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Nomadic Gardens and Pop-up Farms

Nomadic farming — farms that move from location to location — is interesting.  Let’s explore it a bit.

If you are wondering what a nomadic farm looks like, here’s a gallery of photos for a nomadic farm called Riverpark.  It’s located on an empty building lot at Alexandria Center in New York City.

As you can see from the photos, the entire farm consists of vegetables planted in stacked milk crates.

How to Build a Nomadic Farming Container

The open source wisdom on the topic suggests that the ubiquitous milk crate is the best container to use.  These crates are inexpensive, lightweight, easily moved (they have handles), stackable, and allow drainage/aeration.

They are also easy to converted into a planter by simply lining them with landscape fabric ($10 of fabric + sewing can convert 24 crates into planters) or (in a pinch) a plastic bag with holes.   As an added feature, most nomadic farms add a second, empty crate below the planted one to raise the bed and make it more accessible.

The containers can then be moved from location to location safely, in a shipping container with shelves.

Why Go Nomadic?

The big question we’ve got to answer here is why go nomadic at all?  It’s clearly expensive, particularly in its use of fossil fuels, to move these farms.  They also require more water and watering them can create drainage problems due to run-off.

Despite this, nomadic farms appear to be valuable today because location matters.

Nomadic farms can move right into the center of a city, typically by renting one of the numerous vacant lots (made vacant due to stalled construction, etc.).  Once there, they are able to take advantage of the premium pricing paid for ‘just picked’ produce by numerous nearby restaurants and residents.

Further, the proximity of the farm allows deep relationships to develop, in that the customers can actually talk to the farmer and see the plants being grown.  This cements customer loyalty. So, while this may work today, will it work as things get more turbulent?

Are Nomadic Farms Resilient?

Is a farm that can be moved useful for our transition to resilience?  I think they can play a role. Here’s how:

  • They could provide the ability to “pop-up farming” on leased land located in prime locations near to town centers (which allows them to take advantage of the relationships).  This type of zoned property is currently too expensive for farmers to purchase, but it may be inexpensive to lease short-term.   Over time, when the housing/commercial market completely capitulates due to economic distress, the land could then be purchased outright.
  • Nomadic farms can be moved under cover to avoid extreme weather — something we are going to see increase with each passing year due to climate change.  While it may not be practical to operate completely in a nomadic way, it may also be useful to keep a high value portion of a standard farm nomadic, just in case.
  • They could be configured to provide advanced services such as heirloom crops/aquaponics expertise travelling around in shipping containers.  Think bee keepers, traveling to the location that pays them the most to stay a couple of growing seasons.   Another use is as a farming classroom.  Dropping in on a high school football field to provide the students with life skills they can actually use.

 

Hope this sparked some ideas.

Your reluctantly-nomadic analyst,

 

JOHN ROBB

 

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Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Andy

    I was talking to an anthropology professor who said that he feels nomadism becomes a more viable survival strategy in marginal environments – a semi-desert grassland, for example. Nomadism lets people move around with their animals and avoid completely depleting any area of the landscape.

    And here’s a modern equivalent: ranchers and city governments using goats to control brushfires and remove non-native plants in Los Angeles County. They’re especially useful on steep slopes where it’s hard to get a human crew with heavy machinery.

    http://articles.latimes.com/2011/mar/05/local/la-me-goat-grazers-20110306

  • Nick

    Interesting article, I’ve often thought nomadic may have a temporary edge with high land and tax prices and high likelihoods of regional volatility. Just rent space in good looking region for the summer and move your rig to some low cost wintering locale. Hard to say how energy prices would play into that model though…
    Inflatable greenhouses and aquaculture systems also seem like key ingredients in the nomadic mix. Also given the premium for square footage these systems should go vertical as much as possible.

  • Mike

    A nomadic farm gives you the ability to react to changing legal and social climates, as well. Neighboring town offers incentives for local production? Load up the truck and move everything a few miles down the road. Local government suddenly outlaws resilience efforts? Grab your milk crates and GTFO without losing your investment.

    We see in the technology industry that when you can work anywhere, it creates a market for the jobs you create. Cities and towns compete for the privilege of hosting a business’ operations by offering tax breaks, incentives, even advertising the presence of a skilled workforce. A nomadic farm should be able to create a similar market for resilient local food production.

  • Seems more about community organizing than self-sufficiency.

    • johnrobb

      Nomadic farming? JR

  • John Galt III

    Nomadic farms on barges are called seasteading.

  • DC

    Looking at 5000 lbs of dirt in the back of my dump truck a couple days back, it crossed my mind that it could make a decent mobile garden…but then my thoughts moved on to using hay wagons for that purpose, ~120-160 sq. feet each, simple, durable and widely available, able to support a decent soil depth due to their payload rating.

  • Dustin

    Take a look at Global Buckets.. Self watering planters made out of..you guessed it..buckets. On the site, there are very simple instructions on how to make your own and even build a water distribution system for them. Very simple, straightforward, and best of all, cheap.
    http://www.globalbuckets.org/

  • Kieran

    This actually crossed my mind as someone I know is shortly moving into a camper van, which she will park on the street (and move every few days to avoid suspicion). She was considering starting a garden, and we were discussing the possibility of growing plants on the roof…

    One issue I can see, based on having transported plants to and from home by bicycle, is that all the shaking from the bumpy roads (and the roads aren’t going to get any smoother) can disrupt the root systems a little.

    Oh, and as for the fossil fuel dependence — you’d be surprised at how much you can transport on a trailer towed by a bicycle. Not quickly, mind you, but certainly quite efficiently.

    For the most part, though, I think gardens need to be established. The plants themselves, as well as the ecosystem you build around them (yes, a vegetable garden is an ecosystem), tend to adapt to the conditions in a given location. If the location is changing, you will be losing efficiency as the ecosystem keeps re-adapting.

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Robots On The Farm
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