Beauties Below Gaffey: Harbor Farms Part II

Bruhnke’s urban minifarm in full bloom. (photos by Sierra Haase)

Last year, the concept of Harbor Farms was born when Rachel Bruhnke, a high school teacher, purchased a three-bedroom, two-bath house with a huge back yard on 17th Street, and began her dream of having her own little urban mini-farm.

Outside, she planned on installing solar panels and rain gutters. Inside, she planned to incorporate certain things such as a Hot Box to warm food, and to use her basement to store canned food and harvested vegetables. She wanted to ensure she and her daughter lived as environmentally friendly as they possibly could by collecting grey water, saving rainwater and composting. She also hoped to reach out to the community to teach other homeowners how to utilize their land to grow food and to become individually sustainable.

I interviewed Rachel in the July 2011 issue of San Pedro Today, and since then much has happened and been achieved. Always wanting to teach and share, as a class field trip for her Environmental Engineering class she walked her students to her home so they could watch her solar panels be installed. The rain gutters are up and collecting water that she uses to water her vegetation in three different containers: one in the front yard and two in the back. She hired a friend to install a wood and wire fence around the front yard that the plants can cling to as they grow, and she now has tomatoes, herbs and a borage plant that attracts bees.

She never installed her Hot Box, but thinks she might use the space for a solar dehydrator to dry herbs and veggies. She has acquired two coveted chickens that she collects eggs from, and since last July has grown a plethora of fruits, vegetables and herbs, including pumpkins, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, artichokes, chard, sweet peas, cabbage, thyme, sage, mint, and much more. In April, she showed me her small greenhouse where she was starting tomatoes, cucumber, squash, cantaloupe and lettuce from seed. She now knows how to can, too, thanks to a seasoned Italian neighbor, and is ready to give Tomato Salsa as Christmas gifts. She plans on holding canning workshops in the future.

Fresh eggs from Bruhnke’s two chickens.

Rachel is a busy mom who works fulltime, but still finds time to take care of her plants. When asked if it is a lot of work to up-keep the garden, she says yes, but also says, “Plants take care of themselves. My motto is Trust the Sun, Grow Food.” But that’s not all she does. She is starting an innovative consulting business called Rachel’s Greenhouse, where she teaches resilience, self-reliance and sustainability to people as a sustainability coach. To help prepare, she took a course at the Neighborhood Garden Academy in Los Angeles, the first of its kind, and volunteered to hold the graduation ceremony in her very own backyard.

She also has held several farmers’ markets and hosted garden tours. But here is the big news: Harbor Farms has turned into a group of urban mini-farms, as there are now 12 in all. They are located throughout San Pedro, including 14th and Mesa, 7th street, and at one of Rachel’s former student’s home on 30th street. Together they help residents install urban gardens on their own properties. The only requirement is that they be as public as possible with their garden in order to inspire others.

Graduation Ceremony for the Community Garden Academy in Los Angeles.

Rachel’s love for the environment and her compassion for the community is contagious, to say the least. I now have plans for a front yard garden of my own. spt