Yard to Table
Creating your own fresh food to feed your own friends and family
As the farm-to-table movement continues to gain momentum in Fairfield County, an increasing number of farmers markets, farm stands, and restaurants boasting local, farm-fresh ingredients seem to be popping up in our area. Never before has it been so easy to eat seasonally and access freshly picked produce which was grown only miles from our homes.
Many Fairfielders are taking the movement a step further by creating edible gardens in their very own yards. Gardening has always been a popular pastime for those blessed with a green thumb. However, the more we learn about the importance of eating fresh, organic, unmodified foods, it seems as though anyone with an interest in food seems to be getting in on the action...and it’s easier than you might think!
“Anyone, any age, anywhere can grow food,” promises Amie Guyette Hall, a Fairfield-based health coach and Certified Square Foot Gardening Instructor. “The benefits of growing your own food are numerous. The food is fresher and more alive. It’s more nutrient-dense and has more life force. It’s better quality, and that’s better for us all.” Growing your own food greatly reduces your carbon footprint. It eliminates plastic packaging, there is no energy used transporting food across countries and oceans, and by only growing what you can eat, it reduces waste.
So how does one get started creating an edible garden? One of the easiest ways is by creating what’s called a square foot garden. Similar to a raised-bed garden, a square foot garden employs a simple wooden box, typically four feet by four feet, with a square foot grid placed over the top. If space is tight, you can start with a two-foot square or three-foot square box, which is also a great size for aspiring junior gardeners. As long as the box is placed in an area that receives six to eight hours of sunlight daily, it doesn’t matter what’s beneath it. The containers can be placed on a deck or patio, in your yard, or even on a tabletop (your back will thank you). “It’s important that you fill the box with six inches of perfect soil, which is a recipe of equal parts coarse vermiculite, peat moss, and blended compost,” says Hall. This “right recipe” is referred to as Mel’s Mix, named after square foot gardening founder and creator, Mel Bartholemew. By using this mix and not relying on ground soil for your garden, you do not need to worry about contaminants. This mix saves water because it holds in moisture, it eliminates the need for fertilizer because it is nutrient-complete, and it is essentially weed-free and pest-free, allowing you to create an organic garden at a fraction of the cost of retail organic produce.
Once you’ve built your box and filled it with perfect soil, you need only to create a square foot grid (each square being one-foot-by-one-foot), and decide what to plant. Plant each square with the same seeds, or something different in each. Hall recommends starting with a variety of lettuces and perhaps kale, and including easy-to-grow finger foods like cherry tomatoes, radishes, carrots, and string beans. Because the soil retains so much moisture and is weed and bug resistant, you will actually spend very little time tending to your garden. Simply water when necessary, and enjoy the harvest all season long. If you want to learn from a pro, Hall regularly teaches square foot gardening workshops for people of all ages at both St. Timothy’s Church in Fairfield and at Sport Hill Farm in Easton (full schedule and registration info at fromtheinsideout.com).
PSE (Pay Someone Else)
Still not sure you’re ready to embark on an edible garden project, but want to enjoy the benefits of home-grown veggies? A professional gardener can come to your house, assess your needs, design a garden, install it, and even maintain it throughout the season. All you need to do is pick your fresh produce.
One such professional is John Carlson of Homefront Farmers. In 2011, Carlson left behind a 25-year career in marketing and consulting to follow his passion for organic gardening. His Ridgefield-based company plans, designs, and installs a wide variety of organic, edible gardens at homes throughout Fairfield County. Each garden comes with an automatic drip irrigation system, and for about what it would cost you to have your lawn mowed each week, Homefront Farmers will even maintain the garden for you. Prices vary based on the size of the garden, but start at only around $300.
“Our typical clients are families who want to get their kids involved and want to feed them better food,” explains Carlson, but said they’ve worked with anyone from empty-nesters to hobbyists who are just looking for a little assistance in getting the most from their gardens. While 16'x20' gardens seem to be the most popular size for families, Homefront will install gardens of any size, even as small is 4'x4'. Already have a garden but are not getting the results you’d expected, or are you interested to learn about how to garden organically? John and his team can train you to maximize your plot, or will work out a maintenance plan that helps out with any percentage of the upkeep.
Carlson said that the variety of fruits and vegetables that can be grown in your garden amazes people, especially children. “The grocery store may only carry a couple kinds of carrots, but in your garden you can grow purple carrots, striped carrots and more. There are so many types.” But variety is only one of the many advantages of gardening. “Getting your kids to understand how food grows and where it comes from is such a benefit,” says Carlson, “plus, there’s such a primal satisfaction that comes from walking and working in the garden.”
Going “Beyond Local”
By bringing the farm to your doorstep, you and your family will eat better, you’ll benefit the environment, and you’ll create a connectedness with the earth you just can’t get at the supermarket. Whether you create and tend your own edible garden, or pay the pros to create and maintain it for you, having fresh food grown right outside your door is great for the whole family. Hall sums it up best: “We all need to eat. Growing your own food goes beyond local. To live your best life, eat the best food possible!”