Next-level gardening 

There's a sharp line between beets and butchering, but everyone starts somewhere

Victor is eating a beet.

This is only significant because Victor is 22 years old, and it's the first beet he's ever eaten. And I fed it to him, in a salad with some arugula, buttercrunch lettuce, kale and chives from my garden.

It's just feet from where we sit, and also hosts four fruit trees; an expansive ground cover of strawberries; raised beds with more than a dozen other crops; a grapevine; edible herbs such as lavender; a compost pile and a beehive. I grow, I eat, I repeat, often sharing overages with friends. I've also been on the Pikes Peak Urban Gardens advisory board since it formed years ago.

Still, I don't have livestock. And given how far some city-dwellers have taken sustainable food practices, I've figured I rank as about half a homesteader, if that.

Victor is helping me construct an earthship-inspired greenhouse (which, OK, should elevate my green game a fair bit). But along the way, he's making me realize how much of this lifestyle I've come to take for granted. I didn't grow up on a farm, or even garden until buying a house eight years ago. And it takes little time to become smart in the backyard.

My point: Victor's sweet crunch moment isn't about me. It's about the Victors all around us, those who wonder what all the fuss is about with this agrarian movement. Even aside from the politics of, say, environmental degradation and food security, it's so much more than a trend. And via a series of impending hands-on local events, you can discover why.

Chicken chasing

The Colorado Springs Urban Homesteading group (tiny.cc/fslblx) counts 832 members, many of whom shop at Buckley's Homestead Supply (1501 W. Colorado Ave., buckleyshomesteadsupply.com). The store opened just over two years ago, and co-owner Allison Buckley says what started as 10 bags of feed sold per week is now 30 to 40. The half pallet of canning supplies per season has grown fivefold.

"The main thing I hear is, it comes down to personal health," she says. "People are fermenting because they have serious health issues or don't know what's in the food at the store. They want to grow their own and be certain. But that's the gateway, it gets them in. It's addictive.

"Once you start doing it, you meet other oddballs — at my other job I'm the freak, they point and laugh good-naturedly — but it builds a deep sense of community."

Members of CSUH will tend to the Homestead Village at downtown's What If ... Festival (Saturday, Sept. 6, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., whatif-festival.org), offering demos, animal visitations with goats, alpacas and such.

"What if you tried to produce some of your own food and make some of your own stuff?" says co-organizer Bonnie Simon, of the local Hungry Chicken Homestead blog. "Most people can do something if they wanted to — maybe not get a goat, but try to grow some kale."

The next weekend, Pikes Peak Urban Gardens' Garlic and Chile Fest focuses on two garden favorites at Summerland Gardens (Saturday, Sept. 13, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., 124 E. Cheyenne Road, ppugardens.org; $10 entry). CSUH will also host the self-guided Urban Homestead Tour of roughly 20 properties (10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, Sept. 13-14) as part of Local Food Week (Saturday, Sept. 13, through Sunday, Sept. 21; tiny.cc/mgablx).

"The tour will be free but we do ask that you do not bring pets or chicken chasing children, non chicken chasing children are always welcome" reads a note on their website. If you don't know if your kids are chicken-chasers, well, there's probably only one way to find out.

Rabbit stew

For a tour sneak peek, I visit Patricia and Roy Amenic's home off South Academy Boulevard. You wouldn't know they only began urban farming five years ago, considering it appears that a Better Homes and Gardens spread exploded in their modestly sized backyard.

Around raised beds made with pallets and recycled plastic tubs, and giant reclaimed water pipes used as fruit tree planters, there are 10 chickens, a beehive, tilapia, a Koi pond and rabbits. All the elements feed one another: Rabbit, fish and chicken poop feed plants, some of which in turn feed the animals. The Amenics eat honey, eggs, fruits and veggies and fish and rabbit.

She's a city employee and he's an IT guy, and after their full-time jobs they spend roughly three hours nightly on garden chores, plus whole weekend days. Winter doesn't stop them; they have a worm farm inside and grow sprouts as feed. They even teach others how to butcher rabbits, says Roy, sharing that he did shed a tear putting down his buck (the male for his three breeding females), as "he was a pet."

In the next breath, Patricia's saying they don't mind butchering the babies, humanely. I see the gadget that snaps their necks. They eat a rabbit weekly; a 10- to 12-week-old, as a soup's protein, feeds four adults two meals. I'm holding and stroking a docile-enough 9-week-old as they're telling me this.

Immersed into that next level of homesteading, I suddenly feel like Victor, eating my first proverbial beet. This is a whole new world to me, but so accessible. I guess that's what the village and tour and Local Food Week may teach us. Some of us should just grow kale. Or beets, if we aren't ready for the other red juice to run.



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