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Future Farmers Learn to Grow Organically at Seeds at City

One-third of an acre planted with corn, squash, green beans, broccoli, pumpkins and sunflowers where grass once grew at San Diego City College is an urban farm project that could revolutionize residential landscaping throughout the county, says Karon Klipple, an assistant math professor.

The miniature Seeds at City farm that took root this year and is part of an internship program is the brainchild of Klipple, who also co-chairs the college’s Environmental Stewardship Committee.

Touting the ecological advantages of the urban farm over the traditional lawn, Klipple says the farm uses a third as much water and none of the chemical fertilizers.

“We’re teaching students and community volunteers how to do it,” she said. “There’s a growing demand and people are changing their landscapes to this, which is a real-life answer to a diminishing water supply.”

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At present, there are four interns enrolled who each earn a stipend for working four hours a day, three days a week for eight weeks at the Seeds at City farm. But plans are to increase enrollment to 10 students and there is no lack of volunteers interested in the sustainable, organic farming techniques practiced there, says Paul Maschka, an organic farming expert hired to run the program.

“We encountered some young people for whom urban farming is new and foreign and out of their comfort zone,” Maschka said. “Others know a little about it and some know a lot, which blew us away.

“We didn’t expect a sector of young people would be already enlightened, and that’s refreshing.”

Surrounded By Skyscrapers

Located in a highly visible area at the east end of downtown between the college’s Learning Resources Building and a campus theater, the urban farm draws a great deal of attention.

“We purposely designed and planted it in a spot where people walking by couldn’t miss it,” Maschka said. “It’s in your face , a farm in the midst of skyscrapers , and people stop and take notice.”

Maschka, who worked for the San Diego Zoological Society’s Horticulture Department specializing in organic practices, calls himself an urban farmer. He shares responsibility for the urban farm and instruction of the interns with Julia Dashe.

Urban farming is also a way for people to grow their own produce in an era of increased food prices, says Klipple.

Several other lawns on the campus have already been designated as future vegetable plots, Klipple said, adding that the administration is very supportive and anxious to be able to increase water conservation.

While the intent is to practice organic growing methods at Seeds at City, Maschka doubts it could qualify for certification because of its urban setting.

Conveniently, food waste from the college’s cafeteria is used in a composting operation that provides nutrients for the soil.

Coming full circle, plans are to use crops from an expanded farming operation in the college’s cafeteria. Future goals also include setting up a farmers market and selling the produce to local restaurants, and then the profits would be plowed back into the program to hire more interns and possibly some full-time workers.

Natural Insect Control

Varieties of vegetables will be rotated according to the season while perennials will also be planted. However, the diverse plants were selected in accordance with the different types of insects they draw, thus creating the overall effect of a pesticide since the various insects prey on each other, Maschka explained.

The urban farm has two slopes on either side that will soon be planted with dwarf fruit trees, including peach, plum, apricot, cherry and a variety of apple trees. The dwarf trees are more practical than full-sized ones because they don’t require as much water, they produce as much fruit as big trees and are safer since they don’t require people to climb up on ladders to pick the fruit, Maschka said, adding that other lawns around campus have been approved for expanding the urban farm.

“We’ll be planting everything but chocolate,” he said. “The climate we have in Southern California a short way from the ocean is conducive to growing just about anything on the planet.”

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