In a world saturated with “green” appliances and “organic” food choices, sustainability is a word that gets tossed around a lot.
But for many, like Starkville local Will Sanders, sustainability is a lifestyle choice, something ingrained in who they are and what they do.
“My wife and I committed to this lifestyle long ago,” Sanders says. “Now it’s second nature. We didn’t start out full on with a huge garden and chickens in the backyard, but we did make an honest effort.”
Sanders has been growing food for his family for more than eight years, but when he moved to Starkville three years ago to finish his bachelor’s degree in landscape architecture, Sanders and his wife, Mandi, found themselves renting a home in the middle of town. Moving from what he describes as a “very rural” property, the vast acreage Sanders once had to cultivate nearly anything he could need was dwindled down to a few flowerbeds that surrounded his house and dotted his yard.
“It didn’t take long for us to realize the potential in those neatly mulched flower beds,” he says.
Sanders began incorporating edible landscaping techniques into his limited growing area. The techniques Sanders began incorporating have been popular in more densely populated urban areas for a number of years but have since spread to residential suburbs and beyond. The basic premise of all these techniques is ensuring every pot, every flowerbed, every window sill box, is planted with something that is not only visually appealing, but can also be eaten.
Now, with his new business, Mississippi Foodscapes, Sanders hopes to bring these techniques to people who might not have the knowledge or resources to begin gardening on their own.
“I like taking garden design to this new level of edible landscaping,” Sanders says. “It takes something very iconic American, your yard, and escalates it.”
Two Saturdays ago, with the help of another local sustainability warrior, Rick Underwood, Sanders began the first stage of demonstrating just how beneficial edible landscaping can be.
The event, dubbed PermaBlitz, was held at Sprout, Underwood’s gardening store in Starkville. Originally, the event was intended to be a single community service project organized by the local Gaining Ground chapter. The idea was to bring in volunteers to help with the planting at Sprout, from plans designed by Sanders.
But the PermaBlitz concept, an established project format used worldwide that gives volunteers who attend three PermaBlitzs the chance to host their own, helped make the planting the kick-start of an ongoing service project that could end up having a big impact.
Volunteers at Sprout helped plant everything from chives to peaches, sunflowers to olive trees, blueberries to sage.
Already, Underwood has given some local restaurants the go-ahead to use whatever they would like from the gardens surrounding Sprout, a testament to wanting to be more than just a retail shop.
“We are all about trying to make more connections with each other in the community,” Underwood says. “We know it’s about a lifestyle, and that seems difficult sometimes, but we want people to see what is possible.”
It’s April 6, around 1 p.m. and Sanders is lifting one of the last large peach trees into its new home, an enormous ceramic vase facing the four-way stop in front of Sprout.
He points across the street. The restaurant has an array of small bushes and shrubs out front, none of them edible.
“Why not,” Sanders asks. “They could be growing their own rosemary, their own mint, but they’re not. Instead, they get it from someone else and those bushes out front do nothing but look decent.”
He turns around and points at the blueberry bushes lining one of the beds.
“This looks just as good,” he says. “But you can actually use it, eat it, and it’s fresh.”
Taste and nutrition, for any plant, is at its peak as soon as it is harvested, Sanders explains. After that, it declines by the minute.
It is estimated that food travels 1,500 miles before it hits the average American’s plate, and in Mississippi, statistics show that nearly 86 percent of every dollar spent on food leaves the state.
“Those are huge numbers,” Sanders says. “In Mississippi, we should be growing every bit of our food to meet our state’s needs. If people want to do something that will have a big impact, start with growing some of your own food.”
The Dispatch Editorial Board is made up of publisher Peter Imes, columnist Slim Smith, managing editor Zack Plair and senior newsroom staff.
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