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Hearth & Home July 2018

Backyard Farms

By Lisa Readie Mayer

PhotoS COURTESY: ©2018 FARMSCAPE GARDENS.

This “growing” trend is the latest addition to the Outdoor Room.

Outdoor kitchens, fire pits, and deep-seating sectionals aren’t the only amenities gracing well-dressed backyards today. More and more homeowners are adding edible gardens to their outdoor living areas.

The 2017 National Gardening Survey by the National Gardening Market Research Company (formerly part of the National Gardening Association), estimates one-third of U.S. households are now growing food at home. The food-gardening industry, valued at $3.6 billion, grew by more than $1 billion in sales in the last five years. The trend is being adopted by homeowners of all ages and incomes, but is led by Millennial homebuyers who are digging up their lawns to plant vegetables, herbs and fruit trees, and raise chickens and bees.

While most backyard farmers are do-it-yourselfers, the National Gardening Survey indicates “do-it-for-me” is another growing trend. According to the survey, the number of consumers who hire professionals to handle the heavy lifting, including landscape design, installation and maintenance services, has doubled in the past six years.

Thanks to a confluence of both these trends, urban and suburban backyard farming services are exploding. Companies are springing up coast-to-coast, including Backyard Farm Company in Marin County, California; Seattle Urban Farm Company; Urban Farm Company of Colorado, in Boulder; Green City Growers in Boston; and Homefront Farmers in Ridgefield, Connecticut.

Vegetable gardens by Farmscape Gardens for VF Corp, North Face.

Farmscape, the country’s largest urban-farming company, has designed and installed approximately 700 raised-bed edible gardens at residential homes, apartment buildings, and commercial properties throughout California, and maintains about 300 of those gardens on a weekly basis. It has planned a number of gardens in other states, as well.

“People like to have their own gardens, but it can be hard to find the time,” says Farmscape principal and co-founder Lara Hermanson. “We provide all the fun and none of the responsibility.” Currently, most Farmscape clients are concentrated in metro areas where incomes are high, both partners are working, and free time is at a premium. “Edible gardens are already big in California and are really starting to expand nationwide,” she says.

Farmscape was born in 2009 when Hermanson was managing an organic farm in Malibu, California and was asked by a few local residents to install small farm-gardens on their residential properties. “I thought, ‘Why not?!’” she recalls. Today, Farmscape’s services have expanded to include designing, installing, planting, and maintaining raised-bed gardens and fruit trees. The company provides the homeowner with all of the organically grown produce harvested. Projects have ranged from a couple of raised beds in the backyard to extensive gardens with vineyards on estate properties in Napa and Sonoma.

According to Hermanson, the company grew 70% last year alone. “The trend is moving from a fringe type thing to the mainstream,” she says. “In 2010, even 2011, we had to convince people that (farm-gardens) were part of a well-designed landscape. Today, everyone and their mother, but particularly Millennials, want a backyard vegetable farm. Millennials are foodies to the nth degree. Millennial homebuyers want this at their homes.”

The company’s process starts with an initial consultation with the homeowners to discuss eating habits, likes and dislikes, how often they cook at home, and how many people they typically feed. “This helps us determine how many beds to plant, as well as the selection of plants,” Hermanson says. “We try to install only what clients like and can consume.” She says the most-requested plantings are tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, carrots, radishes, lettuces, herbs, and fruit trees.

Lara Hermanson, Farmscape principal and co-founder atop a rooftop garden at Levi’s Stadium.

Hermanson says Farmscape also takes into account the home’s existing outdoor living and outdoor kitchen areas when creating garden designs, using matching or complementary materials to build the beds, and allocating plot sizes in proportion to other elements in the yard. If the yard is a blank slate, Farmscape has landscape architects on staff who can design the entire Outdoor Room, including patios, outdoor kitchens, fire pits or fireplaces, as part of a cohesive outdoor living plan.

Hermanson says fees for garden design, planning and installation are comparable to what a traditional landscape architect might charge. Projects start at around $5,000 for a couple of raised beds, but can go up considerably based on the number of beds, total square footage, materials used, and other factors.

The raised beds might be made from galvanized troughs, stone, wood, Corten steel, woven sticks, or other weatherproof materials, depending on the desired look and budget. Weekly maintenance fees start at $89 for four to six raised beds, and include seeds and starts, composting, fertilizing, trellising, pruning, weeding, handling pest issues (without chemicals), harvesting, and succession replanting with crop rotation.

Unlike ornamental landscaping, edible gardens provide a tremendous return-on-investment, says Hermanson. She says a raised-bed garden yields about 2.5 lbs. per sq. ft., so a 100 sq. ft. garden will produce approximately 250 lbs. of organic herbs and vegetables annually. She adds that dwarf fruit trees, once mature, produce 100 to 200 lbs. of fruit per year. Considering the retail price of organic produce, the return value is significant.

In addition to residential projects, Hermanson says Farmscape’s commercial business is soaring too.

The company has planted about 30 raised-bed edible gardens at corporate offices, restaurants, and hotels throughout California, even at the Getty Museum, Levi’s Stadium and AT&T Park. It has also worked with 12 major U.S. homebuilders to date, building neighborhood farms at the center of “agrihood” communities. “We get about two calls a week from builders interested in creating agrihoods,” says Hermanson.

Bon Appetit Management Company garden party.

But even renters want, and have come to expect, rooftop gardens at their apartment and condominium buildings, according to Hermanson. Farmscape creates and maintains many garden projects at multi-family dwellings throughout the state. She says the homeowners’ associations pay the weekly maintenance fees and Farmscape sets out the harvested produce in farmstand displays for residents to take free of charge. The residents are also invited to “pick-their-own” produce at any time.

The company hosts regular planting and harvesting workshops in the gardens for its corporate and multi-family apartment clients. “These hands-on programs are very popular; residents make cocktails and come to socialize,” she says.

Whether private homeowners, corporate employees, or building residents, Farmscape’s clients can choose to have as much, or as little, involvement in harvesting and maintaining the gardens as they wish. But, Hermanson says, many enjoy participating in the process. “Most people think it’s fun,” she says. “And once one neighbor installs a garden, it tends to spread through the community like wildfire.”

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