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Introducing City Dirt

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Starting today, Amy Pennington -- urban farmer, founder of GoGo Green Garden, and author of Urban Pantry and Apartment Gardening -- will be writing a biweekly column for FOOD52 on how to start growing your own food, no matter how tiny your garden-to-be is.

Read on for how to get growing!

amy pennington  container garden

- Amy Pennington

I spent the cold winter morning staring out at all of my container plants from the warmth and safety of my Seattle apartment trying to determine how best to ‘introduce’ myself to you. On the other side of the sliding glass door sits my faltering plants – their leaves turning dry and brown, likely due to under-watering more than the recent chill. Embarrassing, really, as I grow food for a living. While I love each of those edible plants dearly, winter renders me lazy and neglectful after a long season of gardening. I am tired.
I am an urban farmer. I grow food for people in their city backyards, front yards, side yards, you name it: any patch of land in which I can persuade food to grow. And by food, I mean greens, roots, fruits, herbs, flowers, and more.  I started growing food in other people’s back yards many years ago, as a weekend hobby. Eventually, my environmental idealism combined with my passion for food and inspired my business, GoGo Green Garden. I build plant and tend edible gardens for city folk. Best job ever. With GoGo I get to dig around in the dirt, plant seeds, and watch food grow.

Additionally, I’m a food writer and contribute columns to some local magazines and wrote a cookbook, Urban Pantry. (You may recall me getting my ass kicked by Frankies in the 2010 Piglet Tournament?!) I use the gardens for inspiration and write about what is in season, often turning to preservation as a tool to extend the harvest. The gardens are constantly dictating what I cook.

urban pantry  apartment gardening

The irony here is that I live in a small one bedroom apartment, so I don’t have a garden plot to call my own. I make do with what I have; in my case, an east-facing deck that gets the first rays of morning sun. Over time, I have overcrowded this tiny 75-square-foot space with pots, containers, hanging baskets, window boxes, and more. I’ve been forced to figure out a production schedule using only containers and through years of trial and error have it pretty dialed in.

My hope is to inspire people to eat a broader range of food and flavors than they are used to. I also want to evoke a sort of small-scale self-sufficiency in the daily lives of urbanites. The end goal is to have a prolific garden that both inspires and influences what we cook indoors.

In this new column, I will offer biweekly projects for anyone wanting to grow food at home – be it on a stretch of backyard or a pot on a balcony. Posts will be project based (like, “How & Why to Start Seeds”) and then have sub-sections of instruction for both back yard and container environments.

The concepts will follow the seasons so you’re not left wondering what you should be doing NOW. (We’ll also have a side bar addressing regional zones, so you have a quick reference for the climate in which you live.) Consider this your go-to guide for lessons in urban farming from a girl who has had to make her imperfect conditions work. My favorite photographer, Della Chen, will take instructional photos of gardens along the way so you have a rad visual guide to follow as well.

And of course, I want your questions! The goal is to get each of you food lovers engaged in growing your own food. It’s quite simple, really, and it opens up a world of flavors that you otherwise cannot find conventionally. (When is the last time you saw Tangerine Sage at the grocery?) So, mark your calendars, sharpen your garden forks and stay tuned.

First up? Figuring out what the hell to grow. Having a clear vision is a great place to start.

Photos by Della Chen


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