Sophia Hasan is the Founder and Owner of Culinary Gardens in Naperville, IL
Almost two years ago, I started seeing more information and Instagram posts on gardens and foodscaping. Up until then, I had been trying on different jobs and nothing really got me excited. I took a leap of faith and registered my own business. I had sworn off entrepreneurship. I had always pictured entrepreneurs as big risk takers and money managers and I knew that wasn't really me. But I have since learned it doesn’t have to be that way. Starting small and growing slowly is what works for me.
I am so glad I followed my gut and just went for it. Something told me this was going to be my thing. I was right. I started my business, Culinary Gardens, in Naperville, Illinois to help busy families incorporate edible plants into their landscaping. With the pandemic, a new awareness has come about regarding food security and has created a new interest in edible gardens and foodscaping.
I have been working with primarily residential clients and hope to expand into outdoor patio spaces for restaurants in the future. My experience has been very rewarding and I am thrilled to see families excited about their gardens and outdoor spaces.
I am a self-taught gardener and have learned through gardening on my own property. I have expanded the areas that I use for foodscaping and have even rented an allotment garden to give me more space. I am always curious and ready to learn more, so I can serve my clients better. My dad was always very interested in gardening and he is my inspiration to continue this very rewarding part of my business. I am forever a student and always learning. There are plants that I have never heard of and will continually be learning. This year, Ground Cherries and Jigsaw Peppers are new plants to me. Trial and error is one way to learn, as well as filling in knowledge gaps by talking to other horticulture experts and taking classes at a local arboretum.
Ways to Build Your Knowledge
I encourage anybody who wants to incorporate foodscaping into their own services to get as much experience as you can. Here are some tips for emerging foodscapers:
Consult local experts. Be curious and reach out to your state agriculture extension or botanic garden to see what workshops, publications, or lectures are available. Ask if they have foodscaping installations in their landscapes. See if there are opportunities to meet their in-house expert on foodscaping to better understand what grows well in your area.
Use your own foodscape for experimentation. Start with planting edible bushes like raspberries and blueberries in your own landscape to understand what they need to thrive in your area. Learn about what varieties grow in your region and about their requirements by talking to your local nursery.
Deepen your knowledge. Some good books are: Foodscaping by Charlie Nardozzi, The Foodscape Revolution: Finding a better way to make room for food and beauty by Brie Arthur and Edible Landscaping by Rosalind Creasy. I recommend The Food Garden Life podcast as well as the Joe the Gardener podcast. He has quite a few episodes on foodscaping that are worth listening to. One of the most inspiring foodscapers around is Christian Douglas!
Contact your state landscape contractor association. See what seminars or talks they offer on foodscaping. This is a growing niche in landscaping and the industry recognizes this. Bring it to their attention!
Start with Site Design, Soil and Water Skills
A few challenges commonly faced are site selection, soil issues and watering. For site selection, residents are unsure where they should add edible plants to blend with their existing landscaping. Site selection factors include sun, accessibility and shadows off tall structures which can all be an impediment to success. Start by clearly identifying your site sectors, or any environmental input that can have an effect on your site.
Soil is a key element that is ignored. People forget to take care of their soil. Compost and organic matter are critical to soil structure and health. PH level is important for all plants but some need slightly more acidity than others, such as blueberries, sweet potatoes, and brussel sprouts. Pool PH testing kits can be used to test soil and as well as two prong soil probes.
Another challenge is watering. There is so much to cover here, but here are a few tips.
I like the finger test method and think it is a great way to see how moist the soil is a little deeper down. Stick your finger in up to your second knuckle to evaluate the moisture level. If the soil feels dry, then go ahead and water. If the soil feels moist, wait a day or two and check again.
I like to water in the morning, when the heat of the day is still hours away. This way the plant isn't going through a temperature shock. Also the foliage will dry from a morning watering which is good. Another trick is water at soil level, not all over the foliage from above. The leaves don’t need a bath (but the roots would like some water please!) Lastly, don’t overwater. When you do this you literally drown the roots. The soil has water pockets and if you overwater, those pockets can become waterlogged and the roots don't get the air they need.
Marketing Your Foodscaping Business
First, you want to build awareness about the foodscaping aspect of your business. Reach out to three local businesses each week. Don’t be afraid to circle back a few weeks later to continue the interaction. Think of your target customer and businesses they may frequent. My list contains local gyms, health food stores, specialty lighting shops, jewelry stores, restaurants, local clothing boutiques, local landscape designers (who don’t do foodscaping) to name a few.
You can also contact local influencers in your area. Make a list and call or email them to introduce yourself and your business. The idea is to build an awareness around your business and help them understand your niche. I have received referrals from a landscape designer and another landscaper has a stack of my cards and he hands them out to people who ask about edible plants/gardening. Don’t go directly to the hard sell. I believe people do business with people they like. Let them know exactly what problem you are solving. I am eliminating the overwhelm and confusion around planting edible plants for my clients. Clear and simple!
Secondly, let your existing clients/email list know about your new services. I use Mailchimp for my newsletter. For about $10 a month, Mailchimp will make your newsletter look professional and help you inform your email list about your new services. Instagram can be linked to your Facebook, so posts on Instagram automatically post on Instagram This makes it easier and less time consuming. Make posts pop visually so they can’t be missed! For websites, Squarespace is being used by many of my colleagues and they have been able to design their own websites. There is nothing wrong with a simple one or two page website. It should include what exactly you do, what problem you are solving for the customer and your complete contact information.
Update your business card to showcase your new services, and add an image to help people make the connection. The good news is that there is very little competition in this industry! Have a simple explanation on foodscaping/edible gardening at your fingertips so you can explain what you do in easy-to-understand language. A landscape designer and several landscapers have told me they don’t do what I do and one of them said she loves my niche! To better understand how much competition there is in your area, Google terms such as foodscaping + your zip code. You will see traditional landscapers pop up and no mention of food or edible plants.
I hand out my business card to almost everyone I meet and mention foodscaping on my business card. People usually ask what I do and this often leads to a great conversation starter!
I also reached out to my local newspaper using their web contact form and TV station to tell them about the unique services I offer. This led to them doing a profile on me and my foodscaping services. I use Canva to create flashy posts and images that I use on social media and even to create gift certificates. With social media being free, you don’t need a press release. You can push the news on social media and on your website. Just do a little bit everyday and before you know it, you will have the busy schedule you wanted. Don’t be surprised when clients come knocking on your door for your foodscaping services!
Sophia Hasan is the Founder and Owner of Culinary Gardens in Naperville, IL
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