How To Create Your Own Urban Herb Farm

Step by step guide to creating your own urban herb farm.

I’m thrilled to announce a new weekly series on creating an urban herb farm as part of the Sustainable Herbs Project blog. SHP intern Anita Burke will be leading us on a journey growing herbs in a container garden on her back porch. We  hope this experiment will help make the abstract and complex issues relating to the herbal products industry much more concrete and real. And that it will offer simple ways we can all begin to take more responsibility for knowing where the herbs we use are from and for growing what we can.

I hope you’ll follow along!

My Urban Herb Farm

By Anita Burke
Anita Burke is passionate about herbs. She lives in southern California with her family and is a Sustainable Herbs Project intern.

Anita Burke is passionate about herbs. She lives in southern California with her family.

As an herbalist who purchases most of the herbs I use, it pains me to confess that I never gave much thought to the supply chain of those herbs. I bought organically grown herbs and looked for “Fair Trade” on the label and thought that was enough. But I never stopped for 5 seconds to think about the Indian woman who planted that Tulsi seed and tended the plant as it grew, or the man who harvested and dried the plants before the herbs made their long journey to the US supplier, and finally to a jar in my herb cabinet in Southern California.

Then I watched Numen: The Healing Power of Plants. And I read Ann Armbrecht’s interviews with herb growers and suppliers on the Numen blog. And I was inspired.

Around this same time, I was doing research for the Sustainable Herbs Project. Acronyms and terms like “permaculture, thin layer chromatography, HPLC, and GMPs” kept popping up. I had no idea what these words meant, and I felt like I wasn’t doing the project justice if I didn’t really “get it.”

So, in order to fully understand the issues of small herb farmers, including pertinent government regulations, I decided to do an experiment: Become a small herb farmer. Granted, my herb “farm” is a container garden on the 3’x6’ terrace of my apartment located in a city with a population of over half a million. But you have to start somewhere!

Looking out at Anita's urban herb farm.

Looking out at Anita’s urban herb farm.

I hope to accomplish several things with this experiment:

1) Show that anyone can have a part in the local medicine movement, regardless of the urban setting and lack of, well…dirt. And along the way, to share tips and lessons learned so others can learn from what I discover!

2) Improve my appalling plant identification skills.

3) Forge a deeper connection to the plants.

I’ll post weekly updates on my garden’s progress. I’ll also share what I’ve discovered about the larger context of becoming a small herb farmer and any challenges that come up. I hope you’ll come along with me!

We can share experiences, learn from each other, and maybe inspire others to take an active role in the local medicine movement.


Anita Burke is passionate about herbs, with a special interest in the mind-body connection. Her interest in herbal medicine & natural healing in all of its forms began 13 years ago during her own struggle with chronic disease. She currently lives in Southern California with her awesome husband (and 2 sons who are actually cats).

In addition to many years of independent study, she has taken courses offered by the School of Natural Healing and the East West School of Planetary Herbology, along with countless local nutrition and herb classes.

Anita is honored to be a part of the Sustainable Herbs Project team! She is most comfortable in a supporting role, doing the day-to-day administrative tasks & research, so others can concentrate on Big Picture stuff. She hopes to come away from this experience with a deeper connection to the plants she loves, and a better idea of how she can support sustainable herbalism.

On a day off, she can be found at the Farmer’s Market, hiking in the woods or walking along the beach, or in her kitchen shaking tincture jars and thinking up new herbal concoctions.

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