Food quality, investigation into labeling, Non GMO, organic foods, plant-based diets, food insecurity, sustainability, the environment—in recent years, these issues have become ever-more important for the health and well-being of the public becoming ever-more aware of informed choices for their lives and the lives of their families.
Personally, I have always been acutely aware of growing food. I had the good fortune to be raised in an extended family with my maternal Northern Italian grandparents. Their inclination to garden and preserve harvests brought everything from five varieties of apples grafted to one large backyard tree to fried, battered zucchini flowers. My paternal grandfather was a Southern Italian immigrant farmer who, with his brothers, successfully worked acres of land in New Jersey, and other states to bring fresh vegetables to Brooklyn markets during The Great Depression. The experience of living for over 10 years in Italy also brought me closer to a personal philosophy of living in harmony with Nature. So, it might be said that I have a natural inclination towards garden and a Mediterranean diet. Admittedly though, I do need help!
One day last year, I received a mailing that was beautifully designed. It offered information and help in organic garden planning. Intrigued, I tucked it away until after the beginning of the new year. I called to set up a spring appointment with Agatha Martello, Organic Landscape Designer for More Than Gardens http://www.morethangardens.com. We met in Mid-March before the coronavirus crisis to discuss the possibilities of growing more organic vegetables in my perimeter garden surrounding my little Long Island home.
Originally from Brazil, Agatha is a vibrant young woman, principled in sustainability in the environment. With her help, we planned the space and two weeks ago, she and her team structured everything. Now we wait for Nature to take hold.
As we talked about gardening plans, Agatha shared her visions for sustainability and her beliefs for environmental justice. I was pleased to understand that this is not just a job for Agatha and her company, but rather a passion-filled vocation. Here I share her vision, ideas and her advocacy/activism for Long Island and the greater NYC communities.
-How did you begin in this field and the company?
The company was born from a dream of a life in harmony with nature. I am from a generation that grew up already watching the effects of human impact on our planet and out of concern I felt compelled to take action. This led me to pursue university study as a nature scientist to learn the ways I could affect positive change for the Earth.
In school, I worked with public spaces and plant ecology learning about the relationship between humans and the environment surrounding us. I then understood that we are not disconnected at all. My thesis for graduation showed the interaction among humans and the public squares in their neighborhoods. I found it amazing how people would actually use that public space as their own to grow plants that they would use for food and medicine. Those spaces were taken care of by the community because they were so important for their food diversity and very often for their food security as well.
-What led you to the United States and what were your first experiences here like?
I came to the U.S as soon as I graduated so I would have one year of “abroad” experience but my plans of coming back changed when I met and fell in love with (my now husband) Matthew. It was hard for me to find my place among the science options in NY with a foreign diploma, so I started working for a big nursery in Suffolk county. That’s when I learned about the horticulture industry on Long Island and its great potential. After a season in the nursery, I started working for a traditional landscaping company to get field experience, but even though I was super happy and growing fast in the company, the traditional practices weren’t aligned with my goals of land regeneration. I stayed there for 3 years until I felt prepared enough to leave and form my own Organic Landscaping Company.
–So as young entrepreneurs, how did you and your husband develop the business?
My husband and I started filing the paperwork but things really started happening when I joined in partnership with Livia Kelly. Livia has a great spirit of entrepreneurship and is our Vice President, Kevin, her husband, is our Project Manager, Matt takes care of Marketing and I am the President and Head Organic Gardener.
–What makes MoreThanGardens unique as an environmentally-sound business?
Our landscapes are different because our regenerative and organic practice goes beyond what the eyes can see. It considers the garden in its microenvironment as well as the impact that it can bring collectively alongside the neighboring gardens to the environment as a whole. It works towards fixing back nitrogen into the soil; reversing climate change; rainwater filtering and absorption to avoid floods and pollution; animal and plant species conservation and many other regenerative goals. We follow the principles of causing no harm to the environment, to our clients, to our employees, and to ourselves, all while proving a beautiful green area where people and nature can reconnect in peace.
-What kind of services do you offer your clients?
We work with many of our clients who grow food and medicine in their backyards, community plots, and even in their apartments. They have been finding many benefits from growing their own food: that’s not only much more delicious and nutritious than store-bought produce; it also gives them a beautiful area of interest in their yard. And for those who actually share garden care with us, they get to enjoy some time outdoors as well as a pleasantly distracting physical activity.
Since food security has become an important topic in times of coronavirus, having a space to grow your own food has become a huge help to some families that don’t have easy access to fresh produce.
In urban areas, where space is limited, community gardens are being used in neighborhoods and private communities, providing food for many families in every single plot. Practices of timeshare are being used to encourage social distancing so these spaces can still be used safely.
-Do you have any ideas on how organic gardening can best benefit communities?
We believe that many more of these community gardens should be built so people could have access to free fresh organic food. There are innumerable public grass-only areas that would be perfect for a community garden serving no one. These spaces could be schools, parks, squares… and if community gardens were to exist, it would benefit not only the surrounding neighborhood families but the positive environmental impact would also be great.
For the past two years in late winter and early spring, we have been writing letters to different schools offering our services for free to create an organic garden on their premises but unfortunately, we haven’t had any answers yet. Hopefully, we will make enough connections and will start making that dream into reality.
For now, we continue to educate our clients and our online followers about regenerative landscaping practices and organic gardening. We hope to grow our audience and spread the word about the principles of harmony with nature.
-How can people or organizations contact you for more information?
We offer services of remote garden consulting, indoor and outdoor landscaping and a complete list of our services can be found at www.morethangardens.com. Our Instagram is @morethangardens or you can also get in touch with us via email firstname.lastname@example.org