Feature Interview – Reprinted from Vegan Mainstream, by Courtney Pool
Several years ago Mike Lieberman started getting serious about growing his own food. He lived in a New York apartment, knew nothing about gardening, and had zero space that most people would think of as suitable for a garden. But he had a fire escape. And so he got creative. Today Mike grows food, and shares what he has learned with others hoping to inspire others to grow as much of their own food as they can – no matter where they live. Vegan Mainstream caught up with Mike for a chat recently:
Vegan Mainstream: Tell us a little about your mission, Mike!
Mike Lieberman: I’m focused on raising awareness in terms of getting people back in contact with their food sources. Food and health are everywhere in the news, and I’m interested in seeing people making better choices in where they get their food. One of the ways to do this is to grow your own food. Even growing one thing makes a difference for one’s health and the world. We’re so removed from food that we’re shocked about the effect of food coloring on children. As a metaphor, if you put cheap gas in your car and it stops working well, you’ll know it’s because you put cheap gas into it. The same happens with the food we put in our body. If it stops working well, we need to look at the quality of what we’re putting into it.
VM: One of the things I love most about your work is the info you share on container gardening, which is essentially growing food not in the ground, but in containers with soil in them. I’m intrigued by this because container gardening pretty much makes growing one’s own food totally accessible because it doesn’t require that you have a lawn at all.
ML: I started becoming aware of health in 2006, and gardening is where my health journey led me. In 2009 in NYC on the lower east side, I decided I was going to grow my own food. All I had was my fire escape and my own creativity. I had no background in gardening and growing food, so I just started researching. Garden books are boring, they’re very technical. They’re usually written by older people with lots of land and formal training, and I found the books boring. I decided just to try it myself, jump into the process, and learn as I went. I thought, “Wait, if I can’t find good, straightforward info on growing food in unlikely spaces, that means other people can’t either, so I started my site at www.urbanorganicgardener.com. It’s for people with little space and people who need info. One thing I tell people is, “I’m not a gardener; I grow food.” Growing one’s own food entails not using chemicals (which are detrimental to health if consumed on food), whereas gardening may include chemical use.
VM: What do you think are the biggest barriers to people trying to grow their own food?
ML: Time, money, and space. Once you set it up, the time part is easy. It’s all about priorities. Are you going to watch American idol or go out to the bar, or take care of your health and take care of your family by investing in your food growing? The average American spends two hours a day on the Internet. We all have 24 hours in each day, how we dedicate and allocate those hours is totally up to us. Once you have materials to create one container, it will take one hour to build a container, from there it’s just watering, checking on the plants. Each container can have a couple plants.
VM: What kind of monetary investment do people need to make?
ML: It’s a little hard to be too specific, but to give you an idea, let’s use kale as an example. One seed packet of kale is about two dollars, which has a few hundred seeds. Let’s say 1/3 of the seeds produce plants. That’s about 100 kale plants for a few dollars. Farmers markets are the next best, but Whole Foods are really just a supermarket where food is shipped all over the world. From the time you pick it till it gets to you, it’s a few weeks old and has probably lost a lot of its vitamins and minerals.
VM: Talk to us about the stereotypical image of gardeners and the type of people who garden.
ML: The people who write traditional garden books and are experts generally also have traditional marketing, writing, and media. I see this as an opportunity to take what I’m doing to the next level by making it more accessible and digestible. I enjoy connecting and engaging with people more than the writing.
VM: What is your vision for the future in regards to food growing?
ML: I’d love to see everyone get most of their stuff locally. I don’t mean supermarket, I mean growing your own. You can even grow your own food and barter with others. Joining CSA’s and farmers markets and reconnecting with your food sources. Food prices are really high right now. For every dollar you spend on food 84 cents goes to the middle man and marketing. So, by growing your own food, you’re supporting local economy and food prices go down. This supports yourself, your friends, and your family, too. [As a vegan I think] it’s not about being 100% local or organic or vegan, it’s about what you’re doing most of the time. Even a plant or two will make a difference. One of my mottos is “Think global, act local.”
Through his blog UrbanOrganicGardener.com and social media, Mike Lieberman shares his expertise on urban gardening, green living and real food. He inspires others to start growing their own food and believes that growing just one herb or vegetable will make a difference. It will help to cut back the intensive resources that go into the production and transport of food to our plates. It will also help us to re-establish our connection with food that we’ve lost over the past few years. We are humans. We grow food. Connect with Mike on his blog, Twitter or Facebook.