Hello Garden Gals and Guys! Spring is only 12 days away! It’s time to get those seeds started indoors and get the garden and yard ready for growing. Today’s blog  marks the beginning of my new series “A Stroll through the Garden”.

Throughout the growing season, I will be interviewing people who are as passionate about growing food as I. Today’s stroll features a man who is not only passionate about growing food, but has turned it into a thriving business!

Photo: Courtesy of Backyard Farms, LLC

Meet Mr. Al Benner of Backyard Farms. He believes in the importance of growing your own food and it shows through his company’s mission: “A backyard is a terrible thing to waste.” His passion and commitment for educating others about the benefits of growing their own food shines through on his website and in the interview we did. His energy and can-do attitude was even able to be felt through our email correspondence.

His company not only sells high-quality raised beds, cold frames, compost bins and trellis systems (which they ship nationwide), but if you are fortunate enough to live in Delaware, Chester or Montgomery counties in Pennsylvania, they will install your garden for you!

You can take a look at some of the great project’s the company has done here. But let’s get on to the interview!

DivaGardener: What made you begin your own vegetable garden when you were only 12 years old?

Al Benner: I believe I was born an entrepreneur and was attracted to having my own business. My dad had a garden up the street at a neighbor’s property and I saw this as a way to make some spending money.

DivaGardener: Your mission is “a backyard is a terrible thing to waste”. Why do you feel it’s important to educate people about the environmental and financial benefits of converting excess lawns into food producing areas?

Al Benner: Lawns from my perspective are really only “useful” for recreation. Otherwise they are contributors to noise and air pollution, as well as potential surface and groundwater pollution of chemical treatments are being applied. A backyard is a great opportunity to make use of space very close to home for food production. The learning opportunities for children, nutritional advantages associated with fresh produce, and the reduction in carbon “foodprint” are substantial as food is transported by foot from the backyard to the kitchen.

Photo: Courtesy of Backyard Farms, LLC

DivaGardener: What is one of the most interesting crops you’ve grown?

Al Benner: Purple heirloom tomatillos – really interesting with beautiful shades of purple, and delicious in salsa. Brussel sprouts are truly amazing – we harvested these out of two feet of snow in January this year! Our “Napoli” carrots grown in the rooftop garden beds – we produced close to 60 pounds of the sweetest carrots you can imagine in just two 39″ x 39″ beds with an automated drip system using only two treatments with fish emulsion.

Al’s rooftop garden. Photo: Courtesy of Backyard Farms, LLC

DivaGardener: Can you share one of your most treasured garden memories?

Al Benner: I have three: 1) toad houses built int he garden by our six-year-old twin boys; 2) digging potatoes with my wife, boys and her parents – everyone enjoys it; 3) As a child I remember how excited I was to check on the garden after being away on vacation – all the changes and vegetables that needed harvesting still excite me to this day!

DivaGardener: Why do you feel it’s important to get children involved in food gardening?

Al Benner: It gives kids a sense of the land – it connects them to where their food comes from and it gets their hands dirty and encourages them to be adventurous eaters – trying many of the vegetables in the garden. I believe one of the reasons children are no longer drawn to vegetables is that many store bought varieties that are bred for shelf-life and appearance, pumped up with lots of nitrogen and water, and then sit around for day sin trucks or on shelves, simply lack flavor. Fresh from the vine garden produce is a sensory experience for the taste buds for kids. Gardening also fosters a strong work ethic and sense of accomplishment. Growing their own food teaches children a lot about the cycles of nature and ecosystems – sun, water, soil, and pests.

Al’s son. Photo: Courtesy of Backyard Farms, LLC

DivaGardener: If you could only offer one piece of advice to people wanting to start farming their backyard, what would it be?

Al Benner: It is probably the single most physically demanding and pyschologically rewarding thing they can do in their spare time. It is also one of the best investments they can make with their time if you also consider the payback in high quality food that is nutrient dense and thus a lot more flavorful than most supermarket food. The health benefits are not to be taken lightly. Working outdoors in the fresh air and sunshine and then eating what you produce is a very satisfying endeavor – for the mind, body, and soul.

Well, there you have it garden gals and guys! I’d like to send a huge thank you to my new garden pal Al for taking the time to do this interview. Al is a really great guy!! Not only does he have this, as well as several other very successful businesses, but he has his own farm too!

 I can’t begin to cover all the wonderful information on his website, so be sure to go and visit them at Backyard Farms  and visit his farm blog at Old School Farm.

And when you go, be sure to tell him that DivaGardener sent you!

I hope you’e enjoyed this first article in my new series! There’s certainly more to come!

Until next time….

Happy garden thoughts!