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Urban Gardeners Can Harvest Quite a Crop From Small Spaces

  • Faiza Elmasry

The most precious time of the day for Shari Miles-Cohen is dinnertime, when her family gathers around the table and eats the food she cooked. On a recent day, she prepared a vegetable dish consisting of eggplant, okra, onions and garlic. All these vegetables came from her garden.

When her family moved to Washington last year, Miles-Cohen started a vegetable garden, inspired by some of her family memories.

“When I was a kid," she recalled, "my aunt had a garden and she grew all sorts of staples; greens, potatoes and onions. I’ve always loved to sort of get my hands dirty in the soil.”

Now she plans family dinners around her garden harvest. “We have tomatoes and eggplant and okra, sweet peppers and all kinds of greens you can imagine," she said proudly. "I had to become more creative with recipes. I spend a lot of time on the Internet trying to look up recipes for the vegetables that have been really prolific, like the eggplant.”

Be creative

Miles-Cohen gets help twice a month from gardening coach Natalie Carver, from the garden design company Love & Carrots.

“Here we’re growing out of raised beds," Carver pointed out. "So there is this structure in the soil, and we really try to plant every square foot. A lot of our favorite summer vegetables, all of our tomatoes and basil, all the things that people want out of their garden, they need lots of sun.”

Planting vegetables in small spaces — urban gardening — is a growing trend, said Meredith Sheperd, who founded Love & Carrots.

“People are interested in where their food comes from these days," Sheperd said. "They are interested in eating really healthy. They might not trust what they're buying in the grocery store anymore, so they want to grow it themselves.

"I read a statistic that something like 70 percent of Americans are gardening these days and it’s growing at a rate of 20 percent since 2009. So it's really just taking off. It has been historically young women who are mostly interested in gardening, but I think young men are catching up.”

Sheperd admitted that urban farming has its limits, but insisted that it doesn’t have to be limiting. She helps her clients find creative ways to grow their favorite vegetables, no matter how small their gardens are.

“If you have a wall that’s nice and sunny, we’ll put a nice, sturdy trellis on the wall and grow something like beans or cucumbers or peas — make use of the vertical space," she said. "Then have another thing spilling over the front of the garden.

"On a balcony, we’ve used containers. We’ve even used 5-gallon buckets, if people are tight on a budget, to grow tomatoes or cucumbers or something like that. You just have to make sure it can drain and fill it with good soil and keep it watered and healthy.”

Fresher, cheaper

Kaliza Hutchensin grows her vegetables in a tiny garden in front of her townhouse. She said she gets the best flavor and variety, and the food is cheaper.

“I don’t go grocery shopping for vegetables at all. A hundred percent of my vegetables come from my garden," she said. "I only like to plant what I can eat. Every year I learn what I’ve wasted, what I used practically. In a busy home, where both of us are working, I mostly try to create meals around what I’m growing.”

Hutchensin, who was born in Zambia and grew up in the United States, said her small garden means a lot to her.

“My dad was a farmer, so that was the major reason why I was looking to settle down in a place [where I could have a garden],"she said. "I still enjoy being in an urban environment, but I also missed out on feeling [like] being a part of nature, the environment.”

Her vegetable garden adds color to her home's entryway and helps her family eat better.