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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  • Rachael H.
    Comment added May 8, 2018Reply

    We have a CSA share from a local farm because they can provide a much bigger variety than I could tackle on my own, but we grow herbs and black raspberries (I look at the "how to prune and train black raspberries" article on Amy's blog every year!) and this year we're adding blueberries and strawberries, and looking for even more fruit varieties to add in the future!

  • Ann Gonzalez
    Comment added May 7, 2018Reply

    I’m relocating to the mountain west and can’t wait to get back to my roots. I grew up with a garden that supplied our family - we didn’t rely on a grocery store for much of our edibles.

  • Frances
    Comment added May 7, 2018Reply

    I am growing strawberries, fruit trees, tomatoes, peppers, etc. I love Amy's blog and book!

  • Anouk
    Comment added May 6, 2018Reply

    I love gardening. I have a little organic garden and soon I will have also chicken. I read the newsletter from Tenth acre farm and find it helpfull. So I hope to win this book.

    Comment added May 6, 2018Reply

    I just found you Amy and I am glad I did. I am converting my yard into a food and flower garden & I only wish I had started sooner! I am planting asparagus (12 purple ones and 12 of the good old Mary Washington) 3 tiny Hazelnut twigs I got from the Arbor Day Foundation, and some flowering annuals this weekend.

  • John Casbeer
    Comment added May 6, 2018Reply

    I am growing tomatoes,bell peppers, cucumbers, cantaloupe,corn and peanuts.

  • Amy Siuda
    Comment added May 6, 2018Reply

    We live on 1/10 of an acre city lot and am converting all of the existing lawn to growing food and flowers using a combination of permaculture principles and bio-intensive planting. It’s been a joy to see a dead, compacted yard come to life. It’s a slow process as we do not mechanically till - instead we are using layered mulch and raised beds and successive planting to re-condition the soil. I’m excited to read your book and continue building our lovely little space in our city! Thank you for sharing it with us!

  • John Massman
    Comment added May 6, 2018Reply

    Over the last 24 years we've been working our suburban garden, constantly amending the soil from our compost pile and vermicompost bins and expanding year to year. We're constantly getting new ideas and learning new methods to add to the success of our small garden plots to grow more food. We've been getting Amy's emails and following her on Facebook and I'm sure her book would offer us even more tips for success.

  • suzanne fessler
    Comment added May 6, 2018Reply

    I have a half acre of sloping south facing land. I want to terrace it and start planting trees in guilds - apple, plum, cherry, persimmon. The fence will be planted with black berry bushes to keep out the deer. Under the trees I want to have perennials. I will need a lot of help, but this will be my last garden, with the ducks to help clean up the bugs.

  • Valerie Gordon
    Comment added May 6, 2018Reply

    I would love to plant some peach trees , fig trees, and raspberry bushes.

  • Lisa Guglielmelli
    Comment added May 6, 2018Reply

    Definitely keeping my garden on my mind for those 15 minutes a day Amy talks about is the key to a successful garden.

    • Lisa Guglielmelli
      Comment added May 6, 2018Reply

      And I forgot to say I’m planting a mulberry bush, hardy kiwi, herbs, lettuce, carrots, cilantro, beets.

  • Ken
    Comment added May 6, 2018Reply

    I would really like to plant a hedgerow along the road in the front yard. I hope to find a berry bush that would be deer resistant and also provide some privacy and berries of course!!!

  • Emily S.
    Comment added May 6, 2018Reply

    My husband and I are working on improving our canning garden to stock our pantry for winter :) I would love ideas to increase our yield and maximize our space!

  • Lynn
    Comment added May 5, 2018Reply

    I'd like to grow blueberries, herbs, asparagus. I have a huge yard that is shaped like a mesa - flat at the top then slopes toward the street. Terrible soil, hollowed out cavities and tunnels eroding due to a rotted ground-up stump. And I have no idea how to begin.

    • Kat Crouch
      Comment added May 5, 2018Reply

      Lynn--I have a very small front yard with extremely hard clay soil. I am building raised beds so that I can ignore the ground underneath entirely. With your sloping yard, that may the best plan for you. If the tree stump is mostly gone, you can roto-till the entire top of the mesa to even things out (you can rent a stronger tiller then you would want to buy), and then go to beds. I have seen on the Internet stories about making raised beds from free pallats (free is my favorite four-letter-word)! Good luck and keep moving and dreaming!

  • Margie Stankoven
    Comment added May 5, 2018Reply

    Tomatoes: Paul Robeson, Cosmonaut Volkov, Monumok's Hat, Radiator Charlies, Green onions, Eqyptian Walking onions, basil, marjoram, rosemary,ginger, cucumbers, catnip, tansey, and more.

  • Teresa
    Comment added May 5, 2018Reply

    Love the great ideas and help with my "farm" gets better each season!

  • Raechel
    Comment added May 5, 2018Reply

    I would love to win this book! We're working on adding some different perennials this year, our weirdest one to try is sea kale. We got it sprouted, and are hoping to transplant soon

  • Joelle Holland
    Comment added May 5, 2018Reply

    This book looks so interesting and helpful. I've gardened many years and am always looking for ways to better that interest. I love my garden and hope to make it better and better every year.

  • Nicole
    Comment added May 5, 2018Reply

    I would love a copy of this book! I started my first garden in 5 gallon buckets this year after moving from NYC. We have some tomatoes, cucumbers, and bell peppers as well as some basil and chives. Fingers crossed!

  • Nancy Davis
    Comment added May 5, 2018Reply

    I would love to win a copy of that book. I moved from a city lot growing things in the back yard to a courtyard and am still trying to grow veggies, herbs flowers, strawberries and raspberries. Nancy

  • Dawn
    Comment added May 5, 2018Reply

    What I love about Amy's book is fast, cutting-edge information on gardening that is practical for everyday life (with it's challenges and constraints). I've read/skimmed many gardening books, but her book is the one I recommend.

  • Lydia R
    Comment added May 5, 2018Reply

    I want to grow tomatoes, asparagus, and other vegetables. I would also like to grow black raspberries and blueberries.

    Thank you for the information in this article.

  • Deja
    Comment added May 5, 2018Reply

    I'm a long-time gardener (zone 7A). I grow everything! ( I haven't tried artichokes. I really appreciate Tenth Acre Farm.

  • Danette
    Comment added May 5, 2018Reply

    I really hope more people start doing Urban farming rather than lawns.

  • Jen Hoffman
    Comment added May 5, 2018Reply

    I really hope to plant some apple trees and berry bushes this year, to get a good foundation going in my empty backyard.

  • Karolyn K
    Comment added May 5, 2018Reply

    I want to grow strawberries, sweet potatoes, red potatoes, tomatoes, carrots, celery, and beets.

  • John-Eric
    Comment added May 5, 2018Reply

    Currants and juneberries.

  • Andrea
    Comment added May 5, 2018Reply

    I want to grow strawberries this year. My 4 year old is so excited! Hoping it works!

  • Beth
    Comment added May 4, 2018Reply

    I'm growing tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, squash, green beans, and herbs. We should have enough to eat fresh with plenty left to can or give away!

  • Katie
    Comment added May 4, 2018Reply

    I would grow enough tomatoes to eat in season and to can for later.

  • laura mccubbin
    Comment added May 1, 2018Reply

    I'm looking for more varieties and more medicinal herbs, thanks for the chance!

  • Frances
    Comment added April 30, 2018Reply

    I would grow more herbs and tomatoes and squash but I would try more varieties of each one!

  • Danielle Diakoff-King
    Comment added April 30, 2018Reply

    Trying to grow everything from garlic to Brussels sprouts for my family this year. All our produce. No grocery stores. Yay!

  • E. Henderson
    Comment added April 30, 2018Reply

    I’d grow Swiss chard and plenty of greens in the cool season, and squash and peppers in the warm season.

  • Susan P.
    Comment added April 29, 2018Reply

    I would grow salad vegetables like different lettuces and cherry or grape tomatoes, plus different herbs.

  • Kim
    Comment added April 29, 2018Reply

    Kale, herbs and berries

  • Ann Marie Mones
    Comment added April 29, 2018Reply

    I am still trying to figure out the best selections for my garden, and I think this book might help. So far, I have started seeds indoors and bought a few plants. I have tomatoes, green beans, leeks, peppers, lettuce, peas, herbs, Swiss chard, kale, spinach, and herbs. I am thinking about turnips, beets, carrots, squash, and setting aside one of my raised beds for blueberries. But from what I have read above, maybe the blueberry bushes can become part of the landscap instead? I need to read this book!

  • chester marx
    Comment added April 29, 2018Reply

    I want to try some mild radishes, and fancy lettuce.

  • Carolyn M.
    Comment added April 29, 2018Reply

    I would grow salad greens, peppers, tomatoes and herbs.

  • Vickie Ann McCoy
    Comment added April 29, 2018Reply

    We already grow green beans, tomatoes, squash, herbs... the usual suburban summer garden. I’d like to learn to grow some cooler weather veggies, as well as fruits and nuts. I’m leaning to can and preserve as well. Thank you for this giveaway.

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