Wednesday, May 15, 2013

The Horticultural Society of NY Hosts 3rd Annual Urban Ag Conference: Reception, Talks & Urban Farm Visits

Brooklyn Grange Rooftop Farm, Queens, NY © Anastasia Plakias

The road from the farm to the plate meets at the crossroads of The Hort. Starting tonight through Friday's tours of local urban farms, this is THE place to be to learn about our connections to our food.

See you at the Hort!

The Horticultural Society of New York (The Hort) Hossts the Third Annual Urban Agriculture Conference (UAC)

Visit NYC Urban Farms Hear International Speakers

Field tours include Brooklyn Grange rooftop farms, Randall’s Island Farm and the beehives and garden atop the Waldorf Astoria; discussions will highlight known food movement leaders.

From Wednesday, May 15 through Friday, May 17, The Horticultural Society of New York (The Hort) will present its third annual and largest ever Urban Agricultural Conference (UAC).

The UAC will open with an evening reception and work-in-progress screening of “Growing Cities,” a documentary that examines the role of urban farming urban farming in America and its power to revitalize cities and change the way we eat. 
The following morning, Thursday, May 16th, keynote speaker Manhattan Borough President Scott M. Stringer will kick-off a day of innovative panel discussions and lectures led by some of the most prominent organizations and individuals in the movement.

 “The Hort has been committed to urban gardening for over 100 years, yet the focus has evolved and expanded with changing social and environmental issues, says The Hort’s Director of Horticulture and Public Programs George Pisegna. “With 80% of all people living in cities, we need to increase awareness of food sovereignty and food deserts food and discover ways that food production in urban environments can emerge as a prominent and viable alternative,” George Pisegna, The Hort.

On the final day, conference participants will visit farms in Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Queens.  Among the sites to be visited are Brooklyn Grange (in the Brooklyn Navy Yard), a 65,000 sq ft rooftop farm hovering eleven stories over the East River; Eagle Street Rooftop Farm, the nation’s first commercial rooftop farm; Randall’s Island Park Farm, NYC’s only working rice paddy operation; Window Farms in the Global Kitchen Exhibition at the Natural History Museum; the Waldorf Astoria kitchen garden and beehives; and Battery Urban Farm at the southern tip of Manhattan.

“Growing Cities” filmmaker Dan Susman notes, “Urban farming connects people to their food, strengthens communities, creates jobs, revitalizes blighted areas. It allows us to reimagine what’s possible in cities. It challenges us to get beyond the urban/rural divide — to really think about how we can all be producers in a society driven by consumption.”

UAC panelist, Carolyn Dimitri of NYU, an applied economist with expertise in food systems and food policy who is studying urban agriculture in 15 US cities says, “In a city like New York… urban farms are a reminder, or perhaps an awakening … that our food does come from the tending of soil and seeds, and not the supermarket.” She notes though that solutions are not easy: “One concern I have is that we are asking too much of urban agriculture. Is urban agriculture the panacea for our urban food problems, such as uneven food access and poor health? And is it possible for our urban farmers to make a living, tending the soil in our cities?” These questions, and more, will be explored over three days.

Wednesday, May 15 – Opening reception and work-in-progress screening of Growing Cities at Brooklyn Lyceum, 6 pm to 8:30 pm
Here is the trailer:

Thursday, May 16 – Panel discussions at NYU Kimmel Center, 9 am to 4 pm.

Friday, May 17 – Field tours of urban farms in Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Queens, 10 am to 4 pm.

For a complete agenda of the UAC, visit:

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Kitchen Garden: Grow Your Own - Interview on healthy eating with the Asbury Park Press

Here is a copy of an interview with me, written by Laura Martin, from the Garden State's Asbury Park Press.

The print version has a number of delicious, healthy, fruits and vegetable and how-to hands-on gardening images. 

The online version has a few too.

Here is the link to the full story.  

I pasted a copy of news below.

Laura is a great writer - and captured the excitement of growing your own food. 

Thank you so much, Laura.

Enjoy the story and then get out there and start growing your own kitchen garden! 

Kitchen garden: grow your own
Now is the time to start growing your healthy lifestyle at home
Looking to eat better? It is time to embrace the “garden” part of living in the Garden State, says Leeann Lavin of Atlantic Highlands.
“New Jersey’s corn, blueberries, tomatoes, peaches and cherries are famous all over the culinary world,” says Lavin, who owns the garden-design company Duchess Designs. “It is called the Garden State for a reason, and we’ve gotten too far away from that.”
It is simple, convenient and healthy to grow fruits and vegetables right in the backyard, says Lavin, also a resident of New York. Lavin recently published the book “The Hamptons & Long Island Homegrown Cookbook,” which highlights the connections between the dining, gardening and farming industries.
“The biggest reason to (grow an edible garden) is taste. Most foods sold in stores are grown for transport, not taste,” Lavin says. “Plus, there is an excitement and thrill in growing your own food. It can be very empowering.”
Want to give it a shot? Lavin shares her tips for creating a “kitchen garden” that can provide fun and food for the whole family.
What to start with: New Jersey has great soil for growing a variety of fruits, vegetables and herbs, she says. Radishes, peppers and peas are easy-to-grow spring edible plants, while tomatoes, lettuce, corn, peppers, melons and berries work great in the summer, she says. For those planting right now, it is best to start with container gardening inside, then transfer the plants outside after Mother’s Day (May 12).
No yard needed: For people who live in an urban environment or those looking for a simpler way to grow food, container gardening during any season can work great for vegetables, fruits and herbs, Lavin says.
Get the family involved: Giving the garden a fun food theme like “pizza,” will get kids excited to help out, she says. A pizza garden could feature garlic, tomatoes, oregano and basil.
“Children love to get their hands in the soil,” Lavin says. “It is a great way for parents and grandparents to engage with the child. They learn a lifetime of healthier eating knowing where their food comes from.”
Try new things: Many beginner gardeners mistakenly believe they don’t have the space for the items they want to grow, she says. But many fruits and vegetables come in multiple sizes and varieties.
“Look at seed catalogs,” Lavin says. “A garden store may only have one kind of tomato that is too big for your garden, but if you check with a seed company or online, the varieties are limitless.”
Stay local: Plants grown locally will flourish better, says Lavin, and they have a smaller carbon footprint. If you are buying a plant, ask where it is grown,” she says.
Ward off animals: Critters may be tempted to chow down on an edible garden, so consider putting a small fence around it or installing a sprinkler that is motion activated. Mirrored pinwheels placed around the garden also can scare away animals looking to eat plants.
Just try it: “When people look at gardening, they have a fear of it because they are afraid they will mess up, but when you see that first seedling come up, there is such a joy in it,” Lavin says.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Repairing Damage to Plants & Garden Post Sandy Interview in Two River Times

I can't believe I neglected to share this news story interview with The Two River Times.  I was so busy with preparing for my talk on How to Design a Kitchen Garden - and garden design work...

The work of post-Sandy garden and plant care is important.  
With spring, we can more earnestly and aggressively provide remedial care and love to restore and improve our gardens.

Enjoy the news interview.  

By Michele J. Kuhn
The battering of area properties by Super Storm Sandy has not been just to beaches, buildings, cars and boats. Gardens, plants, trees and shrubs have certainly been impacted too.
H&G-PLANTS14.12“I think everyone and everything has been so astonishingly devastated,” said Leeann Lavin, a garden and landscape designer and owner of Duchess Designs in Atlantic Highlands. “For some of my clients, their garden was just gone. We walked into the yard … and it was as if Sandy – and Athena after it – just sort of mowed off the side of the earth.”
Since shortly after the Oct. 29 storm, Lavin has been helping her clients work through the things they need to do to help ensure their landscaping and gardens will return to their former beauty.
“I think the first thing is assessing what has happened,” she said. “Even last fall, right after the storm, I went to my clients to see and assess what the damage was… As soon as we could, we started with a seven-part cleanup plan that I put together.
“It’s kind of curious – here are all these tradesman going in to do the kitchen and the flooring to redo the house and then they look at us and say, ‘You know, I never heard about the plants.’ I say, ‘Look at the investment that the homeowners put into the landscaping.’ Plus these are alive, they are living things, they aren’t like a chair.”
Clearing the debris and sea grass that was deposited on clients’ property was the first order. Washing vegetation with clear water to clean off the salt came next. She then worked the soil with gypsum to counteract the salt, added lime to correct the pH plus an organic soil nutrient and then soil enriched with horse manure to help restore the earth. She also mulched.
“I think it’s really important for everyone to test the soil,” she said. Soil testing kits are available at many hardware and garden stores. Rutgers University also runs a soil-testing laboratory and kits are available from county cooperative extension offices or forms may be downloaded from the lab’s website at
Another problem Lavin has been dealing with is restoring vegetation that has become compromised by pathogens because of the storm. A lot of shrubs have been impacted, “especially you’ll see the devastation around holly. A lot has this Indian wax scale on them … You’ll see this around. A lot of pathogens have set in,” Lavin said.
H&G-PLANTS2-4.12The garden designer recommends that, as she has done for her clients, area gardeners wash their plants, if they haven’t already done it, and add gypsum to the soil. “It can’t hurt it,” she said. Then work to repair and nourish the soil after having it tested to determine what it needs.
“In horticulture circles, people often say, ‘If you feed the soil, the soil will feed the plants.’ If you do little else, if you get the soil right, the plants have a better chance.
“The other thing that is really, really important is that trees have been devastated.”
Some trees were damaged by utility companies cutting branches – she believes strongly in putting utility lines underground. Trees must be properly pruned, she said.
“I think we have a disregard for our trees; we don’t take care of them. Sometimes people say to me, ‘I can’t really afford to take care of them.’ I say, ‘If you don’t do that, you will pay somewhere down the line with higher heating or cooling costs or perhaps the tree will fall on a house’ … Much of the devastation was caused by trees falling on houses. The trees were not taken care of,” Lavin said.
“I look at gardens as not only art but as outdoor living,” she said. “If you are going to be living out there, you really need to treat the outdoor garden room as an extension of the home.”
She recommends gardeners look at the use of “good, native plants” and prune trees and shrubs during the next few weeks.
“I will be focusing, now going forward, to do an inventory and see what has survived the winter and see what is good,” she said. “I’ll make up lists … and see what can we do for the plants to help them help us.”
Lavin also favors gardens that can feed the gardener. “In general, I think we need to grow more edibles,” she said. “People have gotten away from growing their own food but it makes a difference to your health.”
She also is one of the many area residents who are happy to see spring return.
“Plants are resilient and hopefully, after the storms and the long, dark winter, everyone will now be looking for the spring and color and a happy time,” she said.
Leeann Lavin
Leeann Lavin
Lavin, who works in the New Jersey, New York and Long Island area, describes her work as “artful designs” that feature native plants. She has worked at the New York Botanical Garden in the Bronx and the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. She is a painter – working in watercolors – and a writer of food and drink and is the author of the book The Hamptons & Long Island Homegrown Cookbook.
She will be appearing 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, April 17, at the Strauss Mansion, 27 Prospect Circle, for the Atlantic Highlands Historical Society to give a talk about how to create a kitchen garden.
Link to Two River Times online news post:

My Comment:

Thank you so very much for covering this important subject of post-Sandy garden repair. We love our Garden State gardens :) and they need all the love and smart care we can give them. They will reward us – in spades…
And thank you for the news announcement for the Atlantic Highlands Historical Society last Wed. The talk about How to Design Kitchen Gardens – and about my book, The Hamptons & Long Island Homegrown Cookbook, was so successful – and I know you played a big part in alerting the interested, friendly audience – who were most keen to grow and eat fruits, herbs and vegetables grown for taste – not transport! Delicious, Garden State homegrown food is the ultimate luxury!
And to clarify please, my email is
Thank you again.
The Homegrown Cookbook can be purchased at River Road Books in Fair Haven or online: (and let me know – I will autograph :)