Now that spring has arrived, are you planning to grow food in the garden this year? You’ll find these UC Food Observer stories packed with advice about supporting genetic diversity, protecting pollinators, building community gardens and donating your surplus to those in need.

Thinking about the Earth

Joe Lamp'l
Joe Lamp’l of “Growing a Greener World”

A good place to start is with Joe Lamp’l, the host of PBS-TV’s Growing a Greener World. He says food gardening is a great way to reduce our environmental footprint and improve the quality of our lives. He tells me:

“Even if you have a small garden, there’s still an opportunity to grow your own food. And if we all did a little more of that, it would make a huge difference in the quality of our lives and reduce the resources needed to transport that food elsewhere.”

Read the story and learn more about gardening in earth-friendly ways from “Joe the Gardener.”

Heirloom Seeds and Genetic Diversity

You can play an important role in preserving heirloom food varieties, and it’s easier than you may think. We all can help support genetic diversity in our gardens by planting open-pollinated heirloom seeds.

Learn about heirloom seeds and heritage foods from Seed Savers Exchange. This network has 13,000 passionate members and nearly 30,000 rare plant varieties. In fact, they sell about 600 heirloom varieties in the catalog, and 52 varieties aren’t sold anywhere else.

Photo by Seed Savers Exchange.

John Torgrimson, Executive Director, tells me:

“Seed companies do a good job of getting seeds into the supply chain, but they don’t do a very good job of maintaining and protecting genetic diversity.  Seed Savers Exchange … is concerned about old seed trade varieties, which we want to make certain don’t get lost and become unavailable. We want to keep those genetics around, either to reintroduce back into the marketplace or because those genetics may be useful in the future.”

Read the story to see how you can support these beloved foods in your own garden.

The Beauty of Pollinators

It’s no secret that pollinators are fundamentally important to a healthy food garden. Kathy Keatley Garvey spends a lot of time outside finding, photographing and documenting insects, especially pollinators.

Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey.

This Communications Specialist for UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology tells me:

“I see the world through a viewfinder. The work that I do is about the diversity of pollinators, their importance in our food supply and ecosystem, the beauty and the awe, and how we can protect them. Bees are responsible for pollinating one-third of the food we eat. They are crucial to our ecosystem.”

Read the story to learn more about pollinators and photography.


Build a Community Garden

LaManda Joy knows something about starting successful community gardens. She founded the award-winning Peterson Garden Project in Chicago, which has helped thousands of residents grow food. She authored Start a Community Food Garden: The Essential Handbook. And she has served on the board of the American Community Gardening Association.

LaManda Joy of Peterson Garden Project in Chicago.

She tells us:

“Learning together in the garden, and kitchen, does much more than put fresh, nutritious food on the table. It helps build stronger communities, connect us to cultural heritage, improve public health and create a more sustainable, resilient city.”

Read the story and learn more about the power of community gardens.

Donate the Surplus

Whether it’s a community garden or a space out back, consider planting extra for those in need. Ample Harvest is a national non-profit that enables millions of home gardeners and growers to donate surplus garden produce to nearly 8,000 food pantries in all 50 states.

Photo by Irene Kightley. estimates more than 50 million people, or one of every six Americans, experiences food insecurity.

To put this in perspective, their website says, “the number of food insecure people in America exceeds the populations of Alaska, Arkansas, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Iowa, Idaho, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, Missouri, Montana, North Dakota, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Nevada, Oklahoma, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Vermont and West Virginia – added together.”

Read the story and learn how easy it is to give back.

The Art of Plants

Artwork by Pria Graves.

If gardening isn’t your thing – but you still love plants – botanical art is a good option. It has an illustrious history, but it’s still alive and well as an art form. Pria Graves of the Northern California Society of Botanical Artists tells me:

“…despite the advent of photography, botanical art is still used for its original purpose of documenting plants.  Plant identification books still frequently use drawings for the sake of clarity. The artist can focus the viewer’s attention on the salient points more easily than a photo can.”

Read the story and see historical and modern references about botanical art.


Interested in Gardening in California? Free Resources … Even After a Flood

The University of California sponsors the state’s Master Gardener Program, which features more than 5,000 volunteers in communities across the state. The Master Gardener Program is a national program. It’s housed at the land grant institution in each state, but also connected to the USDA. Best of all, you’ll find free gardening resources available here. Advice to grow by…just ask. #GlobalFood

Gardening After a Flood

Do you live in an area that experienced a flood, such as San Jose? If so, you’ll want to pay attention to this important gardening advice from the University of California Cooperative Extension in Santa Clara County. Be safe!