Growing Admiration Series: Brie Arthur
Brie Arthur is our new VP of horticulture, and we are thrilled. She’s got all of the plant experience (you should see her garden), and she’s taking innovative strides towards making gardening a world-wide lifestyle. All because she believes in the good that comes from growing.
If anyone is a non-stop, full-time plant enthusiast, it’s Brie Arthur. She knows it, she’s proud of it, and it’s probably not going to change any time soon. She admits with a chuckle, “I’m not very well-rounded. Gardening is my identity, it’s my hobby, it’s everything.” She comes to Gardenuity as the VP of horticulture with spades of experience. Her past endeavors range from author, to nursery grower, to correspondent on a PBS television show, each endeavor dealing specifically with the art of growing.
As most life-long passions do, gardening entered Brie’s life quite early on. Although she now lives in the suburbs of North Carolina, she’s originally from Michigan, and it was in Michigan at the age of 10 that she discovered home-gardening. Her first gardening experience was with chives which, she says, “…will make you feel like a rockstar.” Chives are easy to grow and easy to use in daily cooking. The quick success she achieved gave her green fever—a passion that, to date, she hasn’t been able (and has no plans) to shake.
Now, her backyard is packed with vegetables using a revolutionary method dubbed “Foodscaping.” Foodscaping is the integration of food-yielding plants into spaces often reserved for non-edible plants, whether that’s a foundation landscape, a property border, or a mailbox bed. Through this technique, Brie has successfully cultivated a bonafide food paradise that tastes divine, looks stunning, and meets all Home Owner’s Association requirements—and this all without a single traditional garden bed.
To top it off, her garden produces nearly everything you can imagine. She looks out her window and starts naming food items for me. The list includes veggies like kale, collards, swiss chard, lettuce, onions, mustard, pumpkins, potatoes, peppers, tomatoes, arugula, okra, basil, asparagus, and corn. Not to mention her more unexpected crops, like cane sorghum, rice, grapes and wheat. Oh, by the way—this is all on one acre of land.
In fact, nearly 70% of what she and her husband David consume comes fresh from that single acre, including home-made flour tortillas. They only hop over to the grocery store for things that can’t be grown in North Carolina, like citrus. The day I interviewed her, she had just gotten home from a three week traveling stint, and she didn’t have to make a single grueling grocery store visit. She just walked into her yard. She describes this action as a special moment for her where she connects the dots. It’s a second she takes to understand, appreciate, and acknowledge where her food comes from.
With the entire produce section of a grocery store in your backyard, what’s ready to harvest is what you eat. She tells me as an example, “Right now, I have a basket full of tomatoes, peppers, and okra. So that’s gonna be our dinner tonight.” When veggies are the foundations of your meals, you clearly increase your individual health. But, as Brie reminds me, growing is also an earth friendly choice. If we can get the suburbs more actively growing foodstuffs, Brie believes that big environmental results will follow.
Part of what Brie focuses on in her book The Foodscape Revolution is how to create a garden that produces great food while complying with the strictest of HOA requirements. Many associations will say, “No vegetables in your front yard.” But what they really mean, according to Brie, is that they don’t want you to take out your grass or put in ugly box beds. She elaborates, “When you integrate your plants so you have your edible and ornamental plants together, your HOA tends to be pretty okay with it.”
Case in point: When she first began foodscaping, her HOA had no idea what vegetable plants looked like, and they actually adored the aesthetic result. Her part vegetable, part ornamental landscape won Yard of the Year that year. At the time, she was gardening on a quarter acre, and she managed to grow 50% of what she and her four neighbors ate over a 12-month period.
Foodscaping drastically minimizes your carbon footprint and reduces what she calls “food miles,” which are the transportation miles involved in getting you that specific food item. For example, 90% of the garlic you buy has been shipped from China. If you live in Dallas, your food mileage would be about 6500 miles every time you buy. The thing is, garlic is actually one of the easiest plants for people to grow. If all you did was grow your own garlic, you’d be making an incredible difference for the environment.
There are 180 billion acres of suburbia in the United States. Part of Brie’s mission is to better educate people on how to use that suburban ground. Because if she succeeds, the local food movement will be transformed for the better. It could eliminate food deserts and make sure everybody—from rich to poor—has access to quality and healthful food. Brie’s sure that in ten years, our suburbs could be the breadbasket of our nation, a breadbasket in which everything is sustainably and organically grown. And this whole revolution, she tells me, begins with people growing in a container.
As a nation, the tides are turning to favor gardening again. Like many of us, Brie’s grandparents were gardeners, but a lot of that was because they were part of a generation that had just immigrated to the U.S. before World War II. Gardening was just part of that generation’s approach to living; everyone did it. The baby boomers, however, lived in an era when food became an accessible and processed commodity, and so they rejected gardening in favor of working. Now, the pendulum is swinging back, and there is a renewed interest in being organic, green, and producing your own food.
The problem is, the younger generations literally don’t know how. Brie is on a quest to fill this knowledge gap. In recent years, her career has been entirely about getting gardening information out to the masses. She has offered advice to home-gardeners on the PBS television show Growing a Greener World, she has given lectures and produced writing dedicated to communicating the value of gardening via the Garden Writers Association for years, and she’s recently published the novel The Foodscape Revolution, which covers everything from complicated landscape plans that incorporate food to really simple projects like container gardens.
Now, she’s joined Gardenuity, and we’re all about making gardening accessible, easy, and successful for the everyman. In her role at Gardenuity, she’ll help guide the planting selection, the tips and advice, and the recipes we share. She’ll also be connecting professional growers to our network—growers that produce high quality plants and, as she put it, “the best potential dinner Gardenuity clients could possibly have. ” In her own words, she’s “…able to bring the nerd aspect of plants to Gardenuity, so every grower has their own personal Superwoman shield against failure.”
In Brie’s opinion, Gardenuity is the perfect place to begin. “Containers,” Brie says, “are such good places to start because that’s where you begin to understand growing.” In Gardenuity’s container gardens, we provide you with the right kind of soil and the right kind of fertilizer, with the right advice for you, at the right time. Brie remarks that in the beginning, you just start with loads of instructions. You learn what soil drainage means, what fertility equals, what harvest time looks like…Then, in time, these basics become intuitive.
By no means are containers are an end point in Brie’s vision, however. She hopes to encourage people to take the next step, assuring people that gardening’s apparent difficulty is simply a result of poor marketing. Truly, Brie’s foodscape is quite easy to maintain; there are entire months where she spends less than an hour in her garden.
Brie simply wants to be part of the creation that makes gardening accessible. In her opinion, everyone deserves to have that moment where they come home after a long day of work or a chaotic day with the kids, they harvest something as simple as chives, and they add it to their dinner. It’s a moment when people feel like they’ve accomplished something—a moment when success feels tangible, and they get to experience it with their family.
This feeling of contribution is what Brie loves so much about gardening. She avers, “Gardening brings the world to think, ’I’m making a difference.’ Even if it’s just right here on this tiny spot I’m living on, I’m making the world a better place.” We’re living in an extremely challenging time of polarity and exhausting bad news, and, Brie adds, “If I can help someone achieve one thing that provides them sanity amidst the chaos, I think it’s the best gift I can possibly give.”
Her entire life has been dedicated to gardening: a childhood filled with vegetable growing, a degree in horticulture, fifteen years of plant propagation at various nurseries, and years of writing and advocating for growing through different outlets. It’s all lead her to this point, and Brie is still surging forward. And so, with four cats, a husband, and an entire backyard in tow, this is Brie’s undertaking—to make the world a better place by simplifying growing.