How’s this for irony? For the past twelve years I’ve worked in the live event and trade show industry. Last week for my week off… I ended up going to a trade show.
What may be even more ironic is that we’re knee deep in harvest at The Yarden and The Peterson Garden Project and I’m already thinking about next year’s growing season. Thus the field trip to Navy Pier to see what’s going on in the Independent Garden Center world.
You know our motto at The Yarden… “to teach everyone we meet to grow their own food… seriously!” So it comes as no surprise that we were able to help almost 400 gardeners and volunteers get inspired to grow their own food at The Peterson Garden Project this year. But hey, that’s not enough to solve the challenges we’re facing with our food supply today. During WW2, Chicagoans put in 1,500 community gardens and almost 250,000 (yes, you read that right) home gardens in just two years. Makes our efforts on the corner of Peterson and Campbell seem measly by comparison. But hey, we’re just getting started so hold on to your hats and glasses, the 2011 season is going to rock.
But, as usual, I’m getting ahead of myself.
The Independent Garden Center Show at Navy Pier was all about the home grown food revolution. Many of the seminars were edible based and featured all-stars of the food/garden world such as Josh Viertel – President of Slow Food USA, Diane Ott Wheatley – founder (and super hero) of Seed Saver’s Exchange, and Chicagoland’s own Vicky Nowicki – Gardener’s Supply Garden Crusader 2009, life-long garden/food educator and the brains behind libertygardens.com. With seminar titles such as “Top Vegetable Trends 2011”, “Marketing Food 101”, “Cashing in on Heirloom Vegetables” and “The Fastest Growing Gardening Trend – Food!” attendees, buyers and IGC owners got the message loud and clear: people want to grow their own food.
Seed purveyors were out in force. I got my geek on when I met Jere Gettle of Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds (I wanted to ask for a picture but realized that even my garden groupie-ness can only go so far.) Seed Savers Exchange and Seeds of Change were on hand. The company that perhaps excited me most of all was off in a “temporary” area (which means in trade show parlance they sold out of the main floor exhibit space – a high class problem for show organizers) Irish Eyes Garden Seeds. Irish Eyes carries a great selection of potatoes and garlic and provides useful growing instructions. We’ve purchased our potatoes from them for the last four years and have been incredibly happy with them. Plus they’re from the the Pacific NW (my homeland) so I may be a bit partial.
Numerous companies were selling ready made kits for easy installation of raised beds. 4’x4′ was the popular size in the modular kits. Some were more attractive than others. The prize winner for innovative, attractive, practical and recycled goes to the Food Map container. Made of recycled plastic milk jugs, this is a garden solution that even the most urbane can love. As evidenced by this article by the too-cool-for-school folks at Apartment Therapy.
Woolly Pocket came in a close, and stylish, second with their innovative and earth-friendly wall systems and soft raised beds. They also have a non-profit that recently competed in the Pepsi Refresh Project for their work in schools. [My friend and core-team volunteer Xan isn’t sure how a non-profit that gets grant funding to buy their own product really works. But she admits it is brilliant.]
New to the IGC world were the ladies from the Seed Keeper Company. With their (wait for it…) Seed Keeper Kit. This is yet another example of necessity truly being the mother of invention. These ladies started creating this practical tool in one of their garages and have grown, in less than a year, to having numerous wholesale clients as well as a web-based direct-to-consumer business. While a bit cutesy, the kit really is pretty handy with glassine envelopes, seed markers, tabs to keep things organized, etc. I told them when they come up with the super-obsessed size to let me know. They cheerfully replied that people buy multiples: one for tomatoes, one for herbs, etc… I did quickly calculate the cost of buying ten or so for my, admittedly, grossly over-large seed collection. Maybe next year…
Vertical gardening was getting a lot of press at the show as well. Feeney Garden Products really rocked the trellis category with their beautiful and intelligent products. Good looking, configurable, long-lasting and easy to install (everything you need is included) these trellises would be a great combo with the Food Map container for vertical food gardening in a small space. Plus they were really nice people.
I could go on. The 230 year old Clarington Forge company was there selling garden tools from the only garden-tool forge remaining in England (there used to be hundreds). I’m normally a made-in-the-USA person but we all love the English for their gardening prowess, history and passion. A good handmade tool can last a lifetime and is a real treasure for a hardcore gardener. [To learn more about historic garden tools, check this out.]
That arbiter of a beautiful garden lifestyle, P. Allen Smith, was in attendance with his crew showcasing his new product line and inspiring everyone with his kindness and love of the garden (plus handing out free pizza!)
If I haven’t bored you to tears yet, I also ran into Mike Nowak… the perennial (pun intended for the funny man himself) defender of independent garden centers for all they offer in terms of education and dedication to their regions and the special growing conditions in each of them. He might like this book I learned about by speaker Stacy Mitchell “Big-Box Swindle: The True Cost of Mega-Retailers and the Fight for America’s Independent Business.” And perhaps this is a good time to mention that Espoma, who have been providing organic gardening solutions since 1923, was also at the show. Their products are really great and we use them in The Yarden.
Finally, just to prove I’m not all work and no play, I did manage to notice some of the non-food related products at the show… fountains, fancy watering cans, more lawn care products than I care to think about. And LOTS of statuary… took this picture for my husband, Peter: co-Yardener, techno genius, awesome hubby and, yes, Meerkat fanatic… I suggested buying ten of these and putting by the south fence of The Yarden so we’d have our own little corner of the Kalahari Desert in Chicago. He paused just a bit too long so I quickly changed the subject.
So feet hurting, brain full I left the IGC Show hopeful that garden centers will be ready to supply the demand for the home grown revolution in 2011. In 2009, almost eight million people started gardening specifically to grow food. I’m curious about the numbers for 2010 and hopeful that IGCs, The Yarden and The Peterson Garden Project can do their part to help the number of successful urban gardens in Chicago skyrocket for 2011.