Ask Novato resident garden guru Susan Miller what she dreams about and she’ll describe a chain of connected community gardens built on collaboration, produce swaps, and food security for all. It’s a grand vision, but Miller is well on her way to making it a reality–one plot at a time.
A Marin Master Gardener, Miller is a passionate advocate of “foodscaping”–the art of creating edible gardens in spaces small and large. Her consulting business, Foodscapes of Marin (www.foodscapesofmarin.com), specializes in designing, building, planting, and maintaining organic raised bed food gardens for every budget. “I want to empower people to make changes and reconnect with skills our ancestors used to grow much of their food at home,” she says with conviction. “We have become too dependent on convenience when it comes to what we eat.”
Statistics support Miller’s concern. We are a nation of consumers who favor gobbling “grab & go” preservative-laden, processed and fast foods at an alarming rate. Obesity has become an epidemic, not only among adults but among our youth with some projections predicting that 74% of Americans will qualify as obese by 2020.
Miller is trying to counteract this trend with education and action by helping people establish a personal relationship with their food from garden to table. It’s a philosophy instilled in her from her childhood upbringing in Yonkers, New York. “I grew up in a house where we grew much of our own food,” she tells me. “My parents purchased the lot behind our house and my Dad planted a Victory garden with dwarf fruit trees and all kinds of vegetables.” Miller recalls early lessons tending that space as “the best gift ever.” The experience became the foundation for a life-long love of gardening and food production.
She brought that passion with her to the North Bay Children’s Center in Novato where she served as the coordinator of their on-site “Garden of Eatin’ ” in 2011-12. It was exciting to share her knowledge and love of growing food with the children, many of whom come from under-served populations. “It was a challenge to get the kids to appreciate what real food tastes like without added sugar, salt, or fat,” she confides. “Our goal was to help them develop healthy eating habits for a lifetime. That’s why it’s important to teach kids about gardening and where their food comes from.” The rewarding experience spurred her on.
Inspired by the work of Trathen Heckman, who founded Petaluma based non-profit Daily Acts, Miller launched the Marin Garden Challenge in 2010. Modeled after the 350 Home & Garden Challenge in Sonoma county, this 3rd annual event will take place May 4th-11th and inspires participants to become more sustainable by planting edible gardens at home. Miller has a team of capable volunteers who can do a garden assessment, as well as offer suggestions and encouragement for growing food in any available space. To “join the movement” and be a part of the challenge, visit www.maringardenchallenge.org.
“There’s two things money can’t buy: true love and a home-grown tomato!” Miller laughs as she notes that Marin was just voted the healthiest county in California for the fourth consecutive year running. Thanks to residents like her, we just may keep that distinction.