How to Grow a Little Food in the Big City

Commons Team
June 4, 2024

If you live in a city, it can be tough to find the space or motivation to grow some of your food. But we're here to tell you that harvesting a little food from a window box, stoop, or patio is not only good for you, it's good for the planet.

On this episode of Second Nature, we're getting inspiration and practical tips to start small home gardens in urban spaces. We're also talking about the carbon footprint of home gardens and realizing the ripple effect that growing our own food can have on our lives and the environment.

On this episode, you'll hear:

  • How WWII Victory Gardens proved the power of home gardens in small spaces.
  • Firsthand tips and stories from city gardeners growing from LA to Philadelphia.
  • Nelson ZêPequéno talk about harvesting in a downtown apartment and sharing how the gardening world has benefitted from more representation and accessibility.
  • How to keep the carbon footprint of our home gardens low.

Here are some of the people you'll hear from in this episode:

Citations and further reading

Episode credits

  • Listener contributions: Sameera Mokkarala, Lindsay Kerns, Daria Panova, Brian Stancheski, Tara Haug, Rooey
  • Featuring: Nelson ZêPequéno and Sanchali Seth Pal
  • Editing and engineer: Evan Goodchild
  • Hosting and production: Katelan Cunningham

Photos of contributors' gardens

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Full Transcript

Katelan: Hey. Welcome back to 2nd nature. This is a podcast from Commons, where we talk to people about how they're living sustainably in an unsustainable world. For many of us, our passion or Second in sustainable living started with 1 gateway climate action. This is a term that we've used at commons to dub that introductory sustainable action, like the one that starts in one area of your life and then starts to ripple out and illuminate all kinds of opportunities for you to be a better steward to the planet.

For you, maybe it was plant based eating or ditching fast fashion or diligently recycling. For me, it was gardening and growing my own food. There is nothing like walking a few steps out to my tiny patio garden and clipping off some salad leaves for dinner or some herbs to make a sauce. Sometimes while I'm out there, I run into our little backyard Finch and she's eating different grubs and things out of my garden. I don't even have a lot of outdoor space and most of it's cement, but I've still grown pounds of potatoes, cucumbers, peas, lettuce, figs, lemons, herbs, all on my small patio and like an amalgamation of pots that I've either bought secondhand or found for free.

80% of people living in the US, they're like me. They live in densely populated urban areas. And I'm telling you that these stoops, window sills, patios, parkways, they're all ripe for growing homegrown food. Today, we're gonna hear straight from gardeners from Los Angeles to Philadelphia talking about the possibilities and potential of harvesting food in home gardens. We're gonna get tips to keep the footprints of our home gardens low, And we're talking to Nelson Zepaquenho.

He's the founder of Black Men with Gardens, and I'm gonna ask him what he's harvesting in his downtown apartment. You ready? 

During World War II, there was a nationwide campaign in the US for folks to grow their own fruits and vegetables at home. Maybe you've heard of it. 

Archival clip: And so it is in every corner of America today. Millions of men and women are finding real joy in victory gardening. 

The mission statement of victory gardens outlines some really specific goals. 

Number 1, increase the amount of fresh fruits and vegetables so people were eating healthier. Number 2, help people save money on fruits and vegetables at the store. Number 3, encourage proper preservation and storage so that food could be easily shared throughout communities. Number 4, provide community gardens for folks in urban spaces. And number 5, improve morale and well-being. These benefits, especially health and morale, are why we often turn to gardening in tough times and is why we saw a spike in home gardening during the peak of the COVID 19 pandemic. But beyond well-being and solidarity, the Victory Garden campaign had another goal, to free up resources for the war effort. 

Archival clip: Of all the weapons the United Nations are using to win this war, food is among the most important. Food, to keep our husky young fighting men fit. Food to give them the strength to battle for freedom. 

By growing fruits and vegetables at home, folks were able to free up food, packaging, labor, and transportation all for the soldiers overseas. And it really did make a difference. In the 1st year of the war, 1939, Americans grew over $200,000,000 worth of vegetables in their victory gardens.

By 1943, nearly 20,000,000 families had planted 7,000,000 acres of land. That supplied about 40% of the fresh produce that Americans consumed that year. And these victory gardens, they weren't all huge either. People were growing in small urban and rural spaces like their backyards, city rooftops, window boxes, vacant lots. 

Archival clip: Here's a Michigan fireman. He expects to grow enough vegetables to feed his whole family of 5 the entire summer. 

Of course, victory gardens are often romanticized and they were only part of a solution to more systemic problems. But I think that they're a great example of how city homes can become these bountiful green spaces and how hyper localized homegrown food systems can reduce our reliance on industrial food systems. While it's true, growing produce at home may not lower the carbon footprint of your groceries, it has other environmental effects throughout our lives. When we grow even a small portion of our food, we get as close as possible to the source of our food, and we better understand and appreciate what it takes to grow it.

We also better understand the seasonality of different fruits and vegetables. We have less food waste because we're motivated to eat what we grow. And my favorite part is that we get to see firsthand how our plants and ourselves are a part of our local ecosystems. No matter where you live in the US or around the world, there are some gardening lessons that are universal. Hi, Commons.


Listener submission montage: 

My name is Lindsay. Hi. My name is Samira Mocharela. Brian Stenchzewski. Daria.

I live in Washington DC. And I currently live in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Brooklyn, New York. I live in Los Angeles, and I'm an amateur backyard gardener. I actually really don't know a lot about gardening, and I either just bought planters or started from the seeds.

Even if you only have access to a patio or even like a stoop, you've probably got room for your own small container garden. Going vertically is really great if you have not that much space. You know, stackable containers that you can put herbs or salad greens or things like that in. Start really small and scale up, literally one container at a time. Maybe go with a lettuce or like a low maintenance herb.

Especially some long lasting, hearty herbs like rosemary, thyme Basil, mint Oregano. That for me is the most rewarding part of urban gardening and urban food growing is how much more sophisticated your operation gets year over year because you have the benefit of the prior year's experience. So anything we eat lettuce for, salads, sandwiches, it's right there. We just sniff it, wash it, and eat it. It's almost like living on a farm on a small scale.

I decide what to grow a little based on what we like to eat, but also based on what my space will allow. Because my space is a little bit on the shadier side, greens, peppers, those kinds of things actually do really, really well. So that's what we grow more of. And I think the germination is really fun to do with kids. Engaging my son in gardening and harvesting and cooking with ingredients for my own garden was absolutely worth all the effort.

So good luck on your gardening journey. 

Interview with Nelson ZêPequéno

Nelson ZêPequéno is no stranger to growing food in urban spaces. He's an artist, a gardener, and the founder of Black Men With Gardens. I met up with him in downtown Los Angeles to talk about what he's harvesting in his downtown apartment. 

Katelan: Hello, Nelson.

Nelson: Hey. Hey. Thanks for joining me today. Oh, it's an honor to be here. This is really cool.

So we're in the downtown library in the Octavia Butler lab, and I feel like downtown is not really the first place where one thinks of like a garden or a plethora of plants, but you live around here. Right?

Nelson:  I do. I live 5 minutes from where we are. It's it's actually still a surprise to me that this space existed here for so long and I've never been.

Katelan: What were some of the first plants that that you were interested in? 

Nelson: I never really know how to answer this question because the first plant that I was interested on was cannabis. So I'm like, you know, there's the PG story, and then there's the let's get a real story. And, yeah, it was definitely cannabis as a young impressionable teenager. I really, really enjoyed that plant.

And, yeah, that really just grew into a love of horticulture, cultivation, and then it grew into an overall love of other plants. 

Nice. So our ancestors were not growing food and plants in high rises and on cement patios, but they were growing their own food. What kind of, like, ancestral or indigenous wisdom do you think that we can tap into as people growing food and plants in these more urban spaces? Well, there's a lot.

If we look at traditional knowledge, they grew in circumstances and in confined spaces without any of the technology that we have at our disposal, and they've shown you that all you need is soil, seed, water, sun. If you have those 4 basic components, then you can grow. So I have a sweet pea plant. It'll maybe grow like 20 pods or something on it. Like, this is not gonna offset me ever buying peas again.

Katelan: How can people growing in their own spaces, even if they're only growing a handful of tomatoes, couple heads of lettuce, how can that impact our food system? 

Nelson: Well, yes, it starts off small, but we can't underestimate the impact of those small changes and how it's gonna impact the future. So let's say you're growing sweet peas or you're growing mints or these other plants that aren't, let's say, a heavy lift to produce. You're actually learning invaluable lessons from that process that one day could lead to you growing on a larger scale. I've grown a lot of stuff.

Mhmm. Especially the during the pandemic, I actually moved to North Hollywood, so I would have a house with a backyard and I would have space to get away from. You know, living in downtown Durna was seemed like an apocalyptic era. That provided me the space to grow outdoors and to gather that experience about, like, cultivating on a larger scale. Mhmm.

And that taught me a lot of those lessons that a lot of people will, eventually learn when they start to move into that experience is that it's important to start small because you start learning things like, I planted all these sunflowers and I learned, you know, everything they need. I provided it. I took care of it. All of that time, I'm learning about that. But then when when they're ready to harvest, a gang of squirrels beat me to it.

Katelan: The squirrels!

Nelson: Yeah. I felt like Umrah Fudd. Every night, I would hear them chipping away on my sunflowers and they would bite at the bottom at the stalk so that the sunflowers would topple over and then they would eat all the sunflower seeds from the inside of it. And I would walk outside and I'd have these beautiful rows of sunflowers just all fell over to the side, sunflower seeds beaming all over the place.

I would hear them at night, so I'd jump out of bed running outside. Like, get away from my sunflowers, and it's incredible. I mean, I was very, very upset about it, but it was incredible to learn again, the holistic approach to producing our own foods. Like, yes, we're disconnected from it. We're disconnected from that struggle, and we're also disconnected from the reward.

Katelan: Did growing even your own sunflowers and finding the squirrels for them, did it change your perspective at all on, like, how you buy food and how you think about food at the market or the farmers market? 

Nelson: Yeah. It did. So right now, because I'm back in apartment living here in downtown, I have limited space. So instead of focusing on creating a food system that can fully support me, I just focus on doing microgreens.

At the end of the day, I had this goal that if I could grow my own garnishes for my cocktails and, like, you know, herbs for my food, then that was enough. You know, that's, you know, reclaiming some power, buying power, you know, personal power back for myself. Again, still getting to engage with producing and being one with my own food sources. Yeah. Yeah.

I love that you chose garnishes. Like, it feels like something sort of, like, lavish a little bit. Right. 

Nelson: It's a treat for me. You know?

Again, like, I'm not trying to grow everything that I eat. I understand that's a challenge. And for where our society is in general right now, I think that we need to approach it from a manageable viewpoint first. Yeah. Because by approaching it from that viewpoint of, like, okay, I have enough for garnish to make a mixed drink tonight.

Like, it it seems small, but it's a nice little treat for me. It came for me. I did it. I learned a lot of things along the way. And, you know, I get to, you know, look cool.

And I pluck it from my micro greens garden and, you know, make my little cocktail, sprinkle a little garnish on it, and share it with somebody else. Like, hey. Yeah. Yeah. I grew that right there.

Katelan: Okay. Can you paint a picture for me? What does your microgreen setup look like? 

So, again, since I'm downtown, I have very limited space. I've experimented with almost just about every single food growing system that you could use from tower gardens, aquaponics, hydroponics.

And what I landed on is I wanted to do something that was super low lift because we all live busy lives. I realized that I couldn't necessarily rely on, let's say, technology to make this goal or this dream possible. I actually wanted to do it in the passive way, so I built a garden box that hangs from my windowsill that gets the most direct sunlight. And it's just a garden box full of soil that's sectioned off into different sections where I have my chives, my green onion, a really easy produce that I can grow. Mhmm.

And I literally just sprinkle and I come through and I water as part of my watering process, which is kind of meditative to me. I'll water my house plants, I'll open the window, water my windows, sowed garden, and then when it's time to harvest, I just come outside, cut the top off Yeah. Use it for my garnish. 

Katelan: I love it. Okay.

I wanted to provide you a couple different, like, urban scenarios, and maybe you can tell me what you would plant in those scenarios. Yeah. Yeah. Definitely. Okay.

Nelson: So you live in an apartment. Do you have any outdoor space? I have 0 outdoor space. Okay. So for a person who has 0 outdoor space, you might recommend microgreens?

I would recommend microgreens, but most importantly, I would recommend utilizing your window space, especially if you have a window that faces east where the sun rises and then it gets several hours of direct sunlight, I think that's really, really good real estate because all it takes then is suggest attach a box right outside the window. You can literally screw it to the window frame. Aesthetically, I think it looks pretty. Like when I'm coming home and I look up on the window and I see that garden box and some greens are spilling over the side of it, there's I think there's a mental health benefit there, you know? Yeah.

And then again, when you utilize your windowsill, you keep more of the space in your apartment. Totally. What about if you were in an apartment and you had like a super small balcony? One of those that's like 2 feet away from the door. I would probably use like a rail planter.

And, for me, I'm so DIY that, yeah, I would have to build a box that fit perfectly into that windowsill, or maybe I would build a box that fit on the inside right before the balcony so that I can open it up, give a fresh air, still be able to utilize my balcony and chill out there. But right on the inside where that sun's coming in, I would have nice little garden there that I could tend to, you know? 

Katelan: That's really nice. I do have a cement patio, a decent size, but it's still just cement. What sort of plants would would you recommend for growing outdoors in pots when you have a little bit more space but still no, like, ground to plant in?

Nelson: Yeah. One thing I'm experimenting with right now and I'm like in the design stage of it is if you have a fence, utilizing your your fence as a vertical space to grow. So I have like a chain links fence. I'm thinking that I could create a grid pattern of hanging pots or hanging planters that allow me to use that vertical space, keep the ground clear because the if it's a small outdoor space, that's all I have to work with, and that might be where I wanna set up a chair or something for, like, reading or stuff like that. So, it's entirely possible to go vertical, and that saves you a lot of space.

But then again, if that vertical surface is facing the direction of the sun Mhmm. That's actually increasing how much light that your your plants, your producers are gonna get. So we had a submission from someone named Rui in Nashville, Tennessee, and they asked, how can home gardeners make an impact on local ecosystems? That's a really great question, especially if you're growing outdoors. I think that, we often forget that a lot of the soil on land that, especially in these developed communities, have been destroyed through so many different processes.

And when you grow outdoors and, let's say, old land, you're helping to actually reclaim that land. Let's say you grow something like radishes. Radishes are really great at breaking up really compact old soil and rejuvenating them, regenerating them. You're adding nitrogen and other important trace nutrients back into the soil, which is gonna help in the long run. We shouldn't overlook the impact of taking those small steps, Realize that they snowball and lead to greater benefits for us all.

So, yeah, just go plant some stuff that are native to your ecology, and just by doing that, you're helping that environment reclaim itself or regenerate itself. 

Katelan: How have you seen the gardening world change in the past few years when it comes to accessibility and representation? 

Nelson: The representation in those industries were heavily, heavily whitewashed. And since then, I've seen an increase in the level of representation what I was traditionally connected to that I may have been disconnected from for so long. And I think it's incredible because before 2020, by, you know, reapproaching it, I'm seeing a reclamation occur that's just incredible.

So it's been great to see the increase in representation. The increase in accessibility comes from that interest, you know. And then, we have stuff like the DC plant swap and plant swaps in NY here in LA where people are actively sharing, giving away plants and helping each other by helping another person connect back to the environment in some way. For me, that's what's really important is that at the root of all of this, it's a reconnection to environment, it's a reconnection to nature, and people that are connected to nature naturally become stewards. You're gonna care about your environment when, you're interested in it.

Also, like as a male, it's been really dope to see us males as a species, you know, really reconnect with self through that reconnection with nature because that's just helping us re approach our communities from more caring perspectives. And like we were talking about earlier, when you engage with community gardens, you'd realize that, like, there's so much to be shared with other people. It challenges the sense of hyper individualism that we all live within on a daily basis where it's like, I have too much mint. I will give some to my neighbor, you know? This plant, this harvest comes from my care, my interest, and my stewardship, and let me share this with you.

Katelan: For me, plants give you so much of that teaching because this sounds so obvious because the plants have been doing this since the beginning of time, but they go to seed, and then you can save those seeds, and you can plant them again. That's kind of the whole thing. Or you can, like, clip a piece of mint, take off a few leaves, and propagate it. And so, I think when you get really into the plant world, you start realizing like, why would I sell this? Like, yes, I'm not no shade on like someone selling plants.

Like, yes, you need to, like, buy plants. But it just kind of, like, it kind of instills a perspective shift, I think, for a lot of people that makes you realize the abundance and makes you realize just the cycle of the plant itself is telling you, please do more with me. Like, do more. Don't let this be the end of this thing. You know?

Nelson: Yeah. I I love that. Nature has a great way of teaching us about abundance while our society teaches and forces us into lack mentality. You know? Yeah.

Katelan: No matter what your urban space is, you can find abundance.

Nelson:  Yeah. Definitely. I understand it's a challenge. Growing up, I was an apartment dweller, as they call us.

And I've always had limited space until I was an adult. But I realized that those challenges actually facilitate creativity. And if you get creative with the things that you have around you, you can do literally anything. We should never look at those challenges as limitations per se and allow them to stop us from innovating and getting creative. And by doing that, inspire other people and sustain ourselves and our environments and our world.

Katelan: Love it. Thank you so much. Thank you. Again, I appreciate it. If you're lucky enough to have a home with a little bit of yard, I think that you're gonna get a lot of inspiration from a listener named Tara.

She is growing all kinds of delicious things here in Los Angeles. 


Tara: I started with something really simple, Corn. It's very easy to grow. You can find corn kernels literally anywhere, and it's very rewarding to see your corn stalks grow literally overnight There's a bunch of really beautiful color corn. You can get some native American purple and pinks and blues and that's a really fun way to get started That's how I started.

And then I moved into a larger space because it was the pandemic, and I really wanted to have some time outside. And, I was lucky enough to find a house that had a lawn and there was a little plot of land in the back of my yard that was perfect for a garden, had both a mixture of sun and shade. And I started immediately planting directly into the ground. I wanted to have corn rows. I wanted to have zucchini because I knew zucchini was easy to grow.

Because zucchini grows so fast and so big, everybody has zucchini. By the way, there's a national leave of zucchini on your neighbor's front step day. Look it up. Also, I knew about the 3 sisters, which is corn, zucchini, and beans. When you plant those 3 together on a mound, it becomes this sacred symbiotic relationship where the beanstalk can grow up the cornstalk, and the zucchini helps with the, shade of the beans.

This is very sacred to Native Americans to have the 3 sisters. So if you're looking to connect with gardening to supply food for yourself, but you also want to look into the spiritual aspect of it, one way you can do that is look and see how the folks where you lived were cultivating foods. So you can see the indigenous people of the land and what they were growing, what grows really well in that area. And that's a really good place to start. A lot of my gardening has been completely free of charge.

I had the land, you know, because I was paying rent. But then, I started saving seeds from the food I already ate. And then, I started asking around. And then, as soon as you put it out there that you like gardening, before you know it, people are gifting you seeds or herbs or plants. So one of the ways to put it out there is to just start talking about it.

Before you know it, you're going to have a plethora of resources. Because my space is pretty big, had a pretty big garden for the 1st couple of years, but then I got a passion for beekeeping. And so now that area of my garden, I really wanted to dedicate to the bees Anyone who has space in their yard definitely think about getting a hive I was lucky enough to catch a hive of a colony of bees and I was also gifted one by a beekeeper who had rescued a colony of bees that had been in a water main. So, if you have the space, this is a wonderful way to help with sustainability, help with the pollinators in your area, and also, literally find the greatest passion that I've ever experienced be 1 with the bees. If more of us were growing even a fraction of the produce that we eat, it seems like the world would be a much better place.

But when we look at the numbers, is that true? At Commons, we are a carbon people. So I wanted to ask Commons founder, Centrali St. Paul, can we actually lower our emissions by growing food at home? And what does it take to be a low carbon gardener?


Carbon Gut Check with Sanchali Seth Pal

Katelan: Welcome back, Sanchali. 

It's good to be back. 

Katelan: So I love growing lettuce at home in my little raised bed, but I acknowledge that my home operation is probably not as efficient as like a commercial lettuce grower. So I'm kind of afraid to ask this, but does my homegrown lettuce have a higher carbon footprint than store bought lettuce?

Sanchali: So I hate to say this, but the short answer is yes. Probably it does, at least on average. There was a recent study in Nature, which just came out a few months ago in early 2024, and it found that on average, urban farms have 6 times the carbon footprint of conventional farms. That's because commercial farms have been built to be optimized for resource efficiency. It's their business to get the most out of their crops per acre. This certainly has some advantages, but it also has some downsides.

There are significant environmental downsides besides just carbon emissions to commercial farming. For instance, commercial farming has led to a dramatic increase in pesticide use, which does cause pollution in soil, water and air. And it's been linked to biodiversity loss because it has displaced local ecosystems and natural habitats that were in those areas before. And of course, we can't forget that it also makes us as consumers less associated with where our food comes from and gives us less of a sense of place and land. Okay.

Katelan: So commercial farming, not great. But home farming, still not that great? Are we doomed here? Is there an upside? 

Sanchali: Well, that's not the whole picture.

Katelan: Great. 

Sanchali: Commercial agriculture has some upsides. It's more efficient. And we should remember that overall, like the rise in commercial agriculture has made it more efficient to feed more people. But urban gardening and home gardeninging also has its advantages in certain situations.

For instance, your home garden can play an important role, especially depending on the crop, the way that you're growing at home and your local climate. In general, if you're growing things that do well in the place where you live and you have a low tech gardening setup that doesn't require a lot of resources, you are probably benefiting from a similar level of efficiency to a commercial farm. So for instance, the median backyard summer tomato in the US actually has lower emissions than a conventionally grown tomato year round. Alright. This is exciting.

Katelan: So if I want to be a low carbon home gardener, what can I do? 

Sanchali: Great question. The first step is to be intentional about what you grow. So let me ask you first, do you happen to have asparagus or mangoes in your fridge? I do.

Katelan: I have asparagus. I just got it from Trader Joe's. Okay. Amazing. Can you go get it?

Sanchali: Yes. Okay. Here it is. Okay. Where does it say it was grown?

Katelan: It says it was grown in Mexico. 

Sanchali: Okay. Since you're in LA, that could have come in via boat or rail, but it might have also come on a plane. And if you lived almost anywhere else in the US, that asparagus probably would have come in by plane. When highly perishable produce like asparagus, like mangoes, like berries, when that travels by plane, it racks up 50 times the carbon emissions than if it came by sea.

So that means that your asparagus could have a higher carbon footprint than chicken or pork. Holy moly. Okay. So you're telling me I need to grow my own asparagus. I mean, if you eat a lot of asparagus and it could grow well where you live, then it's definitely a good place to start.

Something else you might think about too is fresh flowers. Those are often air freighted from all over the world, sometimes from the Middle East and North Africa. And those can be some of the most carbon intensive things you buy at the grocery store. So also, if you're buying flowers, take a look at where they come from, support a local farm, or consider growing your own. Wow.

Katelan: I hadn't even thought about flowers. Okay. So as home gardeners, what is the biggest driver of the footprint of our gardens? 

Sanchali: Actually, all of the tools and materials we use as part of our home gardening setup. And if you think about it compared to a commercial farm, we're using tools and materials over much fewer amounts of food grown than a commercial farm would be able to.

So it's super important that we're very thoughtful about using all of our materials for as long as possible. That's pots, tools, greenhouses, whatever it is you're using. And if possible, to get that stuff in the 1st place secondhand. If it already had a life before you, then it'll be more efficient for you to use it as well. Okay.

Katelan: I can do that. So a low carbon gardener is a thrifty gardener. Yes. Being thrifty is a great characteristic. And it goes beyond just your supplies, too.

Sanchali: If you can compost your food waste and put that back into your garden as nutrition, amazing. If you can capture rainwater and graywater, you can save money on your water bill and also save resources. And generally, look for ways to use low tech regenerative farming techniques, which can improve the productivity of your garden and soil health and actually also not only reduce the emissions of your garden, but potentially even lower emissions from the atmosphere by fixing more carbon into your fruits and vegetables. 

Katelan: Perfect. Before I let you go, I wanted to ask you about a carbon question that I sent you earlier.

Sanchali: Oh, is this the peat question? 

Katelan: Yes. This is the peat. So for folks who don't know, peat is a common ingredient in the bags of soil that we buy for our gardens. It's a great growing medium because it can retain moisture and it aerates the soil, but peat comes from peatlands, and I'm low key obsessed with peatlands.

They are these wetlands, and they make up only 3% of the global land area, but they capture twice as much carbon as the world's forests do. 

Sanchali: Yeah. And actually agriculture is one of the biggest drivers of peatland degradation, because when we dig up our peatlands, the carbon that they were capturing is released and some of those rare ecological habitats are destroyed. 

Katelan: So how many emissions are we talking here? 

Sanchali: We're talking about kind of a shocking amount of emissions.

The UN Environment Program estimates that degraded peatlands are responsible for releasing over 1.9 gigatons of carbon dioxide equivalent per year, which is about 4 to 5% of human caused emissions. 

Katelan: Jeez. Okay. So that sounds like a lot. Can you give us an equivalency here?

Sanchali: 4 to 5 percent of human caused emissions is like twice the emissions of the aviation industry globally. And it's more than half of the emissions of the global fashion industry. So this is really huge and very significant. Wow. Wow.

Katelan: Wow. Wow. So it can be hard to find peat free soils, I've tried, but you can request it at your local nursery and start building that demand. You can also try things like coconut fibers and leaf mold and compost and kind of come up with your own soil recipes for plants that grow well in your area. 

Sanchali: Oh, I love those alternatives.

And I love that they're cheap, and you can get them wherever you live. 

Katelan: Yes. And they're customizable. So it sounds like there are lots of things that we can do to become more low carbon, eco conscious gardeners. Absolutely.

Sanchali: If you wanna be a low carbon gardener, that traveled a really far away, potentially by plane. 2nd, be thrifty. Think about yourself. Use what you can. Get things secondhand.

Make things last for a really long time. And then 3rd, look for ways to use more sustainable gardening practices. Including peat free soil is a great place to start. But generally, probably your local gardening groups, your neighbors, people who live around you probably have lots of great sustainable gardening hacks and using them can help make your home set up even more regenerative than it would be otherwise. Wow.

Katelan: I'm so excited to start using these tips. Thank you, Sanchali. 

Sanchali: Thanks. 


Katelan: The biggest lessons that I've taken away from gardening, mind you, I'm still learning these lessons, are patience and adaptability. As the climate changes, the way we grow has to change with it.

If you're looking for a way to reconnect with your food in your local ecosystem or just ease some of that climate anxiety, I can't recommend gardening enough. And remember, you can start super small. Try growing your own garnishes indoors, maybe green onions or microgreens. Plant a small crop of corn in your backyard or throw some rooting potatoes in a grow bag on your porch. Wherever we grow food, when we grow with intention and awareness, that intention and awareness start showing up in other areas of our lives too.

Thanks so much to our listeners who let us into their home gardens. Today, you heard from Tara, Sameera Mokkarala, Lindsay, Daria, Brian Stancheski, and Tara. We would love to hear about your harvest. Whatever your sustainable life looks like, we want to know about it. To submit to season 2, go to the commons.earth /podcast.

If you wanna see photos of all the contributors, beautiful gardens and Nelson's epiceno's window garden, head to the show notes. 2nd Nature is a podcast by Commons. Tens of thousands of people use the Commons app to guide their sustainable lives. In the app, you can calculate your real time carbon footprint and find simple swaps to live more sustainably with new content every single week. Go to the commons.earth/secondnature to join the app.

You can also join our community on Instagram. Follow the show at second nature earth. Our editor and engineer on this episode was Evan Goodchild. It was written and produced by me, Caitlin Cunningham. Next week, we're going from our home life to our work life and discovering how to make any job a climate job.

In the meantime, I'm giving the last word to listener, Lindsay Kearns. I would say that backyard gardening for me has been a really amazing and fulfilling hobby. It's helped me feel way more connected to nature, to the seasons, and to my food. It honestly feels really cool to go out there and just cut a huge handful of Swiss chard for dinner like I'm gonna do tonight. And I can feel really good about knowing where my food came from, and there's a lot of satisfaction in that.

Find Second Nature wherever you listen to podcasts: Spotify | Apple Podcasts

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Commons Team
June 4, 2024
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