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Education-based Love & Carrots teaches area residents how to grow food on whatever sized plot they’ve got.
Armed with a degree in environmental science from Notre Dame College, the founder and owner of Love & Carrots, Meredith Sheperd, has spent the last three years spreading the gospel that is organic backyard farming.
In May 2011, Sheperd started putting out flyers in her Bloomingdale neighborhood and eventually joined a listserv to get her idea for home-based garden education services out into the community. People took the bait—her first season found her, with the help of one volunteer, designing, installing and managing 15 gardens. Driving around in her Subaru loaded with manure and tools, Sheperd soon earned a following. By year two she was working 35 gardens (for which she upgraded to a Zipcar truck), which quickly turned into 87.
Today, she and nine staff members cater to a cross-generational, ethnically-and-socially-diverse clientele that includes “some older people who have been gardening all their lives but just don’t have the muscles anymore,” according to Sheperd. Each of her three full-time “urban farmers” takes care of approximately 30 gardens over a two-week period; and about 30 percent of new clients sign up for ongoing garden care.
Furthering her mission to educate others about the benefits of backyard farming (and to keep her many projects running smoothly), Sheperd also offers an apprenticeship program that enables young people looking to gain experience in the field of agriculture to do so.
When it comes to her clients, Sheperd says, “People don’t realize how much can be done with a small space.”
She finds people turning these days to Mel Bartholomew’s book, Square Foot Gardening: A New Way to Garden in Less Space with Less Work, for guidance. At this stage, Sheperd’s primary role is to help already motivated people find direction and a starting point, whether they are looking to grow in a backyard or bay window, on a patio or balcony.
When called, the first thing Sheperd arranges is a one-hour consultation during which she surveys a site, determines clients’ goals—whether they be straight-forward food production, the beautification of property, or a way to engage children—and takes a soil sample, which she sends to UMASS Extension for analysis.
“A common mistake,” she notes, “is locating the garden where they want to see it (or don’t want to see it) rather than where there’s sunlight.”
This is just the kind of thing Sheperd educates novices about.
But she also has green-thumbed clients who want “garden coaching that includes one-on-one, in-your-own-garden, shoulder-to-shoulder work to help them understand all aspects of tending their crops.”
In an effort to grow more of the plants she uses to get clients’ gardens underway, Sheperd bought a one-acre plot on city outskirts where she has assembled a hoop house and re-purposed industrial shipping containers for storage. On this land she grows from seed the plants that will ultimately comprise clients’ gardens. She has even started to save seeds rather than buying them new at the start of every growing season in an effort to both save money and practice self-sufficiency.
Working in so many gardens with so many kinds of people, Sheperd has noticed an overarching trend: People are ripping out their lawns in favor of plots for growing food. “It’s not just ‘alternative’ people doing it either, it’s becoming more and more mainstream.”
On the horizon is work with architectural firms looking to build gardens atop condominium complexes. Sheperd is in the consultation phase and envisions that she and her staff will maintain the resulting green spaces. When you care for a place, she believes, it earns respect. Hence, the “love” in Love & Carrots.