It all started innocently enough about four years ago: a drop-in dinner party at our friend Eliza’s house. As we drove into downtown Greenville, we had no idea that we were heading towards a dinner that would feed us for the rest of our lives.
Unbeknownst to us at the time, Eliza was a rare breed of urban dweller known as a “master gardener,” which essentially means she had a black belt in gardening and she wasn’t afraid to use it. Upon arrival, Eliza invited us into her back yard with an eager smile and a wave of her hand. As we soon discovered, hers was no ordinary back yard.
We walked into the center of what seemed an overflowing produce section at a grocery store, only instead of the typical varieties of food that one is accustomed to seeing at a grocer, we were greeted with varieties, colors, and tastes that we had never experienced before—all organically grown without chemical pesticides and herbicides that are as bad for people as they are for the other life forms they’re intended to kill.
Dinner was delicious, consisting mostly of unusual and heirloom varieties of summer delights from Eliza’s garden, each picked at the peak of ripeness and nutrition. “Eliza the Gardening Black Belt” had floored us with a 1-2 punch of her organic garden followed by a sumptuous dinner we’d never forget.
During the drive home as I was recalling fond childhood memories of my mother’s and grandfather’s gardens, Susan uttered the now immortalized words, “Baby, I want a garden too.“
Shortly thereafter, our back yard garden, “Tyrant Farms,” was born (named lovingly after “Susan the Tyrant,” who still claims to be a benevolent dictator in our relationship despite compelling evidence to the contrary).
Our garden has been one of the most fulfilling, enriching journeys we’ve ever gone on in our young lives; a journey that has brought us closer to each other as well as the natural world. After three years, a lot of reading, trial and error, epic rodent and insect battles, and a few pleas for help from Eliza the Black Belt Gardener, our half acre purely organic back yard “farm” now produces more food than we can possibly eat throughout the year, despite our unremitting passion for eating it.
This abundance has created a strong desire to share our food with friends, family, neighbors, and even complete strangers. Moreover, we’re passionate about sharing one simple idea with anyone with a yard — or planter: you’d benefit yourself and the planet if you viewed your small piece of earth as a natural, edible garden rather than a monoculture grass farm.
The initial response we get during these conversations is typically a sigh coupled with “that sounds like a lot of work,” followed closely by “I just don’t have the time or money to do that right now.”
We used to think the same thing: from the outside, gardening seemed a daunting, grueling task that is no longer essential in a modern world where grocery aisles full of cheap, plentiful stuff that is often labeled as food abound. However, as we’ve come to find out through studying (and practicing) organic gardening and permaculture methods, gardening can be a fun, family and community-oriented science lesson that requires surprisingly little money or labor from the people involved. As we continue to learn more about how to work with nature rather than against it, we’ve seen nature start doing most of the work for us, and its work produces delicious food that is as good for our health as it is for our pocketbook.
Under this approach, the gardener’s job becomes that of a steward, tending to the natural ecosystem in their garden that continues to improve year by year with less and less input required. After all, nobody has to plow, fertilize, water, and spray deadly chemicals on forests for them to do just fine without our “help.” Your garden can ultimately work as efficiently and effectively as a forest, and yes, it can be stunningly beautiful too.
The hardest part for most gardeners—including us—is simply getting started in the first place. So, even if you decide to start your garden by planting a single seed in a pot, do it now. After all, “now” is the best time to start your garden, and starting small can make your first step that much easier.
We look forward to sharing more of our “KIGI Journey” (Know It or Grow It) with you over the months and years ahead through the Tyrant Farms blog. Hopefully, we’ll inspire you to start or continue your own journey as well. You’ll be glad you did, and so will we!
Aaron & Susan von Frank
We’re “normal” young urbanites trying to live and share a conscientious life while passing on a better world to the children we hope to have one day. We’re thrilled to be part of the groundswell of people around the country and the world who are starting to reconnect with their food, realizing how the seemingly simple decision of what we eat can have such a profound impact on other systems that we (and future generations) depend upon. Even mainstream scientists and policy experts are increasingly realizing that local, decentralized, ecologically-minded food production is the future of agriculture, and the key to healing a world in which billions of people unnecessarily starve while others eat themselves to death via addictive “cheap” food produced in ways that concurrently ravage the environment. These aren’t faceless, nameless people: these are our friends, family, and neighbors. This isn’t some other planet we’re talking about: it’s ours, and it’s the only one we’ve got.
Our ideas aren’t fringe delusions aimed at moving society backwards; they’re part of a growing cutting-edge zeitgeist that is tapping into a more holistic, scientific understanding/appreciation of ecology and how our food production and delivery systems can be thoughtfully “upgraded” to better allow people and communities to thrive (not just be sustainable). Food is the foundation of every civilization, and we can each make choices (usually at least three times per day) that will determine what our society’s food foundation will look like and what downstream impacts it will have on human health, the economy, and the natural ecosystems that sustain life on earth.
We have to start planting seeds today to help grow a better tomorrow, rather than solely relying on companies, government agencies, or other people to make the right decisions for us. Together, we can reclaim control of our food supply and put it back where it belongs and where it has been for thousands of years previously: in the hands of local farmers and people like you. Tyrant Farms is part of our contribution to this growing movement. The problem is huge, and we are small, but we’re doing the best we can.
So, pick up your fork, and grab a seat at the table. Let’s learn, grow, and eat some great food together!
The Tyrant Farms hummingbird logo was inspired by a story from Nobel Laureate Wangari Maathai. Click the hummingbird image to watch a short video of her story.