Brad Halm believes anyone can grow food.
It doesn’t matter whether you have a lot of land. It doesn’t matter whether you’ve ever grown so much as a tomato. It doesn’t matter if you grew up in midtown Manhattan and don’t know a bean plant from a banana tree.
Gardening is something that can be learned, and anyone can learn how.
That’s the premise of the Massillon native’s new book, Food Grown Right, in Your Backyard: A Beginner’s Guide to Growing Crops at Home (Skipstone, $24.95). Halm wrote it with Colin McCrate, his college friend and now his partner in the Seattle Urban Farm Co.
The two are proof of that premise. Growing up, neither was especially interested in food other than eating it, they say in the book’s introduction.
Halm said his parents, Suzanne and Jeff, were avid environmentalists, and he remembers his mom growing vegetables on the deck. But other than that, he had little experience with gardening until he went to Denison University and moved to the Homestead, an environmentally minded housing option at the university and the place where he met McCrate.
The Homestead is a student-run organic farm, but Halm said it wasn’t farming that drew him there. Rather, it was the opportunity to put his environmental studies major to work in a hands-on way and spend a lot of time outdoors. And, oh, yeah, it was a chance to live someplace other than a dorm, he said.
Nevertheless, he came to enjoy growing food. (As he and McCrate note in the book, the Homestead helped them discover their purpose — “growing long hair, growing long beards and growing organic vegetables.”) Halm went on to an internship and jobs at farms, including Crown Point Ecology Center in Bath Township, before moving to Seattle in 2007, where he met back up with McCrate to start the Seattle Urban Farm Co.
The business installs gardens on clients’ properties and teaches them how to grow their own crops. Most of their clients are individuals, but Halm and McCrate also help schools, restaurants and other businesses grow food on site, he said.
Their book teaches beginners the basics, like where to put their gardens, how to test their soil and how to keep their plants alive. But Halm said he’s also developed some favorite tips that aren’t always included in the how-to manuals:
• Start small. If you’ve never gardened before, don’t take on too much, too fast. Start with just a few containers or a raised bed — something you can care for easily. If you find you like gardening, “you can always expand in the future,” he said. But you don’t want to wind up overwhelmed right out of the gate.
• Make your garden a regular part of your life. Put it in a spot you’ll pass or see every day, so you don’t forget about it. Get in the habit of spending a few minutes every evening checking on the garden and maybe doing a little weeding, and more time once or twice a week working there.
• Learn about your plants. Take the time to study the things you’re growing, and learn about the various parts of the plants. Understanding what plant parts you’re eating helps you comprehend and solve the problems that will inevitably arise and care for the plants more effectively, he said.
• Don’t think of the garden as an eyesore. Vegetable gardens don’t have to be relegated to the backyard. They can be grown right out in front of your home or even mixed in among ornamental plants. “The vegetables are beautiful, and they can be a great part of your landscape,” he said.
• Make a place to grow. Even if you don’t have a yard, you probably have a patio, a driveway or even a wall where you can hang a few pots. Halm and McCrate once created a garden out of an old pickup truck, although that was just for a garden show display.
No matter the limitations, you can almost always find a place for a small raised bed or at least a few containers.
“There’s space for everybody to grow,” Halm said.
Mary Beth Breckenridge can be reached at 330-996-3756 or firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also become a fan on Facebook, follow her on Twitter @MBBreckenridge and read her blog at www.ohio.com/blogs/mary-beth.