The UC Food Observer is pleased to welcome guest blogger Teresa O’Connor to this space. Teresa is an author, speaker and consultant. Trained as a Master Gardener in California and Idaho, her writing has been published in Fine Gardening, Horticulture, Gardening How-To, 805 Living and Coastal Living, among others. She co-authored Grocery Gardening: Planting, Preparing and Preserving Fresh Foods. Many know Teresa as “Seasonal Wisdom,” from social media and her blog: SeasonalWisdom.com.
Food gardening has experienced a big resurgence in recent years. We’re seeing a mix of innovative growing systems as well as a return to traditional homesteading skills such as preserving food. There are community gardens inspired by World War II Victory Gardens, and even kitchen gardens on roofs and buses. These days, gardeners are growing food not only in rural areas and suburbs, but increasingly more in the nation’s and world’s largest cities.
To learn more, I turned to three leading names in the edible gardening world. This television producer, book author and award-winning blogger all agreed to give me the scoop on this tasty topic:
Theresa Loe is the founder of LivingHomegrown.com where she teaches people to live farm fresh without a farm such as with small-space homesteading. She also is Co-Executive Producer and on-air Canning/Homesteading Expert for Growing A Greener World, a national gardening television series on PBS.
When you are interviewing people around the nation, what is your favorite edible gardening trend out there?
“One of my favorite edible gardening trends is an offshoot of the food growing movement. Edible gardeners really appreciate the flavors of what they grow and that has sparked an offshoot trend in the DIY and artisan food arena.”
“In other words, people are looking for more ways to capture and capitalize on their flavorful produce by returning to their kitchens in search of canning, preserving and fermenting projects. They don’t want to waste their gardening efforts and they want to utilize that bounty in ways that go beyond the typical meal. They realize that there is something very satisfying about a jar of jam that was created from seed to jar. Edible gardeners are searching for that full-circle, DIY food experience in droves. Naturally, this is my favorite new trend as that is one of the main reasons I grow food myself.”
Has the past inspired your passion for edible gardening in any way?
“I have always had an interest in early American settlers and have been inspired by how they cared for the seeds they brought with them in their travels. They treated those prized seeds as family heirlooms and handed them down through the generations. The seeds not only represented a piece of their homeland, they also carried the promise of their new life here in America. And they took those seeds to every new home they made.”
“I find it inspiring that these gardeners were helping to preserve the seed’s heritage – even if they didn’t realize the importance of doing so. In today’s world, I feel it is even more important to protect our biodiversity and the heritage that some of those heirlooms represent. So I save heirloom seeds and share my favorites with friends. It is part of the whole edible gardening experience for me. And I hope that by doing so, I am continuing what our ancestors started in helping to preserve the legacy of my favorite edible plants.”
LaManda Joy is the founder of the Peterson Garden Project, which helps thousands of Chicago residents grow their own food. A board member of the American Community Gardening Association, she authored Start a Community Food Garden, named one of “Top 10 Lifestyle Books” of 2014 by Publisher’s Weekly.
What’s one of your favorite edible gardening trends out there, LaManda?
“The growing popularity of community gardens is really important to me. Not only are people learning the lifelong skill of growing food but it gives diverse groups a reason to be together and build stronger bonds that make communities better. I am also humbled by the creativity of groups and communities that use gardening to solve their specific challenges and serve those in need.“
“News cycles can make us cynical about humanity but what I see in the community garden is a much different story — people have the ability to work together and care for each other. They just need a place to do it and a common cause. Food is a great one because, well, everybody eats so everyone can relate.”
How has the past inspired your passion for edible gardening?
“The Peterson Garden Project was directly inspired by the World War II Victory Garden movement and Chicago’s nation-leading role in it. Our first site was a victory garden during World War II and we adopted that model of short-term land usage where people could learn to grow food together.”
“While we often hear statistics of how 20 million victory gardens existed during World War II and an estimated 40% of the fresh produce consumed in the nation was home grown, a deeper exploration into these stories reveals how cities, like Chicago, mobilized to teach hundreds of thousands of non-gardeners how to grow food. I think we can do that again and believe the ability of more individuals to have a small part in producing their own food would have a dramatic positive impact on our current food system.”
Robin Horton is the founder, creative director and “cool-spotter” at Urban Gardens, an award-winning blog that features a creative mix of urban style, design and nature. Based in the Los Angeles metropolitan area, she has traveled from Malibu to Milan and Frankfurt in search of new gardening innovations.
As a well-known cool-spotter, what edible gardening trends are you seeing?
“Small is Big. More and more people live in or are moving into urban areas where space is at a premium. In 2050, more than 70% of the world’s population will be living in cities. For this reason, small, easy, and nearly maintenance-free indoor and outdoor container gardens have become increasing popular. Smaller space living demands smaller and even multi-purpose solutions.”
“We’re seeing furnishings that double as edible gardens: Tables with wells that serve as edible gardens; indoor lamps that double as herb gardens, umbrella bases that do double duty as planters. This includes edible gardens or ‘farm kitchens,’ which integrate seamlessly into the kitchen design: snip and serve.”
“Also noteworthy are countertop self-watering planters, many of which are hydroponic and aquaponic. Back to the Roots Aqua Farm (shown above) doubles as an aquarium and planter. The waste produced by farmed fish or other aquatic creatures delivers the nutrients to the plants, which then purify the water and the cycle continues.”
“Many of the hydroponic systems are edible gardens for non-gardeners–nearly maintenance-free automatic systems some of which not only contain self-irrigation systems, but also smart technology which allows users to monitor and control water levels via a smartphone.”
Photo copyright Marc Grañén
“There are also mobile, modular and portable gardens, which offer the freedom and flexibility to transport your gardens indoors or out, room to room, or to take them with you when you move. “
“This mobile concept includes an innovative, green-roof growing system for city buses and vehicles started by a friend in Spain.” Learn more about this PhytoKinetic system prototype and how it works.
Has the past inspired your passion for edible gardening in any way?
“Because of my years as a designer, I look at most things through a design lens. Although I believe form should always follow function, it’s wonderful when the two co-exist in harmony: a beautifully designed container garden that is also functional, simple to maintain and yields food.”
With food gardens now appearing on empty city lots, on buses and even in kitchens, it’s clear the future of edible gardening is looking bright indeed.