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'Responsible Resilience' on Display at Cooperation Humboldt's Edible Garden Tour


As you walk into Karen Shepherd and Bradley Thompson’s backyard in Arcata, you are met with a beautifully diverse food forest with an array of vegetables, flowers and fruits, from asparagus and pears to onions and cabbage. Shepherd and Thompson began working on their food forest after they moved into their house 19 years ago. Like most homeowners, their backyard was just a lawn but, with much determination and hard work, they transformed it into a sustainable, food-producing garden and, in some ways, an ecosystem.

“When we first moved in here, we had a lawn but we wanted to be experimental. The grass kind of gave us a fresh start, a blank slate to begin our garden,” Shepherd said. “It’s become less of a garden and more of a habitat, with all the animals, bugs and even the weeds that grow.”

Cabbage in Karen Shepherd and Bradley Thompson's food-producing garden. - IRIDIAN CASAREZ
  • Iridian Casarez
  • Cabbage in Karen Shepherd and Bradley Thompson's food-producing garden.

Shepherd and Thompson’s yard was one of eight edible gardens within Eureka and Arcata that participated in Cooperation Humboldt’s first Edible Garden Tour, which the group hopes will become an annual event. Cooperation Humboldt (CH) is Humboldt County nonprofit that looks to create a solidarity economy with a few different areas of focus: food production and distribution, economic democracy, arts and culture, housing and care. CH’s food program works under the premise that food is a basic human right and has piloted programs like Little Blue Pantry and Food Not Lawns to try to make food more available to everyone. CH’s food program is also designed to help residents take back skills needed to build responsible resilience, like growing their own food, which helped inspire the edible garden tour. 

[jump] Tamara McFarland, a CH founder who focuses mostly on its food programs, said the nonprofit wanted to show off incredible edible gardens to inspire others to build and grow their own food-producing gardens. McFarland's garden was also featured on the tour.

“The tours will serve to inspire and educate everyone on how they can grow their own food,” McFarland said. “We believe that teaching a much broader spectrum of our community this important skill is critical to our community's ability to navigate impending climate catastrophes.”

Carrots from Tamara McFarland's edible garden. - IRIDIAN CASAREZ
  • Iridian Casarez
  • Carrots from Tamara McFarland's edible garden.

The tour included residential food-producing gardens — with one exception, Lost Foods Nursery at Redwood Acres — with a focus on permaculture gardens.

Permaculture is an ecological design strategy that lets nature do all the work for us, said Marlon Gill of Rainshine Permaculture, a single-family homestead, plant nursery and permaculture demonstration site in Freshwater that was also featured on the tour. Some food-producing gardens featured aspects of the design method, like harvesting rainwater in barrels, reusing water with a grey-water system and using chickens for manure.

The tour featured different kinds of edible gardens, from small residential lots to acres of farmland. Matt Drummond, whose garden was the only one on the tour that was located on rented property, started his garden a couple years ago with annual vegetables and herbs. He said there’s a sense of pride when he cooks with food from his garden.

Kale from Matt Drummond's garden. - IRIDIAN CASAREZ
  • Iridian Casarez
  • Kale from Matt Drummond's garden.
“I was tired of constantly buying food from the grocery store so, I wanted to grow my own food. I wanted to grow the best food,” Drummond said. “Cooking food from my own garden is a very rewarding thing and it’s hard to go back.” 

His garden, he added, is a great example of what can be done in a short amount of time with effort and dedication. Drummond highly recommends renters who would like to plant different foods to start with an herb garden. It’s rewarding, satisfying and saves plenty of money in the long run, he said.

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