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Boyz in the Ecohood


Back-to-the-landers have been making a comeback of sorts, what with the rise of the farmers’ markets and localvores and organic lettuce-obsessed gourmands. But the bucolic visions that once drove folks to isolated rural stretches to farm the earth have shifted, and urban farming is starting to be chic.

 

In Phoenix, the country’s fastest growing city where sprawl is a way of life and environmental ills like urban heat island effect and a particularly nasty pollution problem they call the Brown Cloud plague the place, a mini commune of sorts has sprung up. The Pierson Street Ecohood is growing, albeit it a whole lot slower than the mission fig, bamboo, plum, apricot and avocado trees planted in their front yard in the neighborhood.

In Phoenix, the country’s fastest growing city where sprawl is a way of life and environmental ills like urban heat island effect and a particularly nasty pollution problem they call the Brown Cloud plague, a mini commune of sorts has sprung up. The Pierson Street Ecohood is growing, albeit it a whole lot slower than the mission fig, bamboo, plum, apricot and avocado trees planted in their front yard in the neighborhood.

 

Christian Nys, a 45-year-old airline pilot and environmental avenger spotted the 1,344 square foot ranch (its former incarnation was as a crack house) and bought it; a friend bought the place next door. The idea is not to retreat from society but to embrace it and try to squeeze it in the direction they want it to go—they plan to develop green businesses as much as grow their own organic food.

 

Nys and his pals spread the word, advertising on Craigslist and generating a bit of buzz in the small but growing environmental community there, that they were looking for likeminded companions who wanted to farm the plot, harvest rainwater (all 7.66 inches of it) and use graywater from sinks and the washing machine—only with biodegradable soap, of course—to water their food. The five or six Ecohoodies (what should we call them?)—they’re numbers shift as folks comes and go—are growing as much as 80% of their chow now, including greens and arugula, cabbage, broccoli, onions, peaches, plums and nectarines. They’re an eight-minute walk from the soon-to-open light rail station, which will potentially turn downtown Phoenix into a series of neighborhoods instead of parking lots.

 

They hope that as homes become available, others will follow suit, not displacing current residents but plucking up their properties when they decide to leave. So far, no other locals have decided to water plants with the washing machine or cook dinner on an outdoor mesquite grill. Their outdoor showers don’t seem to have caught on, nor the non-toxic heat-reflective roof.

 

But it’s still early, and Phoenix is a young city. Once their fruit trees fully blossom and the light rail opens, it’s possible the Ecohood, too, will bloom.