Learn The Basics About Urban Farming, CSAs & Balcony Gardening

by | Inspiring Interviews

What comes to mind when you hear the word ‘farm’? Big fields, tractors, mass chicken houses?

I grew up in a rural farming community, so for the longest time that’s how I described a farm.

Don’t get me wrong, big agriculture is great. With a quick trip to the grocery store, we have a variety of fruits and veggies available to us. But unless you’re buying in season produce, fresh is a bit of a misnomer.

Let’s be honest – do you really know what fruits and veggies are ‘in-season’? I certainly don’t, but I know the advantages of eating in-season produce (better taste and more nutrients).

The good news is there’s a growing trend popping up in cities around the globe and it’s ensuring more seasonal produce is readily available to us.

In today’s episode, I sat down with Urban Farmer Muriel Olivares from Little River Cooperative in Miami to discuss this growing trend.

Watch the video below and learn:

  • What urban farming is and how it became so popular
  • How you can get the freshest produce grown specifically for you
  • The most important thing to get right if you want to grow fruits / veggies on your own balcony or backyard
  • What fruits and veggies will thrive on your balcony or garden

Once you’ve had a chance to watch I’d love to hear:

Would you rather have someone grow your veggies for you, or do you have a green thumb and like to do it yourself?

Please join me in the comments below!


Hello everyone. It’s Lindsey Victoria here from A Life Well-Balanced. Urban farming is a growing trend across the globe. Did you know urban farming accounts for 1/5 of the world’s produce? In fact, if you live in New York City, a 10 x 20ft plot of land can produce between $500 to $700 worth of edible produce in a season.

So I am sitting down with an urban farmer here in Miami, Muriel Olivares. She’s the founder of Little River Cooperative which is where we are and she’s going to tell us all about urban farming.

Lindsey: “Thank you so much for joining me.”

Muriel: “Thank you for having me.”

Lindsey: “I’m so excited. So before we dive in, I know I’ve spoken a bit about urban farming but tell us what it is and what’s the benefits out of it?”

Muriel: “I guess the best way to think about it is to compare to non-urban farming which is the traditional farming. Farming usually happens in rural places or outside of cities, not necessarily rural but outside of the urban area because farming takes a lot of space. Commercial Agriculture usually uses tractors. They need space to drive the tractors around. It’s noisy and inside the urban environment. There is obviously not that much space.

Urban farming is when farming shrinks down to a miniature version of itself onto a plot of land in the middle of the city. In Miami, were lucky because there is actually a lot of land and it looks like we’re not in the city right now.”

Lindsey: “I know, it’s true.”

Muriel: “It doesn’t look like an urban farm but if you go out of the gate and into the street, there is a gasoline station right on the corner and 15 minutes later, you’re in downtown. So we are in fact in an urban setting. But this is a very small scale farm compared to a farm that would be in a rural setting.”

Lindsey: “Right. And you actually do something called CSA or Community Supported Agriculture. I want to talk a little bit about that. What exactly is Community Supported Agriculture because I think that helps the community get into urban farming.”

Muriel: “It actually doesn’t help them get into a urban farming. It just provides food.”

Lindsey: “Oh, okay.”

Muriel: “If you Google the definition of Community Supported Agriculture, it’s basically when a community or people, whether it’s an urban community or rural community, support a farm and that farm feeds them.

It was born in the 1960’s out of Japan when big agriculture, industrial agriculture was booming and it was putting a lot of small farmers out of business because they couldn’t compete with the prices and the system.

In Japan, there is a famous story where there is a community that’s really tight-knit and they had a farmer that had just been there forever and he was about to go out of business. But they all loved that farm and they loved the farmer. They knew him, they bought their food from him and so they decided to all pay him in advance for his vegetables so he didn’t have to go out of business.

They gave him a big flow of money before he even grew anything. So now that he’s financially stable and he could continue farming.

That basic concept has spread west-ward and now it’s super common and really popular. And that’s how we started our farm. We didn’t take a loan or use our savings when we started this CSA. We started with just 12 members but we found 12 people who are willing to pay us for vegetables that we hadn’t grown yet. They’re almost like mini investors and then we pay them with vegetables instead of giving them their money back.”

Lindsey: “So they are getting fresh, local in-season vegetables.”

Muriel: “They’re almost getting vegetables that are grown for them.”

Lindsey: “That’s so nice.”

Muriel: “Now we have a hundred members. We’ve been out a hundred for the past 3 years, we don’t want to go higher than that because our business is very diversified. We do other things besides the CSA. So our hundred members all pay us every year, in the summer which is our off-season. They pay us for all of their vegetables upfront and that provides financial security for us. So the communities that supported the Agriculture part is more about making sure that small farms stay in business and in turn, the community members who supported that farm get the cream of the crop like they get the best of what we can grow.”

Lindsey: “I have personally had some of the vegetables and fruits that are grown right here on this property and I’ve got to say it’s really good having fresh produce. I’m originally from a farming town and coming into a city I always just go to the supermarket and things are lot bigger than they should be.”

Muriel: “Yeah, or even if you go to farmers markets, you don’t know if you can fully trust them unless you build a relationship, but right off the bat you don’t know if you can really trust the vendor selling those vegetables. Like did they actually grow them, when did they harvest them or did they just buy them and they’re reselling them to you? Whereas in CSA, you just have so much trust in that person and you know that the food you’re eating is harvested it for you the day before you got it.”

Lindsey: “That’s so true. So we’re talking about the CSA so what would you tell people maybe if they don’t live in Miami? If you live here in Miami, we’ll make sure we give you the address and you can come and check out Little River Cooperative but if they don’t have access here in Miami where would you go to find a CSA?”

Muriel: “That’s a good question. The CSA’s are so popular now that if you Google, let’s say you’re in Detroit, Google ‘local CSA in Detroit’. You’ll get a list of them. There is a website that lists them called localharvest.org. It’s an old website that’s been around forever. I’m not sure if it’s as effective as it used to be back then. There might be others now they’re competing with that are better, but that one should still work.”

Lindsey: “Okay, localharvest.org. I’ll put a link below the video for you. Now I know a lot of people that I speak to personally and I’m sure you’re seeing people are interested in CSA, people are interested in growing locally, finding more locally sourced things, or maybe even starting growing fruits and vegetables on their balcony. So I guess I want to get a few tips from you. Miami has a lot of high-rise condos, a lot of people here want to grow basil or mint or whatever. I have personally tried to grow many and have failed. So let’s say give a few tips of what you would say to start your own balcony garden.”

Muriel: “I guess I would like to say that one of the things that my partner and I do. Tiffany is my business partner. We have created a workshop, that’s an introduction to gardening in South Florida because South Florida has a unique climate. We are in the tropics and we’re the only city in the tropics in the whole United States. So there aren’t a lot of resources for our growing seasons and stuff.

A lot of people in Miami specifically have a hard time and get very confused because for example you will probably go to Home Depot and you’ll probably buy whatever plants they have for sale there. But Home Depot isn’t based in Miami.

Home Depot is a corporation that is national. And they do the same thing for all of their Home Depot’s at the same time. And the 99.999% of the Home Depot’s follow one growing season and we follow the opposite growing seasons.

So you go to Home Depot in May which is like the beginning of summer. The whole country is growing tomatoes and planting their peas and all this stuff but we’re actually closing.”

Lindsey: “That’s right.”

Muriel: “You go to Home Depot in mid-December, it’s snowing and most of the rest of the country, and that is our peak season. So you have no guide to what is the right time. I went to Home Depot, I bought kale plants, I bought basil and I planted it, it’s June. What’s wrong? In Miami that’s not going to work.”

Lindsey: “I think that might be my problem.”

Muriel: “For the people in Miami, the seasons are flipped here. You’ve got to take that into consideration. We have a course that we teach about four or five times a year so that does help a lot of people get a grasp on that whole mirrored growing season thing. But that aside, let’s say you got the timing. One of the main things you need to look at if you’re going to be growing some veggies or herbs at home, whether it’s in a balcony, on a porch, on a little side courtyard, or anything like that is you need to look at sun exposure because as you can see behind us, vegetables grow in absolute full sun. The sun is literally touching them all day from the moment the sun rises to the moment the sun sets, it’s in the sun.

In an urban setting, that’s the tricky part because there’s always a neighbor tree or your balcony is facing a certain direction and there’s nothing you can do about that. You’re locked into that and so if you’re facing north, the sun is never going to shine on you. You might be in direct light, it’ll be bright but you won’t have the sun that’s actually touching the plant.”

Lindsey: “And that’s what you need.”

Muriel: “That’s what you need. So the first thing is the process of elimination. It’s finding out which direction you’re facing and if you’re facing north, maybe give up.”

Lindsey: “Okay, that’s in the northern hemisphere too. We’re talking if you’re in the northern hemisphere because if we were talking to my Australian people who were down in the south, the sun is facing south.”

Muriel: “Just make sure the sun is reaching.”

Lindsey: “Make sure the sun is on you.”

Muriel: “So here the sun is shining from the south on us so we have to be facing south.”

Lindsey: “Got it.”

Muriel: “And if you’re facing east or west then you’re going to get morning light or afternoon light which is second best to the full day. If you’re getting just half a day of Sun, like on a balcony, if you’re facing east for example, you’re going to get 3 or 4 or 5 hours of direct Sun. Then you have to just limit what you can grow and the nutshell, very basic rule of thumb is fruiting plants like plants that have to produce a little fruit like a tomato or burn eggplant. They have to produce a fruit.

They probably won’t do well with less light. That takes a lot more energy from the plant so they need all the Sun they can get in order to do that. But plants can more easily grow vegetatively which means leaves with less Sun. So anything leafy like arugula.”

Lindsey: “Lettuce.”

Muriel: “Butter Lettuce”

Lindsey: “Kale.”

Muriel: “Things that have leaves.”

Lindsey: “Okay, anything leaves like basil, mint.”

Muriel: “Yeah and then most of the herbs also can handle partly sun or shade, but they just won’t thrive as much as they would if they were getting full Sun. Okay so then you have to know that that’s part of the reason why your herbs aren’t growing as fast.”

Lindsey: “So it really has to do with which way the Sun is facing.”

Muriel: “Yeah, without that there’s nothing you can do. You can’t add more fruits, you can’t change the soil. There’s nothing you can do.”

Lindsey: “That’s being said. If you do have full Sun what kind of soil would you use? Is it just
Potting soil or anything you get from Home Depot or whatever?”

Muriel: “Potting soil, yeah.”

Lindsey: “The soil doesn’t matter where you get it from. You can go straight down to Home Depot, get it from your backyard.”

Muriel: “Yeah, it doesn’t matter as much. The soil is where your plants are going to get their nutrients. So it matters in that sense. But I would always recommend organic just so you’re not using Miracle Grow which is full of Chemicals. So I’ll try to buy a soil that is certified organic. That helps and potting soil is engineered to be drained really well.”

Lindsey: “Speaking of drainage, actually is there a particular container? Do all of your containers need to drain? Do you get rocks at the bottom?”

Muriel: “Yeah, the rocks at the bottom help the little hole not to clog. That’s the main thing. But they all need to drain because vegetable plants and herb plants are very heavy feeders and they need a lot of watering. They don’t like to sit in the water because when water accumulates, there’s no oxygen.”

Lindsey: “And they can get molds and bacteria.”

Muriel: “Yeah, they’ll just rot. They need oxygen just as much as they need water.”

Lindsey: “Okay, and would you recommend if you could start a balcony garden for what sort of budget? $20, $50, $10?”

Muriel: “Anything. It’s very wide because your balcony garden depends on what you define as a balcony garden. If it’s just one pot of basil and you call that a balcony garden, that would be like $4. It just totally depends so there is no actual price on that I think. It just depends how much you want to put into it. How much you put in is how much you’re going to get out.”

Lindsey: “That’s very true. So there you have it. You could start a balcony garden by growing your vegetables or fruits as long as you have full Sun. Or you could get Basil, mint, and you can have leafy greens and have them in partial shade and you could have your own locally grown vegetables. And of course, you can join the CSA right here in the summer.“

Muriel: “Our members’ sign up is between June and September.”

Lindsey: “Okay, so between June and September. I’ll put a link below to her website.”

Muriel: “I would recommend joining our mailing list because it’s really hard to remember to check back in June.”

Lindsey: “That’s true and I’m on their mailing list. There are so many workshops. And another thing that I wanted to point out is you guys also have a nursery. It’s located in Wynwood.”

Muriel: “Yeah just west of Wynwood.”

Lindsey: “I’ll put all the links below so if you are local here in Miami you can check them out. They have seedling sales there, so if you were going to purchase tomatoes or any sort of vegetables for your balcony or some of the leafy greens, you can go to their nursery.”

Muriel: “Yeah you can get them from us. The good thing about us is that we are not a big corporation that is national so our plants are very season specific so if you come to our plant sales, you know that anything you’re buying that day is the right time to plant that day. So we won’t sell you tomatoes in June. We just won’t have them.”

Lindsey: “That’s good.Then you’ll know what you can and what you can’t buy.”

Muriel: “Anything that you can buy, you’ll be good. If we don’t have it, it’s because it’s not the right time.”

Lindsey: “Awesome well thank you so much for sitting down with me. I just wanted to do a brief introduction to urban farming and what Community Supported Agriculture is.”

I hope you guys learned something about that and balcony gardening.

Now we would love to hear from you.

If you have tried planting anything on your balcony I’d love to hear how it’s working for you.

Make sure you come on down to see Muriel at the Little River Cooperative.

I hope you have a great one and I’ll see you next time. Bye.

Lindsey Victoria

Lindsey Victoria

Lindsey is the author of A Life Well-Balanced, a lifestyle blog dedicated to helping people live a more balanced life – physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually.


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