It was the apocalyptic feel of nearly empty grocery stores that prompted Tegan Bukowski to jump on the backyard farm-to-table trend, growing her own fruits and vegetables at her Los Angeles home. A few years before, she lived in San Francisco and grew a plentiful garden that provided her with so much food that she rarely had to visit a grocery store. "I just remember having this moment of like, okay, I've done this before, I know how to garden enough to feed myself," Bukowski, the co-founder and CEO of Wellset, says. She has a dual degree in environmental philosophy and architecture and has been involved in environmental activist projects ranging from the viral anti-proposal for the border wall, Otra Nation, to designing East Africa’s first utility scaled solar energy. Gardening, like baking bread and having Taylor Swift’s folklore on repeat, has become one of the ways people like Bukowski have coped with the fear and uncertainty of the pandemic.
To be clear, the resurgence of growing and harvesting your own food isn’t exactly new to current generations. Jenny Ong, a Los Angeles-based influencer started growing in 2018 when she became really passionate about sustainability. "I geek out over biodiversity and composting and the cyclical nature of it all, and I think that naturally led to my desire to grow food in order to utilize compost and organically fertilize," she says.
The pandemic simply pushed the gardening boom into overdrive. A July 2020 survey conducted by Scotts Miracle Grow found that some 55% of American adults were currently gardening, with 33% reporting to be doing so as a means of access to fresh food. "Outside activities definitely became more appealing, and gardening has become increasingly more popular since the pandemic initially started," Samantha Foxx, beekeeper, farmer, and founder of Mother's Finest Urban Farms in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, says. "I think people slowed down and gained more appreciation for the small things. With everything being so unpredictable day-to-day, the hope that planting a seed can give is just a beautiful thing."
Some even see gardening as more than just a way to feed themselves and their families — it can be seen as a form of therapy. "It connects you to the earth and the passing of time[ ...] as you're growing a plant you have to wait, you have to be patient. And you also have to be persistent and water it every day and pay attention to it," Foxx says, explaining that being connected to your food is one of the best experiences you can offer your family. "It really makes you rethink food and have more of an appreciation for it, when you are connected to the growing process," she says.
Growing your own food can also make you more aware of how everything you do impacts the earth. "Everything has a purpose: the bees, the bits of food we don’t eat and toss, the insects we usually don’t pay attention to, the tree that shades a corner of your yard, a plant that grows upright and tall enough so that another plant nearby can lean on it for support, etc," Ong says. "The interconnectedness comes out on full display and it makes life seem all the more beautifully fragile, yet powerful."
What's wonderful is that you don't need much to get started — just a container, a bag of mulch, organic fertilizer, and some plants, Bukowski says. "You can use your hands for digging instead of getting fancy tools until your garden gets bigger," she adds. If you're inspired to start growing your own fruits and veggies, here are some tips on how to approach this farm-to-table living.
Farm-To-Table Tip: Don’t Overthink It
The most important piece of advice when starting to garden: Don't overcomplicate things. "Plant what you and your family like to eat and make a stronger connection with your food," Foxx says. Don't pressure yourself to have a perfect harvest on your first try; instead "enjoy the beauty of planting a seed...it’s such a beautiful place to get lost in." Ong adds that when she first felt the itch to grow food, she convinced herself that her apartment wasn't big enough to grow anything and that she needed an actual yard. "While there is no doubt that a yard will give you a lot more space, I wish I hadn’t tricked myself into thinking that way," Ong says.
Farm-To-Table Tip: Get Creative With Small Spaces
"Space shouldn’t be a deterrence to gardening," Foxx says. You don't need a huge yard — or even a yard at all — to start growing, as Ong learned. "I limited myself to a small planter of herbs and one strawberry patch...There are so many elements to observe in growing food — watering needs, light sources, soil health, fertilization, etc. — that it’s probably best to just give it a go in a smaller space anyway, in retrospect," she says.
Vertical growing and using raised beds are two solutions to making the most of a small space. "Also, you can consider starting a community garden with a neighbor if you lack space and it helps engage others in the community," Foxx says.
Herbs are also a great way to connect with the earth if you don't have much space. One of Bukowski's favorite mindfulness practices is getting to pick the little leaves off of her herbs, and then brewing them into a fragrant tea.
Farm-To-Table Tip: Find The Sun
"Places that offer full sun are ideal," Foxx says. "Plants generally need eight hours of full sun to have proper growth." So plan accordingly, whether you are growing indoors or outdoors. She adds that your garden should also be located somewhere where water is easily accessible.
Farm-To-Table Tip: Container Gardening
"Container gardening is a great way to dip your toes into gardening without having to hoe your backyard into submission — which can also be fun, but is way more work upfront!" Bukowski says. Container gardening can be done both indoors and outdoors, and only takes about an afternoon to set up and then you just need to water your plants once or twice a day.
"A common mistake that newbie gardeners make is to get containers that are too small because when they buy the plant at the store it looks like it only needs a little pot," she says. "Your plants are going to grow as big as the container they are given — which is sort of philosophical, if you think about it."
She recommends containers that are 1.5’ X 3' and 1' deep. For veggie plants that are going to grow really large, like tomatoes, zucchini, squash, artichokes, and peppers, Bukowski recommends putting each plant into individual round 17.5" terracotta pots so that they can grow their own root system.
Farm-To-Table Tip: Get Your Plants Situated
First up, get some mulch. Bukowski likes to garden organically and says if you're interested in that to be sure to check the bag to make sure there aren't any non-organic additives. She also recommends getting an organic fertilizer that's specifically for herbs, tomatoes, and veggies.
"When you are ready to plant your plants, take them gently from their containers (tip the plant upside down) and then gently loosen the roots. Dig a hole just big enough to place the plant in — make sure you make it deep enough to cover the root system entirely plus another inch of depth—and then place a few tablespoons of the fertilizer in the bottom of the hole," Bukowski explains. Then, put your plant in, fill the rest of the hole, and you're done. Don't worry if your plants look all wilted right after you plant them — they're just in shock. Give them some water and they'll get situated.
Farm-To-Table Tip: Use Your Local Resources
Local places, like a nursery or cooperative extension, are great resources. "All of the employees are knowledgeable about the specific plants you are buying as well as how conditions in your area affect where you should place plants," Bukowski says. Foxx adds that your local cooperative extension should also have classes that can be helpful for all levels of gardening. "Planting a seed is a revolutionary act," Foxx says. "Be inspired, be free, and grow!"