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May 3, 2012 | 12:00 a.m. CST
The row of houses on Garth Avenue looks like many of the other houses in Columbia. To the naked eye, Tim Wall’s house is no different. Yet hidden behind the weathered old fence that leads to his backyard, there’s an unexpected secret garden.
No space is left unused in this quaint backyard farm that is only around a quarter-acre in size. There’s an old chicken coop, a large curved fishpond filled with four catfish and eight bluegill, a homemade hydroponic system that houses fresh produce like cauliflower and chili peppers and a newly finished greenhouse that Wall built himself.Related Articles
But Wall isn’t a natural-born farmer. He grew up in Florissant, a north county suburb of St. Louis. In college, Wall studied biology, not agriculture, and today he is finishing up his graduate degree in journalism at MU and working at his new job as a research information specialist with the MU News Bureau. But simple hobbies such as farming and gardening have turned into a sustainable way of life for the 32-year-old.
Wall says his love of the outdoors began when he was a child. His mother had a green thumb. Instead of selling lemonade, Wall sold tomatoes in his front yard. Despite his upbringing, it was during a life-changing stay in Morocelí, Honduras, that Wall adopted the sustainable lifestyle.
Wall joined the Peace Corps in 2005 and taught classes in Morocelí on topics such as farm ecology and sustainable agriculture to 32 farmers from three communities.
“I saw that for them farming and sustainable living wasn’t a trend,” he says. “They can provide for themselves and their families. It’s not a luxury; it’s a necessity.”
Upon his return to Missouri, Wall left his job in the corporate world as a contract biologist for Q&C International to pursue his graduate degree in journalism at MU. For his graduate project, Wall went back to Honduras to teach journalism to locals. While there, he continued to practice sustainable living.
Roughly two years ago, Wall began living sustainably at his home in Columbia. In addition to growing and raising much of his own food, Wall composts his cooking scraps and tills the soil to help preserve its natural nutrients.
He also uses a substantial amount of recycled materials for all his projects. Last year when he was working on a chicken coop for the four new chickens and two new ducks he had purchased, he found wooden ammo crates from the military surplus store. He used them to provide a structure for the chicken coop. A fishpond, which is 4 feet deep in some areas, was last year’s project. Wall created the fishpond to provide nutrient-rich water to help cultivate his plant life. Now, Wall is focusing on getting his 14-by-7-foot greenhouse up and running.
For Wall, living sustainably is about being mindful of how individual actions, such as food growth and consumption, can affect the environment.
“I want to show people, ‘Hey look you can do this in your own yard, even right here in the First Ward,’” he says.
Wall knows not everyone shares these same beliefs. He is optimistic that eating organically and practicing sustainability aren’t momentary fads but rather a way of life many are now permanently adopting. But Wall doesn’t grow to change the world. Nor does he aim to change all of Columbia. He just lives the best way he knows how: He works the land, he grows his food, and he values the environment, all from his backyard.
“When growing your own food, you gain a sense of freedom,” he says. “I know where my food is grown, I know that it’s healthy, I know I’m not hurting anyone or anything. My food is grown ethically and organically. When you’re separated from suffering, you can forget it’s out there, but out here in my backyard, the only person hurting is me when I blister my hands from working outside.”
But the blisters are ones Wall says he is happy to receive.