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Farmer of the Week: Matt Schwaiger

by on November 27, 2012

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We’re please to introduce you to Matt Schwaiger, the garden manager at The Ashram, an oasis in the Santa Monica mountains that is a health and wellness yoga retreat center. He and his father, Steve, maintain the entire bountiful garden themselves.  This amazing 3/4 acre garden provides seasonal organic vegetables and greens to the Ashram’s guests.  The retreat offers an all vegetarian menu, mostly raw, so fresh vegetables are essential.  Not only do they provide food for the guests, but Matt’s personal goal is to show guests gardening options for their home garden. Like UrbanFig, he wants to show others that growing your own vegetables is possible!

Before getting involved with gardening, Matt studied to become a teacher at a university and he also does some old school pinstriping as a hobby.  He’s a very proud father of a 14 month old daughter, Soleil, the sunshine of his life.

NUMBER OF YEARS URBAN GARDENING:
2

FAVORITE THINGS TO GROW:
Lettuce, Pequin peppers (little green and hot), tomatoes, all of them really!

URBAN FARMING LOCATION:
The Ashram: Calabasas Hills, Santa Monica Mountains, California.

GARDENING ADVICE:
Enjoy your garden, don’t always work it.  Get a table, some burlap for table cloth, a bottle of wine, pick a fresh bowl of lettuce and have a meal right in the middle of the garden.

YOUR OWN GARDENING TIPS AND TRICKS:
Use the earths soil!  The earth has been working on its soil composition for tens of thousands of years.  Those minerals can’t just be reproduced in bagged dirt. But the clay must be amended to aid in proper drainage.  Bagged dirt just doesn’t have the time invested in its soil composition to be self-sustaining.  Always mix a little of the earth’s dirt with purchased potting soil.

WHY DID YOU FIRST START GROWING YOUR OWN ORGANIC FOOD?
I began growing vegetables as a means to support my family.  But now, I am one of those people who’s  lucky enough to get to play and  enjoy my job.  I am very fortunate to do what I do.

WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE THING TO PREPARE OUT OF THE GARDEN?
Probably  a caprese  salad (click here for recipe) and a raw kale salad (click here for recipe.)

WHO TAUGHT YOU HOW TO GARDEN (OR HOW DID YOU LEARN)?
I’m mostly self-taught, but my Dad taught me as well. We work almost full-time in the garden so it is really a collaboration .  We both read books and use the Internet.  He recently became a Master Gardener for Ventura county.  Through his schooling we learned a lot.  But really just spending time in the garden is how we learn the most.

WHAT ADVICE DO YOU HAVE FOR BEGINNER GARDENERS?
Prepare your dirt first, then plan your water system and then buy your plants.  Otherwise you will rush the dirt preparation and water system.  Also, when you buy plants at a nursery they are babies (hence the name nursery), be gentle and let them acclimate to your garden.

HOW MANY HOURS PER WEEK DO YOU SPEND IN THE GARDEN?
Upwards of 35+hrs/wk.

HOW MUCH SPACE ARE YOU USING TO GROW YOUR OWN FOOD (IN SQUARE FEET)?
Just under an acre

DO YOU USE RAISED BEDS, CONTAINERS, THE GROUND OR A COMBINATION OF SOME?
We have just about every possible growing method.Raised beds made from reclaimed fence, raised beds from new lumber, straight in the ground along with mounted rows.

WHAT IS YOUR BIGGEST CHALLENGE IN THE GARDEN?
Weather extremes.  We are in the bottom of a canyon that freezes hard in the winter and have 100+ temp in the summer.

WHAT ARE YOU GROWING RIGHT NOW?
Red bell pepper, the last of our zucchini, chives, basil,  and we just planted arugula and lettuces.

HOW HAS GROWING YOUR OWN ORGANIC FOOD AFFECTED OR CHANGED YOUR LIFE?
I really have noticed a difference in taste.  Just about everyone who eats from our garden talks about how their vegetables taste like vegetables.  I am sure it’s nothing I did, but merely the fact that freshly picked organic vegetables that are served right away are going to taste amazing. I love giving my daughter vegetables I know are as pure and healthy as possible.

WHY DO YOU THINK IT´S IMPORTANT THAT PEOPLE GROW THEIR OWN FOOD?
I think there are so many answers to this question.  So I will pick three…

HEALTH:  Today there is no telling what is done to our food before we buy it.
HAPPINESS: Growing your own food is so fun and rewarding.  It is the best feeling to eat a whole meal or at least a dish that was made completely from your own garden
SIMPLICITY: Gardening is one of the simplest things you can do. Just take seeds, plant in the dirt, add water and sun and there you have it!! I know it is not always that simple but it is a good start.

WHAT IS YOUR MOST FAVORITE THING ABOUT GARDENING?
Working hard with my hands, working alongside my Dad, and harvesting the bounty.

ANY GARDENING “TRADE SECRETS” THAT YOU´D LIKE TO SHARE?
Don’t water too little or too much and use well-drained soil, whatever that means…

OTHER THOUGHTS OR COMMENTS
Learn about your personal garden space.  Spend the money and get a soil test.  It’s really the only way to know where your soil is at.  Build your garden to be an oasis, one where you and your family want to be.  Teach your children about food and where it comes from.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Eric Weiss November 28, 2012 at 9:15 AM

Congratulations on farmer of the week, well deserved. I was very impressed with the work you and your Dad are doing at the Ashram garden.

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Karen Harrington November 28, 2012 at 3:47 PM

So proud of you Schwaiger boys!! Would love to come see your garden. Love you, Karen

Reply

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