Edible plants took center stage Thursday morning at the 2015 Farwest Show with a trio of seminars.
During the 8 am “Power Hour”, Lloyd Traven of Peace Tree Farm said the future of gardening lies in edibles. “The money is where your mouth is,” he said. “Everybody eats every day.”
Growing edibles is “gardening with a purpose,” he said, pointing out that gardening is becoming part of the curriculum at many schools across the nation.
It’s the youth movement that is largely driving the growth in the edible plant market. “Millennials are foodies,” he said.
Traven listed several ways that retailers and growers can connect with their customers, from offering greenhouse-grown CSAs and farmer’s markets, to hosting farm-to-table dinners in the greenhouse.
New, more colorful edibles hold the promise of converting ornamental gardeners into food growers. “Eat your yard!” is the mantra.
At 10 am, edibles researcher Peter Konjoian gave a presentation titled “Shifting Gear: From Flowers to Food.” He posited that plug tray cultivation of edibles in flood tables and other hydroponic means could be the way to feed an ever-increasing global population.
He asked the audience, “How many growers are thinking of shifting crop production from ornamentals to edibles?” and a number of hands went up into the air. “We can’t enjoy flowers if we’re hungry, right?”
Konjoian believes food production must return to the family farm, and the other shift is that people must be willing to pay more for less food, but of a higher quality – a characteristic that can be seen in the consumer-buying habits of Millennials.
His research shows that profit margins for hydroponic food production, which produces smaller foodstuffs in faster crop cycles, can be much higher than is the case with flowers. But it’s not just about money.
“It’s bringing fun back to farming,” he said. “Cityfolk think farmers are cool.”
Konjoian noted that while he sees much promise in his food production techniques, there is still much research to be done, specifically in the areas of water treatment, the reuse of plug trays and growing medium, breeding of new cultivars and taste testing.
Lastly, Brie Arthur gave a lively, laugh-filled presentation on “Foodscaping” at 1 pm.
What is a foodscape? It’s the “logical integration of edible plants in a traditional ornamental landscape,” Arthur explained.
Lifestyle is the driver, she explained. Gardening is a lifestyle choice, low-maintenance plants and plant warranties have contributed to the death of gardening as a hobby.
“The difference between a landscape and a garden is food,” she said. The goal is to get people to “chomp on your landscape.”
Some examples she gave ranged from using hydrangea stems as stakes for interplanted tomato plants, beds of asparagus as edible grass, using strawberries and black runner (taro) as ground cover & black runner (taro) as ground cover, and blueberry bushes as hedges with all-season appeal – spring and summer flowers, fall color, exfoliating bark during winter.
“Foodscaping is an opportunity to inspire the next generation and teach practical knowledge,” Arthur said. “It’s taking responsibility for yourself, because you are what you eat. Plants must have a purpose beyond pretty.”