Stacey Murphy has helped thousands of new gardeners from 6 continents grow vegetables and herbs in small spaces, so they can enjoy fresh, affordable vegetables while creating a more sustainable future. She walks eager growers through her holistic garden system, showing what to grow, when and where. Stacey is a garden geek, growing food since 1979, and her superpower is packing, literally, tons of food into tight spaces. Dozens of her students who have trained at her backyard urban farm in Brooklyn have gone on to start their own homesteads, gardens & farms. Featured on Martha Stewart Radio and PBS’s Growing a Greener World, Stacey believes growing food organically is the best health plan for people, communities, and the earth. You can find her at GrowYourOwnVegetables.org and don’t forget to sign up to receive her best gardening tips and strategies
Caryn Hartglass: Hey everybody. Let’s bring it back to part 2 of It’s All About Food. I’m Caryn Hartglass. I’ve had a moment to sip my cold pressed jasmine tea and can we talk about cold pressed tea for a minute? I know I’ve talked about it before. Just want to remind you, it’s like the best and easiest thing in the planet, especially on a hot day. So I learned a while ago from Dr. Greger and his book How Not to Die, that the wonderful antioxidants we get in teas, like black tea, green tea, and white tea, they’re even better when we cold brew our tea, rather than adding hot water or boiling water to it. So now what I do is I put my tea in a little stainless steel basket and put that in a large wide mouthed glass jar, it fits in really nicely, and I pour the water over, put it in the refrigerator, and in a little while, I have really lovely tea. I find it tastes even better, somehow you don’t get the bitter flavors that you sometimes get with tea and you only get the sweetness. So, here’s to you. That’s good.
All right, let’s move on. My guest is Stacey Murphy and she has helped thousands of new gardeners from six continents grow vegetables and herbs in small places, small spaces. So they can enjoy fresh, affordable vegetables while creating a more sustainable future. She walks eager growers through her holistic garden system showing what to grow, when, and where. Stacey is a garden geek, growing food since 1979 and her superpower is packing literally tons of food into tight spaces. Dozens of her students who have trained at her backyard urban farm in Brooklyn have gone on to start their own homesteads, gardens, and farms. Featured on Martha Stewart, radio and PBS’ Growing Up in a New World, Stacey believes growing food organically is the best health plan for people, communities, and the earth. And you can find her at growyourownvegetables.org and don’t forget to sign up to receive her best gardening tips and strategies. I won’t forget. Stacey- how are you?
Stacey Murphy: I’m awesome and I wish I had made some cold brewed tea so I could enjoy some with you right now.
Caryn Hartglass: Oh great. Cheers to you.
Stacey Murphy: Awesome. Have you ever tried it straight from the garden?
Caryn Hartglass: You mean the tea straight from the garden?
Stacey Murphy: Harvest some herbs straight from the garden?
Caryn Hartglass: Yes, absolutely. I love- you know I lived in the south of France in the early nineties and they liked to make a lot of thyme tea.
Stacey Murphy: Oh yeah.
Caryn Hartglass: And fresh thyme- it just would just grow wild in the local woods.
Stacey Murphy: It’s heaven.
Caryn Hartglass: And then another thing I’m doing, you know it’s the simplest thing, and I get so much joy out of it. But we were recently at this new restaurant called P.S. Kitchen in Manhattan. It’s a new vegan restaurant and what they did in the bottled water- it’s just bottled tap water, or bottle filtered tap water. They put a sprig of mint in the water and wow, it’s fantastic.
Stacey Murphy: Yes. So much more refreshing.
Caryn Hartglass: Just a little sprig.
Stacey Murphy: Yeah. You know it’s crazy because it doesn’t take that much space or effort to grow your own herbs on your windowsill even. If you’re in New York City and you don’t have any space to grow but you have a window that faces the sun. In about six linear feet, you can grow all of your herbs for the year. It’s amazing and then you can have cold brewed tea every day of the year.
Caryn Hartglass: And a lot more.
Stacey Murphy: Exactly. Exactly.
Caryn Hartglass: A lot more. So how would we grow herbs on a windowsill?
Stacey Murphy: Yeah. Well, I mean, the first important piece is you do need the sun. Without the sun, you got nothing.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah. You know, I was just talking about the sun in the first half of this program and the eclipse and how everybody was so in awe and I want to remind people again in the second part, we need to be in awe every moment that sun is out there. It’s incomprehensible and amazing and we need it to grow herbs.
Stacey Murphy: All right. Essentially, photosynthesis is a miracle. Sunshine and carbon dioxide, the plant converts that to sugar and it grows plants from that sugar and then basically you get that fresh food.
Caryn Hartglass: Man, so important to have that sunlight.
Stacey Murphy: So if you’re going to grow herbs, yeah, sun, you want at least six hours of sun if you want a lot of herbs to grow. And so the way to test that, on a nice sunny day, sit in your room near that window and just mark every hour- is it in sun or is it in shade? And if you have six hours where it is in sun, then you can grow herbs on your windowsill.
Caryn Hartglass: That’s a really good tip.
Stacey Murphy: Yeah.
Caryn Hartglass: And I know that you’re full of really good tips. You know, the thing about growing food, whether you’re just growing a few herbs on your windowsill or more in a garden, or you have a farm. It brings out so many important things. People are so separated from who we are, what we are, where our food comes, what it is, what it takes, and when you see life, just spurt out from a seed, it’s- I think it helps ground you and helps you come back to the appreciation and awe that we all should have every day.
Stacey Murphy: Yeah. I’ve had students that have said the most earth shattering things to me with their experience on the farm. So, I started a youth farm in Brooklyn and for any listeners who are in or near Brooklyn, you got to go visit it. It’s amazing. It’s one acre on the front lawn of five high schools and those kids, they’re learning how to grow food and they’re- it’s changing their lives. The first thing is that it’s growing your place. I mean, you’re actually changing the face of the planet. It’s kind of surreal when you think about it. That you are changing the face of the planet when you garden. I mean, this is a little bit on the heavier side of things, but I think people will understand why it’s so important to understand this. Compost holds so many lessons for us about the life cycle of everything and the place in the world. And I had one student, who, we were learning how to compost in the fall. He threw his orange in the compost bin and then in the spring, we came out and I pointed to the pile and said, “there’s the compost, let’s go put it on the beds.” The kid looked at me and said, “Where’s my orange?” And I said, “It’s in there.” He’s like, “but it’s all dirt.” And I said, “Yeah, it disintegrated and decomposed. Remember, we talked about this and this is what it looks like.” And he said, “oh my gosh, I get it.” He’s like, “dust to dust, ashes to ashes. I get it.” And he just had this moment where he came to terms with the preciousness of life and all of the cycles of life. It was incredible. It was unbelievable.
Caryn Hartglass: I love when people just get it. Yeah, so when did you just get it, Stacy?
Stacey Murphy: I led a very enchanted childhood. I grew up in the suburbs of Detroit and my mom, bless her, it was the seventies and she was on a tight budget. My parents were both teachers and they were doing everything they could for us. So they decided to garden in order to get some food because our budget was so tight and I grew up in between rows of giant snap peas and tomato bushes, and blackberry bushes and I would just sit outside and pick things off the vine and eat them. It was unbelievable.
Caryn Hartglass: And that’s the way it should be.
Stacey Murphy: I want that for every kid. That’s why it’s so important for us to pass this on from generation to generation to learn how to garden if you don’t already, and if your kids, time is so precious with kids because they grow out of the phase so quickly of being involved in nature and just, you know, starting that gardening bug early is so important.
Caryn Hartglass: I know. There are so many ways to garden and I’m glad that you’re doing what you’re doing. So how, other than windowsill, what does it take to grow in a small space?
Stacey Murphy: Yeah, awesome. It’s absolutely less space and less time and effort than you think. I’ll just say that. Because most people, when they think about growing food, they think it takes a lot of energy and a lot of space. And really, when you have about a hundred square feet, which if you think about the size of like an SUV, the ground space that is underneath the SUV is how big is that? That’s close to 100 square feet; it’s a little smaller, but about that size. You can grow the vegetables and herbs that you need for your family. So let’s just make a distinction here that vegetables, most of them, don’t need a lot of space and herbs don’t need a whole lot of space at all. So you won’t be growing things like, necessarily like, corn or soybeans at a really large scale, but you can grow all of your greens, you can grow all of your tomatoes and eggplants, peppers, and all of your herbs and your zucchini in a space that is about 100 square feet.
Caryn Hartglass: And those vegetables tend to be the pricier ones in the supermarket.
Stacey Murphy: I mean yeah. Especially things like tomatoes. They’re going to taste so much better off the vine. You can’t even imagine.
Caryn Hartglass: So you’ve had a number of different programs to help people get started and get better at what they’re doing. Can you tell us what some of those have been and are?
Stacey Murphy: Yeah, sure. And I just wanted to preface this with when you get started with growing food; there are kind of three stages. There’s the stage where you’re just an absolutely newbie, you’ve never done anything and you’re just interested and you’ve never planted a seed. It’s going to be, at that stage, you’re going to feel a little intimidated by the sheer amount of garden knowledge that is available on the Internet. And where do you get started. And there’s a second stage where you tried to garden and maybe you’ve had some success but for the most part, you just feel like you’re not getting anywhere. And there’s a third stage where you start to feel comfortable and then basically, you want to double your yield. You want to know how to amp it up, right? And so, I have an online course called Grow Your Own Vegetables, and it really goes through all those different stages. Anybody can enter and they basically, when they end the program, they’re in the next phase. And they can retake the program in that next phase and jump to the third phase, so to speak. So, there’s a big spectrum of growers and I just want to make sure everybody understands that it takes a little bit of patience to learn how to garden. In the end, it’s going to be easy and you’re going to be shocked at how little time it takes to garden. But when you’re just getting started, it’s going to take some time, just like when we’re babies and we’re trying to learn how to speak, you know, in this way, we’re trying to communicate with plants. So my classes really help people, they work through my system, my garden system, and what it does it helps them speak to nature and communicate to nature so that they can work with nature so that wherever they are, plants are going to thrive. So that’s a little bit about the course and lately I’ve been teaching a lot of online courses. And they’re still lots of really great resources in Brooklyn and in New York as well for in person events that I’m no longer there in person. I’m more, around the world at this point. But if you go to the youth farm, I don’t know the website for that off the top of my head, but there are amazing workshops there in person as well and opportunities to intern if you have a free summer and you want to go and spend some time there as well.
Caryn Hartglass: That’s good. I like the idea of communicating with plants and you know, I think we’re here to learn and it’s my intention to just keep learning and learning until it’s time for me to disintegrate and go back into the earth and whatever that cycle is- ashes to ashes, etc. It’s like crawling, walking, running, and as I talk about all the time, about finding your kitchen. It’s the skills to cook- it’s not hard, it just takes a little time to get familiar, to get your hands used to the few skills that you need to put a dish together and I’m sure growing food is like that because it’s in our DNA. This is what we’re supposed to be doing.
Stacey Murphy: It’s so basic, right? We need food. We need shelter.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah, I know.
Stacey Murphy: I think it’s part of our birthright, you know, to work with nature to grow some food for ourselves, but also to ensure that the earth has a healthy future. The earth is going to go on without us. That’s right. That’s absolutely right. We don’t have to save the earth. We were just talking about making life livable for our species, which, you know, some would debate that’s maybe not a good mission.
We won’t go there.
Caryn Hartglass: We won’t go there, not today. We’ll go there another day. But growing your vegetables is a fun and important thing to do.
Stacey Murphy: I want to add to that that one of the things that I thought was so amazing about growing in Brooklyn was that the community I lived in was very rich culturally. Lots of West Indian populations, Dominican Republic, Jamaican, Haitian. All different groups of people who had come to the United States and it’s incredible how you can connect over food. And I think it’s also one of our, kind of, being here on this planet means we have a cultural heritage that we communicate with our ancestors through food as well. And those traditions are so rich and the crops that we grew in Brooklyn were very specific. Some of them, to the people who were in the neighborhood who wanted those foods. If you can garden, you can grow varieties that are from your hometown or your home country. You can grow them where you are so you can bring your cultural heritage back into your kitchen even if they don’t have it at the farmer’s market. That’s what is so powerful I think about gardening. IT’s the special varieties. You know, even in Brooklyn, we can grow some of the crops that people would consider tropical crops.
Caryn Hartglass: Right now it’s late August. So if somebody wanted to start gardening, is there a good time of year to get started?
Stacey Murphy: I’d like to say, it’s always a good time to start. Wouldn’t it be amazing if the ice cream truck had garden fresh…
Caryn Hartglass: Oh gosh, that truck comes around a little too often and it always comes around during this show and I always put out a silent wish or a wish out loud that one day that truck is going to have these luscious treats made from strawberries and almonds and dates all blended up together. Maybe even adding a little kale in there to give it some nutrients. Nutritious good treats. I can dream. It’s not my theme song, folks.
Stacey Murphy: It’s pretty ironic, but it’s awesome. So I was saying, it’s always a good time to start. Now is a great time to start. So what’s amazing about Mother Nature is that it’s cyclical. And there’s always a fresh start. So you can actually grow indoors even if it’s wintertime and it’s too cold to grow outside. So there’s always something you can grow. So if you really want it, you can make it happen. So let’s say it’s cold outside and nothing is going to grow, you can sprout pea shoots, sunflower shoots, those are super expensive at the store and you can grow them really inexpensively. You can also sprout lentils and some other really interesting things. You can do that indoors in little jars, in little mason jars, and it doesn’t take much time or effort. It takes about ten days total. Sometimes less. Sometimes seven days. So that’s something you can do when it’s cold out. If you have 28 days between now and your first cold snap of the year, you can grow lettuce and radish and spinach and some other things.
Caryn Hartglass: 28 days?
Stacey Murphy: Yeah, 28 days! And then there’s longer maturing crops. Beets are a little bit longer. Tomatoes are a lot longer. They might be more like 60 days to ripening and you really need hot for that. So basically, within growing, there is, people talk about the cold weather crops and the warm weather crops. For people in the tropical regions, there are also hot crops. And so as long as you’re picking crops that are going to mature in a time frame you have available, it’s never too late to grow.
Caryn Hartglass: It’s never too late or too early to grow.
Stacey Murphy: Yeah, that’s true too.
Caryn Hartglass: That’s good so if anybody out there is inspired, you can get started right now.
Stacey Murphy: Yeah.
Caryn Hartglass: And maybe checking out growyourownvegetables.org will help you. It’ll give you an extra kick in the butt.
Stacey Murphy: Yeah, definitely.
Caryn Hartglass: Okay, so let me ask you, have you invented anything on your own in gardening or discovered anything on your own? Or maybe had some kind of garden epiphany?
Stacey Murphy: I would say it’s somewhere in between epiphany and well I’ll just talk about it and we can try to put a word to it.
Caryn Hartglass: Call it what we want.
Stacey Murphy: Yeah. Two things. I mean one is the plants, I talked about this, that we’re communicating with plants and communicating with nature. It’s so incredible when you’re standing in your garden and you realize that the oxygen that you’re exhaling is the, or the carbon dioxide that you’re exhaling is the carbon dioxide that the plants are turning into their food and they’re exhaling oxygen for you. There’s this moment when you’re standing in your garden and you realize the powerful connection that you have to those plants and the amount of wisdom that you can tap into just by watching your plants and how they respond. And using your intuition for what they need. I definitely think that talking to plants and playing music for plants, all of those things that promote those interactions between species are things that the plants feel and that in return, we feel. I don’t think that’s a new idea by any means, I think there’s lots of people studying that, but the moment that you feel it in your body, and you’re realizing that what you’re exhaling is what the plants need, there is a feeling of empowerment that you can do this. That you’ve got it. That you- it doesn’t matter if you know everything in the world, all you really need to know is this connection to this plant. So that’s something that I really want everybody to experience once in their life. It’s a beautiful moment.
Caryn Hartglass: And all you have to do is, what I do for a living, which is breathe.
Stacey Murphy: Exactly, it’s incredible. It’s so powerful. And then you know beyond that, so that, for some people that kind of woo woo, I don’t know about that, I don’t know if I can really feel that in my body. But the science behind it is the other side. So I benefitted from the knowledge of dozens of organic farmers that have come before me. Oh my goodness. Organic farmers are some of the least respected I know in terms of how people value what they do and how they talk about farmers sometimes is sometimes really sad, how they treat farmers. So I learned so much from organic farmers and the thing that makes what I do unique, is that I’m able to communicate a system that farmers have used for years in a really simple way to new gardeners, so that they can take all of that knowledge and basically use it to just crush it in the garden and get tons of food and really simply. And so I credit so many organic farmers that I have worked with because what they have shared with me in terms of the science and the process, I’ve basically taken that and simplified it for the home gardeners. So you’re getting the most up to date research in farming when you work with me.
Caryn Hartglass: Beautiful. Do you have a favorite that comes up out of the ground and always gives you the most joy?
Stacey Murphy: Oh my goodness.
Caryn Hartglass: You love all of your plant children, equally?
Stacey Murphy: I like to think that I love them all equally but if I were to look at my garden right now, I would have to say that it’s always been basil. I mean whenever I garden, it’s everywhere because it’s one of my favorites and there are so many varieties of basil. I happen to be Italian but my favorite variety of basil is tulsi basil, which is, some people call it holy basil from India. And it’s got incredible medicinal qualities. It helps you adapt to stress. It has a sturdier quality to it than the Italian basils and so when you make pesto from it; it’s really like charged. It’s really chewy and has an extra impact in it. I have to say it isn’t present in lighter weight, thin.
Caryn Hartglass: It has more muscle.
Stacey Murphy: Yeah, I love both. Don’t get me wrong, but I have to say basil in general is my favorite. It’s aromatic, it flowers, the bees love it, it’s a pollinator, it produces habitat for beneficial insects. So it does all these wonderful things for your garden and it tastes in tea. It tastes good on top of food.
Caryn Hartglass: Yes, I love basil. I just love smelling it like a bouquet of basil.
Stacey Murphy: Yeah, right?
Caryn Hartglass: It’s fantastic. Yes.
Stacey Murphy: We call that food for the soul.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah. Well I’m so glad you’re doing what you’re doing and helping so many people grow their own vegetables. We need to be doing that as much as we can in every nook and cranny that we can find to grow food. I really believe that. That is so important and to also, as much as we can, take our alliance off Big Ag, the big farms that are growing food in these unsustainable ways, and they’re not growing quality food and they’re poisoning our soils and our water and our air. We need to take that back folks and we do it. We can do it first in our own small spaces.
Stacey Murphy: Yes, and keep in mind, it does not take nearly as much effort, space, or time than you think.
Caryn Hartglass: Okay, we’re going to hold you that Stacey.
Stacey Murphy: Awesome.
Caryn Hartglass: Okay, thank you so much for joining me on It’s All About Food. Everybody visit growyourownvegetables.org. Okay. We have just a minute or two left. And I wanted to tell you next week, we’re going to continue on this theme and I’m bringing back Wildman Steve Brill. He was on this program about seven years ago and he’ll be on the show with his daughter, Violet. And they’ll be talking about edible medicinal wild plants and mushrooms that you can forage plus hands on environmental education for kids. He’s a lot of fun and very knowledgeable and he’s gotten into a bit of trouble too, and that’s always kind of fun to hear about and sometimes we have to take risks when we want to do things that are right. And important and just and good. And you heard it all here. Thank you for joining I’m Caryn Hartglass and you’ve been listening to It’s All About Food and joining me at responsibleeatingandliving.com. Don’t forget to download our free app and have a delicious week.
Transcribed by: Lora, 10/9/2017