Demand for locally produced, organic foods has never been stronger. We talk with a Chicagoan who is seen as a leader of the so-called Good Food Movement: Jim Slama, the founder and president of FamilyFarmed.org.
What makes a garden organic?
In an organic garden, you don’t use any synthetically derived chemicals. That’s kind of the most basic way to put it. Organic gardeners do not use artificial goods like pesticides.
What are the advantages and disadvantages of having an organic garden?
The number one benefit is health. Homegrown organic food tends to have more nutrients. Taste is another reason. Organic foods taste amazing. As far as disadvantages, I’m not aware of any. There are many effective ways to deal with weeds and bugs without using chemicals and pesticides. There are techniques and products that organic gardeners use that are all-natural and safe.
What are some tips for families looking to start their own organic garden?
Find a good sunny spot in your yard and think about what your goals for the garden are. How much food do you want to grow? If you want to give your kids the experience of growing food, you should probably use a smaller area. If you want to cut back on grocery expenses, you’ll need a larger area. Another tip is containing the soil. Aerate the soil, and add compost and organic fertilizer. If you’re in the city, you might want to test the soil for lead. I also list some tips in my book, From the Ground Up. Read a book excerpt here.
What are some starter plants families should consider when starting a garden?
They should plant vegetables that are fun. Beans are fun. All kinds like green, yellow and purple beans are ideal. Cucumbers are also fun. Also, lettuce and arugula are good starter vegetables to plant, as well as greens like Kale, Swiss chard, and Collard.
How much maintenance and upkeep goes into a start-up garden?
Not much once you have the garden going. For most, spending one to two hours a week in your garden is enough. The trick is to never let weeds get established.
What information can we expect from your presentation at the Good Food Festival & Conference?
I’m going to cover the five keys to setting up or planning a successful vegetable garden. I’m going to cover what to plant and when you should grow them. My goal is to give people the basic knowledge they need to grow plants here [in Chicago.] This is the perfect time of year to start planning if you want a successful garden this season. It’s a great thing to do to make a difference and improve your own lifestyle on so many levels.
Interview has been condensed and edited.
Slama and Nolan will be speaking at the Good Food Festival & Conference. The event runs from Thursday, March 13 to Saturday, March 15 at the UIC Forum, 725 W. Roosevelt Rd. in Chicago.