Willi Galloway grows an abundance of fresh, organic produce in her city lot in Seattle.
As recently as last year, many horticultural professionals were declaring edible gardening a dying art. The average age of edible gardeners was rising and few young people seemed interested in growing their own food. But recently, the combination of higher fuel and food prices, global warming, pollution, contaminated food scares, and a host of other factors has spawned a whole new generation of food gardeners. These gardeners are interested in growing food, but they also see gardening as a way to reconnect with the natural world and their community, as well as part of a more sustainable lifestyle.
Willi Galloway in Seattle, Washington, is a great example of this new generation of edible gardener. I recently chatted with Willi about her garden, why she likes to vegetable garden, and the benefits of growing her own food. Here's what she had to say.
Question: Willi, you're a 28-year-old, first-time homeowner living in the city. What made you want to start vegetable gardening?
Using raised beds, season extenders, and trellises, Willi's garden is small, yet productive.
Answer: I've been around gardens as long as I can remember. In Wyoming, where I grew up, my family always had a large vegetable garden. I love plants and worked in garden centers and nurseries as a teenager. In college I did an internship and eventually started working for Organic Gardening magazine in Pennsylvania. That's where I really got hooked on growing food. After years of gardening in a community garden, when Jon, my husband, and I bought our home in 2006, I knew we needed to have a veggie garden.
Question: Why grow edibles? What's the connection for you?
Answer: I love to cook and I think that vegetable gardening and cooking are two tangible ways to connect personally to your land and to the larger environment. Paying attention to what you're eating is a way to pay better respect to your body and to the world. I, and many of my friends, initially connected with edible gardening through food. I love the diversity of what you can grow in a plot of land, and everything tastes better when it's fresh. Plus, there's a sense of pride in growing and cooking your own food and serving it to friends. I think everyone should learn how to grow their own food and cook, ideally as they're growing up. Food is the great equalizer. It's democratic. Everyone needs to eat regardless of who they are.
Inside the pepper palace, pepper transplants thrive with the extra heat provided by the plastic cover.
Question: Do you see other people in your generation getting into edible gardening?
Answer: Yes. My friends come over and get inspired when they see the gardens. However, they really start thinking about gardening themselves when they eat fresh, healthy, delicious food. I think many people in my generation got started with edible gardening through supporting local farmer's markets, buying organic, local foods, and tasting a wide variety of foods grown in different regions of the country and from around the world. Then when food and fuel price increases started hitting this year, many looked to save money and grow some of these vegetables themselves. It's a grassroots movement; people are helping each other learn about growing food. I'm on the Board of Directors at Seattle Tilth (a community garden and education non-profit in Seattle). Our gardening classes are booked and community gardens have waiting lists of people wanting to rent plots.
Question: Can you describe your own garden at this house and how you got started?
Willi loves her four egg-laying chickens (Inky, Clyde, Bumble, and Boo-boo). They produce four eggs per day in summer, lots of manure for the garden, and plenty of entertainment
Answer: The yard is 6500 square feet, so we have plenty of room to garden, especially for a city lot. This spring we started the garden. I like neat and orderly vegetable gardens, so Jon and I created 5 raised beds in our sunny side yard. We had to move an old cedar fence, so we used the extra wood from the fence to build the beds. I like growing plants vertically and saving space by interplanting. For example, I grow butternut squash on a trellis with spinach and Swiss chard under the squash. Along the fence are pole beans and tomatoes.
In the front yard I have tomatoes, artichokes, peppers, and wildflowers growing. It's a little more decorative since it's in the front yard.
In the back yard we rented a sod cutter to remove the grass for more raised beds. There's nothing more romantic than seeing your hubby cutting sod in the backyard! I have an herb garden off the back porch with mint, hops, lovage, and other herbs. With our cold nights, peppers are a difficult crop to grow. So, I built my pepper palace. It's a raised bed cold frame that has pepper and basil plants inside. At first I covered it with clear plastic, but it got too hot so now I have a floating row cover over it. The peppers are flowering and fruiting up a storm. In fall I plan on growing greens in the palace.
Question: I hear you have animals in the garden too?
Answer: I love chickens for their eggs, manure, and quirky personality. They are good insect hunters and fun to watch. Of course, you have to be sure to fence them well. They were free range at first, but then they had a field day in the lettuce, beans, and cucumbers. Now I keep a closer watch on them. Then there's our dopy Labrador retriever. He decided to start digging in the carrot bed. It's just a matter of fine-tuning our system so everyone is happy.
Question: What are your future garden plans?
Answer: I'd love to start growing native fruits in our yard and getting rid of more of the lawn. I'm looking at planting salmonberry, huckleberry, and alpine strawberries for next year. There's plenty of room to expand and I want to make our yard a habitat for people and wildlife to enjoy.
Willi Galloway is the West Coast Editor for Organic Gardening magazine. Visit her website for more on her garden, and to chat at www.digginfood.com.