By Shermakaye Bass
Green Right Now
We of a certain generation remember when most grandparents (or great-grandparents) had gardens. It was part of life, part of a family’s sustainability.
Americans can’t go back in time, especially considering that 82 percent
of us now live in cities. But we can re-claim our individual gardens of Eden, whether we inhabit a Brooklyn condo with rooftop deck, a “zero-lot” home in Houston, or a bungalow in Santa Barbara.
Enter the fast-growing trend of raised-bed-gardening facilitated by young companies like GroOrganic based in Orange County, Calif. It’s a one-stop organic-garden-kit-and-seed shop/community outreach/gardening consulting business that will outfit Southern Californians’ gardens from start to finish and maintain them. GroOrganic also ships smaller kits around the country.
Or check out Naturalyards based in Ashland, Ore., a four-year-old co-op that makes and ships gorgeous, durable cedar kits in hundreds of different sizes. Even the venerable “old” Gardener’s Supply Company (circa 1983) out of Burlington, Vt., now sells and ships raised-bed kits in two sizes: 3 x 3 feet and 3 x 6 feet.
But if you’re looking for full service and you live in the Southern California area, GroOrganic is the place to go. For around $500 to $1,000, you can have someone from the company come and assemble the kit, pour the soil and plant the seeds, creating an instant garden for erstwhile greenthumbs. You have lots of size options: Raised-bed planters range from 8 ft long x 4 ft wide, to much larger “L” shaped planters. Those who live in other regions or states have a choice of two types of beds, the “GroClassic” and the “GroEasy” — each available in two sizes.
“Our business has just taken off in the past year,” says GroOrganic founder and president Karen Cancilla, explaining that the company’s first anniversary is today, April 1. “We are already having people call us to franchise (the brand/idea) — we’re looking at requests from 13 different people in other states right now.”
Part of the reason may be due to a lot of good press and celebrity word-of-mouth: Since last year, the company (which actually is now four companies, including the new franchise division) has been featured on Tori Spelling’s reality show, “Access Hollywood”, “Keeping Up with the Kardashians”, and will be used in upcoming episodes of “The Biggest Loser.”
But no one can argue that, with the slow food and Go Local movements, creating a self-contained, sustainable life has become increasingly appealing for average Americans. And outfits like GroOrganic can make it simple again — actually, much simpler than in our grandparents’ era. Just make a list of the organic produce you’d like to grow (don’t forget to research what grows best in your region, and factor in the sunlight/exposure your site will offer), place the order, and once you’ve assembled your kit and sown the seeds, you’ll be harvesting veggies within a couple of months.
“We can get whatever someone wants,” says Cancilla, whose company will host a raised garden-planter giveaway (ten of the popular 8 x 8 feet containers will be given away; see bottom of story for details) from April 19-23, in honor of Earth Week; . “We’ve never had a request we couldn’t fill. A woman called yesterday for three different varieties of blueberry, and we found all three. I didn’t know there were three varieties of blueberries! We can do the gardens pre-made, pre-painted. We can have them installed, and within three hours you can have a garden growing! Anybody can do this, I don’t care how old or young. You just put it together, like Lincoln Logs almost. … Or we can come out and do it for you if you’re in our area.”
As Cancilla, who grew up with a garden, explains, “A lot of people out there are interested in this type of thing. It reaches a lot of people in so many ways. It gets the community involved. … Neighbors don’t take care of their neighbors anymore and that needs to change. I think we really need to get back to what our grandparents did when they were young.”
Actually, it was her 97-year-old grandmother who inspired the GroOrganic concept. Cancilla says that when she would go to visit Granny in an assisted living home, the two would have little to talk about, and the elder lady was not faring well physically or mentally. Then Cancilla remembered how much she and her grandma had once loved gardening. And, having recently retired from a different business sector, Cancilla thought, “Why not?…”
“I thought, ‘You know, I’ve always loved gardening…and maybe I could offer to put a garden in at my grandmother’s home facility.’ So I said, ‘Grandma, would you like a garden?’ And she perked right up. Before that, she wouldn’t even get up out of bed, and then she started getting up and getting dressed and going out on her own. She has short-term memory problems, but she always remembers that she has a garden there. … I saw the immediate change and we thought, ‘We’re going to go with this!’”
Now, as GroOrganic VP Jennifer DeWitt says, “we are working on installing gardens at many non-profit facilities, such as the Orange County Rescue Mission, Florence Western Medical Center, an HIV housing facility, and in many public and private schools. In addition to installing the gardens, we (host) community educational programs. … Our vision is to help cultivate healthy lifestyles by educating people on the benefits of eating organically by avoiding chemically-treated fruits and vegetable. … Individuals and families can also experience the value of self-sufficiency by growing organic foods in their own backyards.”
- GARDEN PLANTER GIVEAWAY: 10 winners will be chosen from entry letters/emails nominating a deserving individual or family, church, hospital, school, senior healthcare facility, or organization. Interested parties may submit a letter or essay nominating the person(s) or organization to win the garden, explaining why you think they should get a groOrganic garden. Call 888-947-6674 or check out the site for more details. Deadline for entry is April 30th.
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