Container Culture: The Case for an Edible Garden


Watch the California Matters episode about UC Santa Cruz Farm, a pioneering, organic farm that's benefiting an entire community.

My desire to have a vegetable garden was not rooted in any kind of farm nostalgia. I was born and raised in Los Angeles proper, so I have no fond memories of Pap Pap tilling the soil after the last frost. I'm not hating on Pap Pap, but if there is no reference for farming, there is little desire. I do however, remember the first time I tasted fresh apple cider. I was 11. It was on a return family trip to Ojai from a small market on the side of the road with a corrugated metal roof (this trip was also the first time I witnessed a fatal car accident, which has NOTHING to do with the story). Being an LA native and as such having been raised hyper aware of the entertainment industry's magic, I remember saying to my Mom from the backseat, "This is how they make it look like it tastes in commercials!" It tasted so good it almost tasted fake, like apple candy, or like how an apple car freshener smelled. My Mom replied, "No, that's just how real apple cider tastes." Huh.

I remembered this a few years ago when I had my first plum at the Hollywood Farmers' Market. I dumbly turned to my friend and blurted out, "This tastes like a real plum!" What a funny adjective to describe food, as if supermarket produce was less "real." Actually, some could argue that point quite effectively. In any event, farmer's market fruits and veggies often taste remarkably better than their counterparts under fluorescent lights. This is the part where I'm supposed to say I'm now a convert to farmer's markets and have never set foot inside a Ralphs again. Except I'm not, and I have.

Unfortunately, time or money often gets in the way of me eating "real" food. I can't seem to regularly structure my schedule around my local farmers' market, and when I end up cutting open an onion I bought at Trader Joe's only to see the inside is a mushy yellow-brown, I shrug it off with an "Oh well, what else am I gonna do?" I couldn't make it out to the farmers' market. I deserve this onion. I also consider organic food "real" food, and a similar rule applies here. Walking through the aisles of the grocery store, I make a mental inventory of what, if anything, I can afford to buy organic this trip. Maybe just bananas, maybe arugula and sugar snap peas. Maybe one 3-dollar apple. Either way, I have it ingrained somewhere in my psyche that organic is a luxury and if I can't afford it -- again, like when I can't find time in my schedule to make it out to the farmer's market, it's my fault. Often because of time or money, I don't "deserve" to eat "real" food.

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Then, I watched two things, "Save the Farm," a documentary about, among other things, South L.A. farmers eating wholesome organic food they were growing themselves on limited incomes (until the city bulldozed the farm), and this TED talk by Ron Finley. Finley explains in plain language how eating organic, "real" food is and should be for everyone, and the easiest way to do that is to grow the food yourself. He also outlines something which NEVER occurred to me before: growing your own food is cheap! I had always thought of gardening and farming as a luxury hobby reserved for the colorful photo-dappled blogs of affluent housewives, not a practical way to eat "real" organic food on the cheap. I'm not hating on affluent housewives here, but it's nice to know we can all be so lucky to photograph the progress of our swiss chard. It comes in magenta! Very shortly after I watched Finley's TED talk, I got a text from my boyfriend that said, "I'm sick of how pricey Whole Foods is, let's start a vegetable garden." This is the part where I'm supposed to say we did, and we did. However, it hasn't been easy. To start one of these things can be daunting -- the information on the internet can be partially accurate at best, and I've had my share of nursery employees churlishly tell me that no, I can't plant peas now because it's not pea season.

This column will never pea-shame you. It's meant to offer plain advice to the newbie container gardener that wants to have a crack at planting "real" food for him/herself despite having limited space. It will demystify the gardening process and will never say things like, "Start by soldering your length of galvanized pipe..." It won't even assume you really know how to water plants. It will educate, demystify, and hopefully, encourage some folks who never considered gardening to think again, because everyone deserves to eat organic food. Plus, you guys, it's actually pretty fun.

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