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California Company Helps Extend Reach of Fresh-Grown Food

A growing number of Americans grow fruit and vegetables at home in their own gardens. These small plots let gardeners savor the flavor of fresh-picked produce and improve their diet. One company in Los Angeles helps new gardeners get started.

Los Angeles homeowner Robert Smith gets tangy peppers and tasty tomatoes by walking into his front yard.

"The biggest benefit is great food," said Smith. "I still go to the market and I still will buy other things. You can't grow everything that you might get used to eating for certain recipes, but the taste out of the food that I can grow here , especially like right now the tomatoes are just amazing."

At an exclusive Japanese restaurant in Los Angeles called N/Naka, owner and chef Niki Nakayama says fresh seasonal ingredients are the key to great dishes. She grows many specialized vegetables for her restaurant and says the taste is worth it, despite the added work.

"I knew this was something that I wanted [for] our restaurant and I wanted to learn," said Nakayama. "And I know that it's going to be a lot of hands-on work."

Nakayama and Smith are both learning to plant seeds and cultivate their gardens with help from gardening expert Dan Allen, who is both a gardener and the chief financial officer of Farmscape. He says these vegetables are organic, grown with natural methods and tender care.

"And because we're not growing them for commercial distribution, we can grow varieties that are designed to taste good and not to ship well or have the right shape to stack efficiently on supermarket shelves," said Allen.

He says there are three things any garden needs.

“Sun, water and soil are the three key ingredients to getting a garden to grow effectively," he said.

Allen says that means positioning the plants so they get the right amount of sun, creating an efficient irrigation system and conditioning the soil by mixing in organic material as natural fertilizer.

Allen says most people who use his company's service want better-tasting food. But he notes that in Los Angeles, there are community gardens and gardening plots at schools that extend the reach of fresh-grown food to the inner city.

"How do we get food to lower-income communities that maybe don't have access to the sorts of grocery stores where they would normally go to buy their food? And one thing that we've been advocating in that context is, we don't look at how to purchase food in those communities, but also how to grow it there," said Allen.

Allen says gardening takes skill, knowledge and careful cultivation. But he says the effort is worth it and that more people are discovering the joys of growing and eating their own fruit and vegetables.