pull off a successful garden. It’s all a matter of making sure your expectations match reality. I suggest spending 15 minutes a day in the garden.

It could be seven minutes of weeding while drinking your morning coffee and eight minutes of watering with your after-work happy hour drink. Or maybe seven minutes are spent in the morning to seed another row of carrots, while in the evening eight minutes are spent harvesting lettuce for a dinner salad.

Spending 15 minutes does a lot of things: It keeps gardening in the daily routine even though you’re busy. It eases anxiety about what “should” be happening in the garden. The daily routine helps you avoid waiting until you have that perfect, uninterrupted long window of time. (Rarely happens!)

Spending 15 minutes a day allows you to see the subtle changes of a garden throughout the season. You get to experience the transformational nature of a garden and connect to the essence of the growing process, not just the outcome.

With 15 minutes a day, you also get to catch when things need attention. Maybe you wouldn’t have known how dry the garden soil was if you hadn’t been out there weeding. It gives you a chance to notice signs of pest or disease before it becomes too overwhelming.

The 15-minutes-a-day garden is just one tool that I share in The Suburban Micro-Farm. Readers will also learn tips for dealing with their specific challenges (poor soil, shade, sloping land, etc.). They’ll learn how to get organized for planning and planting, how to spot problems and troubleshoot, ideas to manage water for no-work irrigation, how to grow fruit crops in a more natural way, and so much more.


3. What sets this book apart from the other gazillion books of gardening out there?

I tackle the barriers that might keep you from growing a successful garden. Managing time and planning is one of the biggest barriers to having a garden, and not many books address this. The Suburban Micro-Farm shows you how to get started and stick with it throughout the season, even when life gets busy. It’s a road map for incorporating a garden into your life.

Many gardening books also assume everyone has a large, flat, sunny area in which to garden. It’s great if you have this kind of set-up, but the majority of gardeners deal with some sort of challenge, whether that’s a space issue, shade, slope, or poor soil, to name a few. There are many tips and tricks offered throughout the book, for example, how to stabilize soil on hillsides, how to use edible crops for privacy hedgerows, how to use herbs for fertilizer, and more.

The Suburban Micro-Farm will empower you to move forward!


4. What is some key advice that you have for those thinking about venturing into developing a suburban micro-farm of their own?

Plant what your household loves. Don’t spend time growing food that no one will eat.

Prioritize harvesting. Don’t waste the fruits and vegetables you’ve worked so hard to grow because you’re planting for the next season or catching up on weeding.

Go Small. Keep your beginning garden manageable. Once you’re confident that you can manage one small bed, add another.

Grow perennials. Perennials such as asparagus, fruit trees, berry bushes, strawberries, and many herbs come back year after year without much work.


5. Will gardeners who don’t live in the suburbs find this book useful?

I use the word suburban loosely because I believe that the techniques and strategies in this book can be useful in any small space, whether urban, suburban, or rural. Even those with large properties may wish to design a compact micro-farm that is more easily manageable.


6. In your book you talk about how you reinvented yourself from a high school teacher to the gardening aficionado that you are today. What were some of your most difficult challenges you encountered on this journey and how did you overcome them? What advice do you have for those who feel they aren’t on the right path in life in terms of their life’s work or calling?

Remaking yourself””from one career to another, from a career to retirement, from a career to full-time parent, etc.””is certainly a challenge. A snowball rolling downhill takes time to build momentum and gain speed.

But remaking yourself is also a privilege. I feel grateful that I live in a time and place where I could make the choice to reinvent my life’s purpose. For me, the challenges were many: I doubted whether I could be a knowledgeable and effective garden educator. I doubted whether my readers would like what I had written. I doubted whether I could pull off the career transition financially.

Changing my life’s direction moved slower than I expected, but one of the best things I did was build a support network of mentors and others who are making a similar transition to help me through times of doubt.

We only get one life. If you don’t feel you’re on the right path, allow your passion to guide you but remember that it will take time to gain momentum. Know that it will be challenging and lean into it with grit, perseverance, and humor.

Win a copy of “The Suburban Micro-Farm“!

To enter, simply leave a comment on this blog post by midnight on Sunday, May 6, 2018 (be sure to provide a valid e-mail address) in answer to the following question:

What will you grow in your suburban micro-farm?

Be sure to include a valid e-mail address. The winner will be drawn at random from all qualified entrants, and notified via e-mail. (See rules for more information.)

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