DIY: Growing Your Own Food

A sprawling hillside with cows grazing in the foreground and an acres-long plot of land with every veggie you could imagine… the mere thought of the image is calming and relaxing.

But the reality of actually maintaining a garden of that magnitude- eek! How could one go about undertaking such a huge responsibility?

Even more so if you happen to live in an urban jungle, where a glimpse of leaves on a tree in the spring may be as close as you come to seeing any foliage?


It doesn’t have to be all or nothing.

Admittedly, I felt it did, for quite a while.

And as much as I love cooking, foraging around at the farmer’s market and hosting anything from an intimate meal to a large-scale party, aside from helping my mom in the garden as a little kid, I had zero green-thumb experience.

I don’t know whether it was spending a year in NYC in 2014 or just reaching a tipping point, but last fall, I decided once and for all to take the plunge.

We put in four raised beds, hired an expert I have come to refer to as my gardening teacher and now, just three months later, I have an abundance of lettuces, kale, chard, herbs and soon… cauliflower and broccoli.

We’re keeping it seasonal so as much as I wanted basil and tomato right away, patience and mindfulness must take priority and so we’re waiting until the spring for those.

Happily, I’m not the only one doing this sort of thing, as the stats below, from the American Gardening Association[1], demonstrate:

  • 35% of all households in America, or 42 million households, are growing food at home or in a community garden, up 17% in five years
  • Largest increases in participation seen among younger households – up 63% to 13 million since 2008 (go, millennials, go!)
  • 2 million more households community gardening — up 200% since 2008

It doesn’t actually matter where you live. It’s just as easy to have a rooftop garden at the top of your high rise in New York City as it is to plant a window box in your apartment in Miami.

Climate and space aren’t the issue, so long as you work within your parameters, including seasonality and what makes sense locally.

In other words, sure, you could grow bananas in the North of England[2], but do you really need to take the time and cost to invest in a greenhouse?

Not only is taking the DIY approach with produce the more cost effective way to go, there’s another huge benefit in doing so: taking charge of what you’re putting in your body.

Trying to decipher the stickers on produce these days and what the difference between free-range and pasture-fed poultry means is certainly doable, but sadly, far from being straightforward.

Even at our local farmer’s market in Santa Monica, many of the vendors have shared with me that despite the fact that they are 100% organic, the cost of purchasing the license proves prohibitive.

And what’s more, even if they got the license, the good old FDA has approved roughly 40 synthetic substances farmers can use under U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) organic standards, according to Nate Lewis, a senior crop and livestock specialist at the Organic Trade Association[3].

Sadly, just as we have to keep our skepticism alert on high when we buy an FDA-approved vitamin, processed ‘food’ product which contains red dye #40 or swallow yet another pill distributed to us by our MD, we’ve got to take the same approach with buying food.

By taking matters into our own hands, we can do just that.

But before you pop into the local garden center, there are a few things to educate yourself on.

  • Test soil pH, lead and aluminum content – it’s worth the small fee to have the soil tested to make sure you’re in the clear. If you’re buying soil, go with biodynamic, not just organic, for the reasons listed above. Biodynamic growers of lots large and small create a diversified, balanced farm ecosystem that generates health and fertility as much as possible from within the farm itself[4].
  • Planning the layout of what plants will go where – plants in the wild grow in synergy; be sure to research which promote one another’s growth
  • Learn how much watering to do – Too little is clearly an issue, but too much can cause sudden death as well.
  • Find a reliable grower – you choose if you prefer seeds or seedlings, but keep in mind that the earlier in the life of the stage of the plant’s growing process you begin with, the more control you have over what it’s exposed to.
  • Consult with the grower first, make a plan and execute! Often they may well be the very best teacher to utilize in order to plan properly and get the garden growing. Alternatively, many colleges and universities have extension programs offering community classes on just such topics.

There’s nothing better than being able to walk out your own doorstep and gather the produce you actually helped to create!

[1] “National Gardening Association.” National Gardening Association. N.p., n.d. Web. 21 Jan. 2016

[2] “Banana Trees Banana Plants – Growing Info.” Banana Trees Banana Plants – Growing Info. N.p., n.d. Web. 21 Jan. 2016

[3] “Organic vs. “Organic”: How Much Does Certification Matter? | Civil Eats.” Civil Eats Organic vs Organic How Much Does Certification Matter Comments. N.p., 18 Aug. 2014. Web. 21 Jan. 2016

[4] “What Is Biodynamics?” What Is Biodynamics? N.p., n.d. Web. 21 Jan. 2016