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Out and About with AOLCPs
Two AOLCPs Build Gardens, Encourage Bees and Chickens as Homefront Farmers
BY KATHY LITCHFIELD
FAIRFIELD COUNTY, CT - "Everyone wants tomatoes," said John Carlson, "which of course require the most sun to grow."
Finding large sunny expanses can be a challenge in Fairfield County, Conn. where well-established trees thrive amidst manicured, clover-free lawns on some of Carlson's clients' properties.
However, when there are creative gardeners willing to improvise and clients dreaming of fresh organic vegetables straight from their backyard, there is Homefront Farmers.
In December of 2011, Carlson teamed up with Vonne Whittleton, former owner of Vonne's Victory Gardens LLC, to form this new business, installing and often maintaining flourishing vegetable and herb gardens for clients.
Whether measuring 9x12 or 40x50, these two NOFA Accredited Organic Land Care Professionals (Carlson MA-2012 and Whittleton CT-2009) offer food nine months out of the year to clients who've always wanted a vegetable garden, or sentimentally recall those of their grandparents.
"Our clients vary widely. Lots have smaller children and want their kids to know where their food comes from and also want it to be fun for them," said Carlson. "Multi-colored carrots are a cool thing."
In addition to the traditional tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, zucchini, beans, peas and lettuces, Carlson and Whittleton aim to infuse their clients' gardens with heirloom vegetables not found in retail stores. They purchase seedlings from Gilbertie's or The Hickories and aim to please client's taste buds as well as landscape aesthetics.
"How it looks is always a concern," said Carlson. "They don't want it to be ugly. Part of the advantage is having someone do it for you, in ways that are more efficient and look nicer. We'll come out in fall, clean it up, do succession plantings and give you row covers, help you extend the season. We'll plant cover crops for the winter so it doesn't look like this abandoned garden."
Carlson and Whittleton also aim to educate clients, encouraging food gardens, beekeeping and backyard chicken raising as lawn alternatives, working towards a more sustainable world.
"I am hoping that we will continue to see a shift from lawn to vegetable production. We just had a client put a large garden in their front lawn! That was such a treat," said Whittleton.
"I try to educate people that a lawn doesn't have to be the typical completely green artificial, high input spaces that we see all over our county," she said. "It doesn't have to be perfect. It's okay to have a few weeds or let the grass grow a little higher than 'normal.' I suggest to my potential clients that dedicating part of their property to vegetable and herb production can not only be rewarding but is also good for the environment."
Whittleton, who founded Vonne's Victory Gardens in 2008, has been married 19 years to Christopher Whittleton, a commercial mortgage banker, investor and broker. They have two children, 11 and 8 and a four-year-old mini Schnauzer, a 15-year-old cat Holly and five laying hens. Whittleton has lectured on backyard farming, medicinal and culinary plants and has helped plant and maintain a nursery school garden for Earthplace Nursery School in Westport, Conn. and was recently asked to plant a small garden adjacent to Westport's first electric car charging station.
She has a farming heritage -- both her grandfathers were farmers and several of her cousins are still rice farming in Stuttgart, AR today. Her cousin was the Farm Bureau President of Arkansas for many years "and was nearly appointed by President Clinton to be Secretary of Agriculture," she said. "I farm much differently and am far from my roots, but I think we have many things in common such as a love for Mother Earth and an interest in feeding the hungry."
Carlson, on the other hand, worked as a marketing consultant with large corporate consumer packaged goods clients for 25 years.
"There was always this voice in the back of my head that kept telling me I shouldn't be working in an office with windows that don't open. The most we produced would be a file. There were only so many times I could joke about the noble cause of 'making the world safe for mac and cheese' before I had to make a change," he said.
So, in the midst of the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, Carlson left his job. While it was scary, his fear of not trying, and then regretting not trying, his business idea was worse than the fear of being unemployed.
"I got a lot more congratulations for leaving my job. It's not an achievement, quitting, but people are applauding me for it," said Carlson, who is now working from his heart.
"I feel like, 'I once was lost, but now am found, was blind but now I see.' At least I never worked for Monsanto," said the father of three.
"With organic land care, as our business succeeds, it's not just for us but it's a good thing for the world," he said.
Whittleton said, "I do it not only because it is good for my business but finding organic methods to care for a property is a win-win situation. We all benefit, well except for Scott's or Miracle Gro, but that's okay," she laughed.
Carlson noted there are many companies on the west coast and throughout the country installing food gardens for clients, on a small scale within their own communities.
"Working together we'd be a much louder voice. I'd love to bring all the companies together," he said. "But we'll probably work on that in the winter."