Archive for the ‘Local Food Systems’ Category

Tuesday, March 31st, 2015

Early plowing of the Nile River floodplain made sense as new silt and fertility was deposited every year.

Kill your rototiller and save the soil (and planet)

It's time to prepare garden beds for planting.  The best planting soil is light and fluffy, full of air and with all plant residue removed.  Right?  That's what we have learned from industrial agriculture practices and rototiller advertising.  But these practices can reduce productivity and can be destructive to soil health and thus human health.  Over-tilling of farmland and garden systematically kills soil life and forces us to replace natural nutrients with chemicals fertilizers.

After over 200 years of industrialized agriculture and decades of "green revolution" chemical agriculture what is the health of our soils, and our farming and food system? Is farming more or less sustainable… economically, nutritionally and environmentally?  Are we behaving as if the health of the soil is directly linked to our health and that of the natural world?  Do we act as if the majority of the human-caused greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere result from cutting down forests, paving wetlands, overgrazing pastures and over-working farmland?  All these questions must be answered in the negative.

Fortunately, there is a growing movement in commercial agriculture called "no-till farming" that aims to mimic the way soils are actually formed.   (more…)

My Top 5 World-Changing Gardening Innovations from 2014

Wednesday, February 4th, 2015

I garden in Vermont 8 months each year, and then we have a winter garden in Costa Rica.  This leads to very different gardening challenges.  I am always looking for new and better solutions for my garden and so much the better if they help with the big issues I see us wrestling with now and in the future: loss of biodiversity, depletion of soil, water resources and ecosystems, and climate change.

So, here are my current favorite World-Changing Gardening Innovations”…

Groasis works for trees as well as vegetables 

1. Groasis: let the desserts bloom

It is rare to find a gardening innovation that saves water, reduces fertilizer use, builds soil and leads to 90% survival of trees and plants even in the harshest climates and without added irrigation.  That’s what the innovative new Groasis delivers. 

Test Groasis in your own garden, for FREE.  You will be part of a world-wide program of reforesting deserts, feeding a billion hungry people living on degraded lands, and restoring soil and ecosystems.

Our First Steamed Milkweed Greens of the Year (like Spinach, Green Beans)

2. Plant Milkweed to Save the Monarchs (and feed yourself)

In the past decade I learned to view common Milkweed as much more than a weed.  It is a uniquely important plant critical for the survival of the Monarch butterfly. I wrote this piece last year about the importance of milkweed as a food source and breeding habitat for Monarch butterflies when I learned 90% fewer Monarchs made it from the US to Mexico to overwinter. I encourage gardeners to help reverse this Monarch emergency. Just plant some easy-to-grow common milkweed seed.


Help Your Garden Help Others: Donate Excess Produce Locally, with

Tuesday, July 29th, 2014

Backyard gardeners can help change this shocking number – click image for a running tab of the pounds of food wasted in the U.S. since the beginning of 2014.

How is it that one of out of every six Americans experience food insecurity when there is more than an adequate supply of food potentially available? A broken food system is big part of this issue and one of the many reasons I started the Intervale Center 30 years ago (more on that below.) 

According to both the National Resource Defense Council and the US Department of Agriculture, we throw away a pound of food per person per day in this country, or well over 100 billion pounds of food per year. Some estimate this to be more than enough to totally eliminate hunger in America. You can view a thought provoking image that gives a running tab on the 40% of food wasted since the beginning of 2014.  

Not included in these statistics is the volume of home-grown produce discarded by us, the more than 40 million gardeners across the U.S. Why do we it? Sometimes our plants produce far more fruits and vegetables than we could possibly use, preserve or give away. It is not uncommon for tomato plants to bear 20 to 40 or more fruit each, more than we can use. Many other crops, such as peppers, cucumbers, squash, citrus, apples and peaches, also produce abundant harvest.

And our neighbors and friends can only use so much. Until recently, it's been difficult to find food shelves that would accept fresh harvests due to space and refrigeration issues. But now, thanks to Gary Oppenheimer of, you can harvest your excess and get it into the hands of hungry children and adults who need it. 


Legalized home marijuana gardening: What’s your opinion?

Monday, June 30th, 2014

What is by many accounts the hottest crop in home gardening today?

Hint #1:               It is not tomatoes.

Hint #2:               It is neither flower nor vegetable.  It is an herb.

Hint #3:               It is not a weed, but is often referred to as “weed.”

OK all you baby boomers, if you haven’t gotten it by now, you lose your AARP-BSC card (AARP But Still Cool).  If the marijuana legalization trend continues the hottest home gardening crop in the U.S. (both for indoor cultivation and outdoor growing) may quickly become marijuana.

At last count 22 States and the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana use for medicinal purposes, with most of those allowing homegrown plants with proper legal approval. Home gardening of marijuana for recreational purposes has been approved in two states – Colorado and Washington, and more are likely.

While there have always been companies selling lots of equipment to help gardeners grow crops “indoors,” not surprisingly this recent legalization has led to an explosion of interest in serving this “growing” market.  But individual views on the medical and recreational legalization of marijuana are still highly divided.  Among the many arguments for and against marijuana legalization, some believe legalized marijuana will provide needed medicine to many and boost tax coffers and the economy overall (as Colorado seems to be proving), while unburdening law enforcement, our court systems and our prisons. Others believe that marijuana is immoral, a danger to users, children and others, and a “gateway” to harder drug use.

But what do home gardeners think about this issue as we are interested in your perspective?  As a company, Gardener’s Supply takes pride in helping our customers become better gardeners and grow their best gardens ever. We help gardeners grow everything from astibles to zinnias, from Roma tomatoes to Jerusalem artichokes.  So, should we help our customers be successful at growing marijuana as we are getting more interest in our Vermont garden centers and from catalog and web customers across the US?  We’d like your opinion.  Would you please take this quick and anonymous survey?

Thank you!

Please also feel free to leave your thoughts in the comment section below.

Send for your FREE SEED and begin your Milkweed Sanctuary (and food garden!) TODAY

Monday, June 2nd, 2014


Our First Steamed Milkweed Greens of the Year (like Spinach and Green Beans)

 What "weed" feeds Monarchs, bees and you? 

What is a weed?  When I was living in Scotland years ago a very savvy gardener told me weeds are simply good plants growing in the wrong place.  Of course the “wrong place” tends to be defined according to our goals, like food production, landscape beauty and pristine lawns.

Over time I have had to change my understanding of what’s a weed.  One chore I had growing up was plucking Dandelions from our lawn (my father would not use herbicides).  After marrying a wild foods forager I needed to reassess Dandelions as they are now our first steamed greens in spring, plus Lynette uses Dandelion root as one of 20 wild-crafted ingredients to make the most effective anti-cold and anti-flu remedy I know.

In the past decade I also learned to view common Milkweed differently.  Lynette loves Milkweed and it is allowed to thrive in our front garden amidst perennial ornamentals like lilies, peonies, grasses, balloon flowers and shrubs.  Unlike these cultivated garden plants our Milkweed is a “weed” in that it grows and reproduces aggressively, and can dominate a planted area.  It has become 10-20% of our garden plants. 


“How a dump became the catalyst for a local food revolution.”

Monday, October 28th, 2013

When Gardener’s Supply arrived in the Intervale in 1985 there were hundreds of junk cars, trash lined the dirt roads and a proud tradition of caring for the land and growing local food had been abandoned for decades.

Thirty years ago there were a billion people on the planet hungry and “food insecure” (ie. unable to access enough food to meet basic needs).  Today there are still a billion people suffering in this way.  

Our food system is failing us globally.  In the US 50 million Americans — 1 in 4 children —don’t know where their next meal is coming from. 1 of 2 kids in the US will be on food assistance at some time in their life.  This is a system and economic problem, not a production issue.

Mark Bittman wrote a good column for World Food Day Oct 16 reporting that industrial agriculture is NOT solving the hunger problem: How to Feed the World. In fact he points out that there are two food systems and one (industrial agriculture) can be highly inefficient:

 "Let’s at last recognize that there are two food systems, one industrial and one of small landholders, or peasants if you prefer. The peasant system is not only here for good, it’s arguably more efficient than the industrial model. According to the ETC Group, a research and advocacy organization based in Ottawa, the industrial food chain uses 70 percent of agricultural resources to provide 30 percent of the world’s food, whereas what ETC calls “the peasant food web” produces the remaining 70 percent using only 30 percent of the resources."

In North America, home and community food gardening and the local food movement are essentially part of the “peasant food system”.  There are no massive subsidies and no federal Farm Bill funding more efficient and environmentally healthy local food production. (more…)

“Buddy (Amigo), Can You Spare Some Garden Seed?”

Sunday, September 29th, 2013

                     New raised bed CEN gardens

For over a decade I have been helping Restoring Our Watershed ( in Costa Rica to restore the environmental health and economic vitality of a 30,000 acre watershed on the Pacifica coast of Costa Rica.  More local food production, including home and community gardens, is one of our programs.  If we can help small land owners increase productivity of their land, using organic growing and permaculture principles we are also improving the watershed with better land use while improving livelihoods.
One of our local food system programs works with the Centro de Educacion y Nutricion to provide organic vegetables to young mothers and their children:  Above is a photo of one CEN raised bed garden students installed this year. Mothers and their kids tend the gardens.
Unfortunately, the refrigerator where we store our seed failed during the rainy season and we lost all our saved seed two months ago.   Planting for the ‘summer’ season begins Nov-Dec and we need to replace our seed stock.
We need lettuce that grows well in the heat (85-90 degrees most days).  Kale. chard, collards, arugula and basil also work for us. We also need disease resistant medium and cherry tomatoes you can recommend, plus tomatillos and peppers.  Tomatoes and peppers that are good for processing are also needed.  Larger cucumbers that thrive in the heat are needed plus large snap beans (like “Provider”).  “Ticos’ also like pear-shaped chayote-type squash as well as watermelon.  And, we need root crops (carrots, beets, radish), especially cultivars that perform in warm soil. (more…)

The Amazing Economics (and Health Benefits) of Home-Preserved Tomatoes

Friday, August 30th, 2013

Lynette and I are members of 2 CSA’s plus we grow 4 varieties of heirloom tomatoes.  Boy, are we swimming in tomatoes right now!  We have hundreds of these luscious red, orange and pink fruits to deal with.  I love to eat them fresh.  This time of year tomatoes are 20-30% of the food I eat.  Fortunately, Lynette loves to dehydrate, sauce, freeze and preserve them for the coming Vermont winter.  

This is fortunate because “love apples” are incredibly good for our health and we can then eat this goodness from the garden all year.  Most of us know tomatoes are rich in calcium and vitamins A and C (one tomato provides almost half of the recommended daily amount of vitamin C!), low in calories and fat free.

Tomatoes are also the best natural source of lycopene.  Lycopene is a powerful antioxidant, which means it is a nutrient that can reduce damage to cells.  Numerous research studies show Lycopene can reduce the risk of several cancers, including prostate, cervical, mouth, pharynx, throat, esophagus, stomach, colon, rectal, prostate and ovarian cancer.

Fresh tomatoes are a good source of lycopene but processed tomatoes contain even more. The process of cooking breaks down the cell walls, helping to release the lycopene. Eating tomatoes with a little bit of fat, such as olive oil, helps more lycopene to be better absorbed by the body. (more…)

“Gardening Pain? The Right Tools Can Keep You Growing”

Sunday, August 4th, 2013

Over 30 years ago we started Gardener’s Supply believing there was a need for gardening tools and equipment designed for the new approaches to gardening taking root in the US.  Then, big gardens in the “back 40” employed rototillers as the main tool to prepare soil for long rows of vegetables.  Sprayers and dusters were needed to apply chemical pest controls.  Overhead sprinklers with long, heavy hoses were the main form of watering.

Since 1983 Gardener’s Supply helped lead the transformation of American gardening.  English gardens inspired the interest in perennial flowers with borders and edging, plant supports and trellises. Intensive gardens inter-planted flowers with vegetables emerged as yards got smaller.  More decks, patios and sunrooms created a boom in container gardening.  Environmentally aware gardeners wanted healthier landscapes stimulating interest in new “earth-friendly” solutions including organic pest controls, root zone drip irrigation and efficient composting.  (more…)

“Monsanto Protection Act”: Do You Know It’s Impact on What You Might Eat (and Grow)?

Monday, July 1st, 2013

The “Farmer Assurance Provision” is part of a larger bill and was signed into law by President Barack Obama on March 26, 2013.  The law is referred to as the “Monsanto Protection Act” by its critics.  

The affect of this provision is to protect growers of genetically modified (GMO) or genetically engineered (GE) seeds from legal challenges to the safety of crops already planted.  Proponents say the law was a response to frivolous lawsuits against the USDA which were attempting to disrupt the use of new agricultural biotechnology.

Opponents of the provision call it the “Monsanto Protection Act”, because it "effectively bars federal courts from being able to halt the sale or planting of controversial GMO or GE seeds, regardless of health and safety issues that may be discovered in the future”.  National news reported that Monsanto lobbyists drafted the provision and maneuvered around Washington lawmakers to add the provision in the larger bill avoiding oversight and review by Congress' Agricultural or Judiciary committees.

Before the provision was passed by the Senate, Senator Jeff Merkley proposed, unsuccessfully, to delete it.  He believed it "allows the unrestricted sale and planting of genetically modified seeds that could be harmful to farmers, the environment and human health". (more…)