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Farming the urban way

David Koszka checks on the new chickens in the coop behind his South Capitol neighborhood home Friday in Olympia. The yard and gardens will be one of seven homes featured as part of Saturday's Sustainable Urban Homestead Tour.
David Koszka checks on the new chickens in the coop behind his South Capitol neighborhood home Friday in Olympia. The yard and gardens will be one of seven homes featured as part of Saturday's Sustainable Urban Homestead Tour. The Olympian

OLYMPIA - Rob Thoms is taking a bit of a gamble with the raised bed garden and kiwi plant trellis he's built in the strip of land he owns between the sidewalk and his Washington Street home in Olympia's South Capitol neighborhood.

The city has a utility easement on the property and could dig up his labor of love to install or fix a utility line, all without warning.

But the reward of healthy, homegrown food is worth the risk to Thoms, who also works on a Rainier commercial farm.

“I haven’t met any resistance to what I’m doing,” Thoms said. “It’s been only positive comments.”

Thoms also turned his backyard into a native plant restoration project with currants, huckleberries, vine maples and ferns under a shady canopy of Douglas fir trees.

Since becoming an urban homeowner four years ago, he’s raised chickens, installed rain barrels to reuse stormwater, made compost and saved seeds to use and share with others.

The efforts of Thoms and six other Olympia-area urban gardeners will be on display Saturday during the Sustainable Urban Homestead Tour, organized by the nonprofit group Sustainable South Sound.

All the sites offer examples of urban farming and sustainable living that could be applied to the homes of other city dwellers.

“The goal of the tour is to show people what’s possible,” said tour organizer TJ Johnson, who, along with his wife, Stephanie, grows up to 50 varieties of vegetables in two gardens at their Sawyer Street home on Olympia’s east side.

The Johnsons also practice a range of food-preserving techniques so they can eat what they grow year-round, not just in the growing season.

The former Olympia city councilman said his family’s approach to sustainable living is driven by a strong belief that people need to raise more of their own food to reduce their carbon footprints and shrink their reliance on fossil fuels.

Johnson’s mantra: Start small, but think big.

“If you’ve never gardened, start. If you already garden, expand. If you’ve absolutely maxed out your own yard, start a community garden and help others,” Johnson said.

Thurston County Environmental Health is helping sponsor the event, which had 125 people signed up for the tour as of July 26.

“The county would like to encourage people to grow their own food, especially in these difficult economic times,” noted Jennifer Johnson , a county environmental educator.

Thoms said he offered his place for the self-guided tour to inspire other urban residents to take similar steps.

“We’re starting to see more urban lawns converted to edible landscapes,” he said. “And it doesn’t have to be an expensive proposition.”

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