Act 2: You're On!

Have Your Landscape & Eat It Too, with Chris English owner of Edible Homescapes

June 20, 2022 Kate & Rhonda Season 2 Episode 4
Act 2: You're On!
Have Your Landscape & Eat It Too, with Chris English owner of Edible Homescapes
Show Notes Transcript

Our guest is a true change maker, small business owner and what he does is something unique and impactful and just plain cool. Chris English is a small business owner, educator, and farmer. He owns and operates Edible Homescapes where he designs and installs customized edible gardens, offers workshops and grows food on his one-acre market garden with a mission to help secure local food systems and improve the health of our society and environment. Chris is a co-founder of the NPO Revive the Roots, which just celebrated its 10 year anniversary. During his time at Revive the Roots, he initiated the Food for Thought program, which resulted in the establishment of two educational gardens at Smithfield Public Schools in Rhode Island. He also managed the community gardens and facilitated community workshops. Chris holds four certifications in permaculture design and was part of the Providence Zen Center Permaculture Project in Cumberland, Rhode Island.

In this fantastic conversation, you’ll get inspired to try your hand at growing your own garden - whether you have a tiny patch on a porch or a big backyard. Chris wants everyone to feel empowered to get back in touch with the earth and to get in on the movement to stop just consuming and maybe get producing. A charming interview, Chris is part farmer, part philosopher.

Highlights include:
“Some people live on second apartments with nothing but a balcony. And some people might have large, sprawling backyards, with forests or water features. So there's a huge amount of diversity in the way that it can take shape. Essentially, the idea is trying to incorporate some kind of edible or productive element into your home scape into your home setting.”

“Environmental destruction, in the name of farming, loss of topsoil shifts the sheer amount of fossil fuels; it's necessary to support our agricultural infrastructure, transportation, synthetics, all those things really are having a huge toll on the environment and significantly contributing to climate change, and just the overall health of the environment. In general, when you shift our practices - to a form that's more localized, and more regenerative in proving environments and ecosystems, rather than drawing them down, you are directly impacting and helping to mitigate climate change, and making a healthier society for everybody. It's immediately affected by it.”

“I have my one small farm, it's about one acre. I'm trying to make that a great example, a great demonstration of what a one-acre kind of miniature homestead could sort of look like  - how to make it hyper efficient on the small scale that it is and still viable for the market and profitable. And what I really want to do is start to go more heavily to some agroforestry practices on a larger acreage. So I would love to do tree crops with intermittent grazing animals, I'm keeping my eye out for land and trying to find places that I could rent or create partnerships relationships with to take that experience of regenerative farming to the next scale up and where I'm actually at right now, that seems so thrilling and exciting. But it's hard. It's hard to find land and places where you can really do it.”

To find out about Chris and Edible Homescapes visit:
https://www.ediblehomescapes.com/

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Kate: Welcome to Act 2:

You're On! Join Us Weekly at our studio roundtable. As Rhonda and Kate invite spectacular guests to weigh in on staying vibrant and healthy.

Rhonda:

Launch your next great app with authenticity and purpose.

Kate:

Summon your courage superstar and step into the limelight. So grab a coffee

Rhonda:

or a martini,

Kate:

and let's set the stage for a grand entrance. It's Act Two.

Rhonda:

You're on. Greetings, friends. I'm Rhonda Garvin Conaway, and today I have the pleasure of podcasting with my cohost,

Kate:

Kate Leavey. And we are also joined by our talented producer behind the scenes, Cathy Carswell.

Rhonda:

We're so glad you're here. Cathy, we couldn't do it without you. Today, I am very excited. Our guest is a true change maker, small business owner and what he does is something unique and impactful. So cool. So before we welcome him to the show, my question for you is this. What if I told you that you could have more convenience, food security, save money, get a little more exercise and experience a bit more fun in your life?

Kate:

I'm completely on board. I need all those things. Were you talking to me?

Rhonda:

Yes, you and everyone else. This truly could be your experience as a result of what you plant in the ground. Let me tell you more. Today's guest Chris English is a small business owner, educator, and farmer. He owns and operates edible homescapes where he designs and installs customized edible gardens offers workshops and grows food on his one-acre market garden with a mission to help secure local food systems and improve the health of our society and environment. Chris is a co-founder of the NPO Revive the Roots, which just celebrated its 10 year anniversary. During his time at Revive the Roots, he initiated the Food for Thought program, which resulted in the establishment of two educational gardens at Smithfield Public Schools in Rhode Island. He also managed the community gardens and facilitated community workshops. Chris holds four certifications in permaculture design and was part of the Providence Zen Center Permaculture Project in Cumberland, Rhode Island. Welcome to the show, Chris. Thanks. So let's kick it off by chatting a little bit more about what edible landscaping is. For those who may have just a brief understanding, can you dive into that subject for us?

Chris English:

Sure, yeah, it can take a lot of different forms. And I think what's important to remember is that what's right for you totally depends on what your needs are and what your context is. And so some people live on second apartments with nothing but a balcony. And some people might have large, sprawling backyards, with forests or water features. So there's a huge amount of diversity in the way that it can take shape. Essentially, the idea is trying to incorporate some kind of edible or productive element into your home scape into your home setting.

Kate:

So in reading your materials, I'm wondering if you can talk a little bit about why is shifting to a local regenerative form of agriculture, a necessary change?

Chris English:

Well, agriculture, I've always found that agriculture, it's a really, really succinct way to kind of address a lot of the environmental issues that we're facing at these times and doing it in a way that's regenerative - i.e., leaving the soil and the environment as good or preferably better than it was when you got there is really something that needs to happen. Environmental destruction, in the name of farming, loss of topsoil shifts the sheer amount of fossil fuels; it's necessary to support our agricultural infrastructure, transportation, synthetics, all those things really are having a huge toll on the environment and significantly contributing to climate change, and just the overall health of the environment. In general, when you shift our practices - to a form that's more localized, and more regenerative in proving environments and ecosystems, rather than drawing them down, you are directly impacting and helping to mitigate climate change, and making a healthier society for everybody. It's immediately affected by it.

Kate:

Yeah, well, it sounds like the intersection of gardening, landscaping, and activism. And when you think - what we've done to our world since the Industrial Age for the last 100 years, it's so exciting to start hearing people like you talk about, okay, but now what do we do at this moment, to begin to shift things and understand our relationship to the earth again, because we're so disconnected. So the work that you're doing is seems right on point. Yeah,

Chris English:

I think so too. And I appreciate one point you oh, well said. And it does feel like, you know, we're beginning made about simply being disconnected from nature. I really think that's a seriously deep vein tha working with your direct environment, getting outside and interacting with it. It's going to foster connection to the environment. A good to clue in - and we'll hold signs to turn back the climate quote, I'm going to paraphrase it because I don't remember it

exactly:

you will not defend something with your life that chang, but will we go and take a walk in nature - and and it's you do not love. The way that we're allowing our environment to just be destroyed underneath our feet, I think reflects a serious separation and disconnection of people nature and a relationship with it in a way that makes them love it and want to defend it. And we can - we can recreate that in our lives just interacting in whatever level you're at,

Kate:

I think I want to add to your biography, philosopher, restorative, it's as good for the earth as it is for you to to because that was a really lovely ideology that you just shared. get in touch to be following these practices. So this is really very timely conversation. So interesting. Tell me how you came to think this way. And what led you on this path? How did you arrive at this moment?

Chris English:

Oh, it's been about 10 or so years in the making. Now, I guess a little bit more true. Truthfully, I suppose it really started in high school towards the end of high school, a lot of friends and myself, we were really just starting to become aware of these larger environmental and social issues. And so I kind of originally approached all this from a sort of a pessimistic negative view, thinking that we're really in trouble this is going to happen, it's going to happen in my generation. Oh, no, you know, and then I discovered permaculture, which is sort of like the radical edge of regenerative agriculture. And so super fascinating topic, I discovered that as a really proactive way to immediately engage in it, it wasn't something you needed a degree to just begin, you can just go plant a tree and start working where you're at. And so we started to come at agriculture and sustainable agriculture and working with the community from the lens of wanting to try and make that impact. And so that's when five other friends and myself started the nonprofit Revive the Roots in Smithfield, Rhode Island. We just had our 10th year anniversary this summer. They're wonderful. We've been doing community gardens over there, planting what's called food forests, or edible forest gardens, which we can talk about more at some point if we have the time, and just welcoming the community to come and co-develop the 16 acres that was released from the land trust with us. And so that sort of became my experience incubator for all kinds of huge diversity of types of agriculture. And from there, I went on to continue with the projects.

Rhonda:

I'm really curious. So you've got the nonprofit piece, and you're a small business owner, what is that like to be a farmer and try to thrive as a small business owner in this particular industry?

Chris English:

Well, being a small business owner isn't, it isn't easy. I'm going through all kinds of trials and tribulations in trying to make this business successful and really nail down what the concept is that I'm trying to put out there. I think one of my biggest issues is I have too much that I want to fit into one constant, whether it's small farming, or bringing home gardening, or education and all these services. Now I see how they all overlap and interact together, picking one to nail down and streamline first, is a challenge. I do think that it's such a timely and important service that I think the demand for it is really there. And it's just far from saturated. I think we need more small businesses with this kind of service. And I think there's room for it all. Does that answer your question?

Rhonda:

It does. And boy, does that idea. resonate that. But sometimes we have so many ideas about how to address problems that it's hard to know where to start.

Kate:

I appreciate that you're sharing, you know, even talking about that initial pessimism, and the overwhelm of what to do but then taking your passion and taking action. It is exactly what folks need to hear. Like sometimes you just take one idea and you kind of figure that part out, even as you're discerning what's the bigger life purpose. But taking action really is an important part for, say your generation, which kind of ages us a little bit, but I find it absolutely exciting and thrilling and hopeful about where we can head but I think it is important to take action, find your passion. See how that intersects with the world's needs right now

Chris English:

I'm trying my best.

Kate:

And you're living that and it's wonderful role modeling. And so I wonder what is the most rewarding part about the work that you're doing? The most rewarding part and then maybe you can talk about the challenge?

Chris English:

Well, I think, for me, to really the most rewarding part, I guess is kind of a twofer. I love it, it's really important for me in my life, to be doing something with my time that feels like it's part of a bigger picture that feels like I'm really contributing to a mission that I can believe in. That's what carries me forward and motivates me on the day to day to really actually invest myself in it, you know. I've done lots of jobs where I'm really just spinning someone else's wheels. And sometimes it's necessary, and you have to do it. And that's okay. Coming from that perspective, that's part of why I really value, being able to set my own agenda and begin doing work that is meaningful, I believe on for myself and within the wider picture of things. So that's super valuable. Secondly, I just love creating something tangible, the feeling that I get when I've finished, you know, building these beds, and the sprouts are just coming up and everything's clean and straight and smells good. And being outside and having this sense of creation, over this, whatever it is in someone's backyard, or on my own farm is really what I'm referring to right now. It's super gratifying. So I love being outside and working with the ground and being able to take a step back up the hill and just look down at something that you've built. It's nice.

Kate:

And we probably all have that in our history, right? I mean, how many of us come from farming communities? That's a lot of our, you know, getting in touch with our ancestry, but also getting back in touch with the earth and that that's got to feel good. And also doing something that is really helpful societally. That's That's good. lifework? Huh.

Rhonda:

Which leads me to my next question. I know we mentioned in your bio, how you worked with the school system in Smithfield, Rhode Island, tell us about the initiatives there. And I'm particularly moved by that is Kate and I both have education in our backgrounds and our teachers. And I just think there's nothing more important in terms of having a platform to influence inspire or mentor than in education. So share with us what that experience was like and the kinds of things that went on there.

Chris English:

Sure. Well, we started that project with Revive the Roots in 2012, I think is when we first began that and essentially, the plan was to create a 40 foot by 120 foot edible forest garden; it's like a technical term for essentially, you're designing a garden that mimics the structure and social relationships of natural ecosystems, or of a forest ecosystem. In the sense, I always like to say - nobody goes in the forest, and weeds and waters and fertilizes it, right? Grows wonderfully. So wouldn't it be so nice if our gardens could resemble that and emulate some of those natural services, that is the big picture concept, the Holy Grail, if you will, of edible forest gardening that you are striving to achieve. And by mimicking nature as much as possible. And so we were going build that building relationships with different classes, and teachers. So we did projects, for example, one of my favorite ones was we took a freshman math class who is doing plotting coordinates and graphing. And on this perfect rectangle of a lot that we were going to build a garden on, we laid out a 10 by 10, string grids over it. And then I drew a map of where the different plants would go, made it appears coordinates on this graph. And so then we gave the kids d stakes and different teams. And they went out, they essentially, on this lifestyle map, plot all the coordinates for all the plants, Rico, would go on successfully doing the site layout. And that was a really fun project that was super successful and worked out really well. Yeah, and then just ongoing work with environmental biology, things like that, um, students can experience planting, watching a grow even an art class that was using some of the products grown to create different kinds of dyes. And then using that for projects in the classroom.

Rhonda:

That is true synergy when you can have that comprehensive learning approach to understanding something that may or may not pique your interest, but you can apply all these different skills and interests because that's what it requires really,

Kate:

...especially for our students now to be returned to nature. And who knows, who knows what you've inspired. And I think about folks who are listening who probably are a little bit more like me - they like - I love to garden. I don't think I'm particularly gifted are knowledgeable. I was saying before the interview started that I have a friend who's a master gardener who really helps me and kind of explains what to do, but I love to be in my backyard, digging things up. I love once I've planted - and then I kind of...in the spring - you run out and you see how are you doing out there? Do you talk to your plants - do you talk to the things that you grow, Chris?

Rhonda:

Really.

Chris English:

Personally, the ones I talk to the most are the mushrooms. I don't know why in particular. They, they? Because they have more of I don't know, it's funny, ya know? Um, I'll talk to myself. Space. Yeah, a little bit. It's interesting.

Rhonda:

That's amazing.

Kate:

It is amazing, so for for the ordinary folk, like me, with no farming experience. It's certainly in my genes for sure, but, but little to no, you know, property to contribute. But how do we, how do we do this? How do we get this kind of regenerative movement started in our own backyards, in our local areas,

Chris English:

I think kind of going back to one of the earlier points is for individuals, it really does depend on what your circumstances is, some people might be able to plant big gardens in their backyard, and some people maybe can't, but there's no end to ways that you can really support this movement. For example, you're just making choices of where to buy things. So you should, if you can support local agriculture, go to the farmers markets, you know, be there and patronize that community. And that's huge. These farmers markets, they need attendance and the local farmers, it's not easy, and it's really hard to compete with Walmart. And so making that choice that you're going to support local, and that you're choosing to let your money go into somewhere that's bringing carbon back into the ground, and you know, it. That's something that everybody pretty much everywhere really can do, whether they have land or not. And then aside from that, really, um, I think an important concept is making households generative in any way that is possible. And so, you know, it used to be that home economics, you know, houses did produce something on some levels, in some way. And now households are almost 100% places where you just go to consume. And so it's a really, really consumptive habitat environment. That's just the way we live now. And finding ways to generate something, whether that's just a basil plant in your window, a garden outside, or compost, everyone makes food waste. There's lots of really simple ways that you can compost your food scraps at home, or give it to other services. I know there's some in Providence that collect compost waste, and can sell it back to people make a business out of it.

Rhonda:

These are great examples. I'm thinking about what you just said about consumers consuming. And what was the term you use when you say it again, for our audience and for making households

Chris English:

Generative? Or just to generate. Yeah, to produce somethin from your space instead of it being exclusively consumptive.

Rhonda:

Yeah, that's very cool. And you just gave a fantastic example of how to do that. There was one other thing we could do so we could go to our farmers' markets, what's something else very concrete and tangible, that we could start maybe implementing tomorrow,

Chris English:

Build a raised bed. I think that's, that's my favorite thing. And that's what I find people most often actually want for my service is a really simple way - it can just be a small, four by four plot. Get like half a yard of dirt and you can you could have so much out of such a small amount of space you might be very surprised and start growing something - and whatever corner whatever look you have - this you can pretty much make something grow at almost any setting, including a forest that's the mushrooms do you all you have the shade and woodland, you can grow mushrooms,

Rhonda:

That feels very doable.

Kate:

It does and I started an herb garden a couple of years ago, not knowing what I was doing. And it's interesting how some of them come back and then some you have to replant. But it's - it's just fun. Like when you add those things into your meal, and oh, boy - fresh herbs. That's a game-changer when you're cooking. Also, it does feel - you do feel sort of pride in your backyard. That's a little different - but I like all those tips. They are really are really helpful. I feel like I can implement them into those myself. So thank you.

Rhonda:

We're actually at the point in our show. That's one of our favorite times when we ask our guests to give a golden nugget a bit of wisdom, or something that you really lock on to that helps you in the work that you do or the way that you live your life. Chris, what would you like to share with our audience today?

Chris English:

I think that's something that's been a theme throughout my life and a lot of the things that I've done so far have some sometimes been a little naive - that can be a beautiful thing, and allowing yourself to jump in without this fear and self limit is really important. Everyone's a beginner when they begin give yourself permission to be an amateur and just go ahead and begin something. Tomato plant, let it die and then try again.

Kate:

I've killed... I've killed so many plants.

Chris English:

But now I'm pretty. Now I'm pretty good

Rhonda:

at not killing. That's better.

Chris English:

Yeah. And that's okay.

Rhonda:

I feel so much better.

Chris English:

Loving yourself - then just start where you are. Let it be a playful interactive experience, observe and interact, and just learn about what you can do with what you have don't - don't create limitations to beginning something. Yeah, there's a lot of things that

Kate:

I'm in

Chris English:

Even with the nonprofit that have friends that I started, like, knowing what I do now, and having more experience in the professional world, I don't know that I would have done it again, I'm where I'm at now. And that's a really interesting idea. But just it was such an invaluable experience in my life, I don't think I would be where I was No.

Kate:

And that sets you up for good g as you move forward. Like, sometimes you try something, and sometimes you fail, it fails, you kill it, and then you just pull it out and put something else. I know from when I started, I went crazy as many people did with gardening during the first spring of the pandemic. And then the next year, I came out and clearly I was it was way over. I had d and things were like squashed in. And I thought that's okay, I can just take them out. And I actually even put them in behind my yard. And that's how you learn is by trying. And that's real. Those are wonderful life lessons. Lots of good stuff, lots of golden nuggets in this conversation for sure. So I I know, I feel like we're we will - we'll talk again in the future, but unfortunately, coming to the end of our time, but I wonder if I can ask you before we go, Chris, what's coming next for you?

Chris English:

What's coming next for me, what I'd really love to do right now - I have my one small farm, it's about on one acre. I'm trying to make that a great example, a great Well, you're gonna have to tell us when that happens. So we can demonstration of what a one-acre kind of miniature homestead could sort of look like - how to make it hyper efficient on the small scale that it is and still viable for market and like profitable. And what I really want to do is start go more heavily to some agroforestry practices on a larger acreage. So I would love to do tree crops with intermitted grazing animals, I'm keeping my eye out for land and trying to find places that I could rent or create partnerships relationships with to take that experience of regenerative farming to the next scale up and where I'm actually at right now, that seems so thrilling and exciting. But it's hard. It's hard to find land and places where you can really do it. all follow your journey and support you in whatever way we can. Because that sounds like just the kind of work our world needs right now. I agree. Yeah. And there's a lot of people doing it, too. And it's really, it's nice to see, maybe it's because I'm so focused and invested in the movement in the first place that I see where it is. But it feels to me like it's really gaining a lot of momentum. And it gives you faith, gives you faith for a future. Yeah.

Kate:

Absolutely, that is definitely radiating out of this conversation, for sure. And I know, our listeners are gonna want to hear about what you do and learn from you. And they can do that best by going to your website, which is ediblehomescapes.com. So edible homescapes.com.

Chris English:

I'm also doing a shitai mushroom log inoculation workshop and the last weekend of March. And so people are welcome to come to the market garden site and participate in the workshop, learn how to do it, get hands on experience, and then bring home mushroom blocks.

Kate:

I didn't even know you could inoculate a mushroom. There. There's a lot to learn here. much to learn. We'll definitely check back in on your journey. We are so grateful for this conversation. So fascinating. Thank you. And of course we have to say special thanks to our talented and skilled producer behind the scenes Cathy Carswell who you heard chuckling along with this conversation even though you can't see her. Well, some of you are listening so you can't see us - but she she just animates - like when something moves or you get like these, you know, these fist pumps or she just you know, clasps her heart and you gotta lots of thumbs up from our producer. And she's very inspiring. We couldn't do it without her. But thank you so much really fantastic conversation.

Chris English:

Thanks so much for having me. That was a lot of fun. It's wild. How fast you know that time can really go by you're just talking.

Rhonda:

Yeah. Thank you, Chris. And before we go, we do want to remind people to definitely check out that website. And we appreciate them tuning in to this conversation today. We hope that we can all make a four by four go to the farmers market, take action wherever we see the opportunity and know it's okay to make a mistake along the way. If something dies, you can always replant. Go to the farmers market and try to buy another one. So friends it's left for me to say with that in mind, go forth be brave, live well and do good because it's act two you're on.

Kate:

Act Two You're On! was brought to you by act 2 Share our stage. You can find us at a2yo.com and also on Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn. Please download listen and subscribe. Wherever you find your podcast. You can support us using Patreon or buy us a coffee mug. I do like coffee. No no, you don't need any more caffeine, Kate. Buy Us a Coffee is a platform that folks can use to support entrepreneurs and artists like us so we can keep providing resources for the doers and dreamers to find connection, purpose and the skills needed to create a sustainable, fulfilling life to better serve the world. And also so we can buy more coffee.

Rhonda:

Oh Kate, thanks for listening everyone.