An Expert’s Tips On Growing Your Own Food, No Green Thumb Required

It tastes better, too.

By Phoebe Neuman
crudite with turmeric pesto

You don’t have to watch Portlandia to know that people are increasingly caring more about where their food comes from (even if they don’t ask the waiter what their chicken was named and if it lived a happy life.) Heidi Moorman Coudal, owner and culinary director of certified green catering company and farm-to-table café Big Delicious Planet, understands this better than anyone.

She can also vouch that food really does taste better when you’ve grown it yourself.

Though Heidi admits she doesn’t have a natural green thumb, she’s never been afraid to get her hands dirty when it comes to putting food on her (or her clients’) plate. Here, she breaks down how you can do the same – from ways you can get more involved in the farm-to-table movement to where to start with a garden of your own (hint: go for herbs!) Scroll on for ideas on how to let nature be your biggest inspiration in the kitchen.

top image by hannah haston, all others by big delicious planet and anna zajac weddings

Big Delicious Planet Farm-to-Table

How did you get into growing your own produce for Big Delicious Planet?

I started the company nearly 25 years ago, but didn’t actually get into the whole green food world until 2012. I had moved into a new space, and I knew I wanted to change the business for the better and was determined to become a certified green company. So I found the green restaurant association and started learning about what it would take to become certified.

I don’t have a green thumb at all, so when I first started out turning the empty lot (a junkyard no less!) next to our space into a vegetable garden, I worked with Windy City Harvest and their urban farming program to get an expert out in the field.

How long did it take to get the garden up and running?

We started with tomatoes, herbs, and beets and I was so surprised when just two weeks after we planted them, little sprouts started to show. That was when I started to think this could be something bigger, so I turned all of the outdoor space that I could into beds. I had no idea that this is something that I would be so interested in, but I was so blown away by the results and just how quickly you can grow food!

Big Delicious Planet Farm-to-Table

How can someone start growing their own food?

Container growing works well for all kinds of herbs and vegetables, and is something you can do pretty easily even if you have virtually no outdoor space. I have four out on my back patio at home – for mint, basil, oregano, and thyme — it’s so nice to just have on hand to throw into a cocktail or season up some meat with. I love being able to just go out and pick what I need!

Besides herbs, lettuce, beans, microgreens, strawberries, and tomatoes all work well in containers. Go to your local garden store and talk to the people there — they’ll be able to help you find everything you need to get started. YouTube is also a goldmine of information and is really empowering more and more people to get into growing. So many of my friends are putting in raised beds or turning their front lawns into vegetable patches — it makes more sense than just having grass!

Where do you turn to for gardening inspiration?

Instagram is also a really great resource if you’re looking to get into growing your own food. I follow #gardening and #urbanfarming — there’s some really good advice and inspiration on both! I also love Modern Farmer Magazine, and of course, Martha Stewart.

Big Delicious Planet Farm-to-Table

Besides turning your patio into a garden, what are the other ways to get involved in farm-to-table food?

Go to your local farmers market! That’s where you’ll be able to meet the people who are really knowledgeable and really passionate about this stuff. Pay attention to what they have on hand and where they grow it, and you’ll be able to start incorporating farm-to-table food as a part of your everyday routine.

Slow Food is also a great organization and resource for learning about clean, fairly farmed, local food. They also have tons of events in cities all over the U.S. where you can have a special farm-to-table meal — those dinners are a great way for us to show off what farm-to-table can really be, and not to mention, are an awesome way to make new friends who are also interested in green eating!