Have you ever thought about farming … Your front yard? This week we introduce you to Melanie and Rob, a Woodstock couple who have done just that through their community garden project, Trefoil Gardens.
Finding themselves unable to work unused property in their neighborhood, when a neighbor asked if they would like to put a food garden in their front yard, Melanie and Rob jumped at the chance. Since 2016 they’ve grown to include six additional neighborhood family yards and four additional yards outside of their neighborhood.
Trefoil Gardens currently cultivates 15,000 sqft, serving a 43 member CSA (Community-supported agriculture) with several workshare members. They are proud to be part of the local food community and serve the public in this way. In honor of Earth Day next week, Melanie and Rob share their story along with ways locally sourced food cultivation can thrive during these uncertain times.
What is your origin story?
Melanie: Everything started because our child had food allergies growing up. That changed our life because we started really reading labels and realizing what was in the food products we were buying. That motivated us to go toward healthy eating because when you can’t pronounce half of the ingredients on the package of food that you’re buying, it’s a little bit of a wakeup call.
Rob: During this time, I was working in the ornamental agriculture business doing landscape design and horticulture with a few different companies. I maintained a lot of high-end backyards and became focused on that at our house. We became meticulous about our lawn, it looked like a putting green. Our perennial gardens were gorgeous, but in order to maintain that aesthetic, there were a lot of chemical inputs. We had a little vegetable garden in the back because I grew up with vegetable gardening, but that was toxic too. We were using petrochemicals because that was the way I was taught to do it. We already had the idea that we wanted to make a change, but we definitely weren’t at this point.
How long ago was this?
Rob: Eon was born 20 years ago, so about that time.
Melanie: And then Rob left the industry at about 2007.
Rob: Around the time of the drought.
Melanie: By that time, we had already started growing a little bit and then we started adding things like bees. We had a neighbor who was raising bees and although we didn’t really know him, we always saw his bees in our yard and on our vegetables. Then, all of a sudden, the bees weren’t there anymore.
We weren’t getting the vegetables that we had been because we weren’t getting the pollination, and so we added bees and then we added some chickens. Our idea was that we would make small mistakes before we moved to buy a larger piece of land with a bigger farm. But as we’ve grown older, we sort of decided that we should be growing food where the people are and where it’s needed, and grow a community around it.
I love that.
Melanie: It just sort of evolved. We didn’t really intend for that to happen. What happened was, there are these lots just around the corner and they’ve never been built, about an acre or so. We thought we would start a neighborhood garden there since it wasn’t being used, and by the time we started working it, the owners put for sale signs on it [laughs]. We tried contacting the owner, but we couldn’t come to an agreed price. But one of our neighbors asked, ‘do you want to put a garden in our front yard?’ And we said, ‘yes, we do!’ So that’s where the whole neighborhood thing started. It all started by saying ‘yes’ to an opportunity.
Are you looking to expand outside of your neighborhood?
Melanie: Our hopes are to stay inside our neighborhood and teach other people how to do what we’re doing in their own neighborhoods.
Rob: Our average garden is about 1,000 sqft. In a lot of ways, it’s a home-scale vegetable garden. But we aggregate everything together so that we can have enough for everybody in the neighborhood, at least for the 30 or so crops we are able to grow.
There is a huge advantage to staying local. With the effect of Covid-19, supply chain issues are going to get worse before they get better, and it will continue to affect basic human needs like food. Local gardens and food CoOps can sustain and help insulate our communities from many potential shortages. Everyone who has space and time should figure out some way to grow something and start now. Find a garden guru and start following them on YouTube. It really doesn’t matter where you start, we just all need to connect a seed or plant to our plate as directly as possible. There are a couple of us around who are working to protect our local supply economy (you can find many of them listed on Downtown Woodstock’s Facebook page).
Do you do offer classes or teach?
Rob: We have done a few workshops over the years, and I’m also an adjunct instructor at Chattahoochee Tech in the horticulture program. I’ve been able to help develop their sustainable urban agriculture certificate program and I’m the instructor for the Organic Agriculture course at Kennesaw State in their culinary sustainability hospitality program. The farm that supported that program is turning into a research facility for the science wing of the university.
What can the community do to connect with you?
Rob: We have a workshare program, where folks can trade time, instead of land space, for CoOp membership. We’re a lot more informal about it right now than we have been, but we are really still looking for people who want to partner with us and stick it outgrow through a couple of seasons and learn with us.
Rob: Yes, follow our social media so you can stay connected with what we are doing.
Melanie: The direction we are going into is creating a community space. We are building a corner garden in our neighborhood that’s going to be more of a community space for people to gather and for workshops to be held as we grow. And we hope to expand our workshop offering so there’s more chance for the community to participate.
Do you sell any products?
With Covid-19, we have moved to a 100% online store where we offer a weekly open enrollment CSA basket that is ½ price to EBT users. We have also begun helping our friends who have lost their restaurant sales to get the crops and products like honey, eggs, mushrooms, and grits into the hands of eager locals. Right now, it’s a bunch of lifelines to everyone, which will hopefully make a net.
We’re increasing our medicinal herb growth and we try to integrate them into our existing garden. We have an herbal product line of tinctures, teas, and syrups. All of our tinctures were either foraged or grown here in Woodstock. For us, that’s important because it’s bioregional. We call them our ‘plant allies’ because they can work naturally with the bodily stresses that we go through in this environment. We grow our own plants for our tea, harvest it, and blend it all here in Woodstock.
Where does the name Trefoil Gardens come from?
Melanie: There are three of us in our family. Also, we wanted to cover three kingdoms of flora, fauna, and fungi.
How long have you lived or worked in Woodstock?
Melanie: We moved here 20 years ago. Right after we bought our house the Reeves House went up for sale and we really wanted to buy it. It was $94,000, but at the time we still couldn’t afford it. We thought it would be great to have a garden in the back and restore it, put a coffeehouse there.
Rob: It was a one-lane dirt driveway going to it at that point, and I was like, ‘there ain’t nothing happening in Woodstock!’ [both laugh]
What is your favorite restaurant in Woodstock, and what do you love there?
Rob: Our own kitchen because that’s where our life is right now.
Melanie: We typically won’t spend money on what we can make at home. So, it would have to be really hard to make.
Rob: We’ll go out for sushi, we’ll go out to Korean BBQ. We like KPOP BBQ & Bar. The thing I like about KPOP is, I grew up my mom cooking and when you walk into her house she would be sure that you were well-fed. KPOP has a similar feel because it’s all-you-can-eat and they come to the table, and they just keep it coming.
Who would you like to see nominated as a Face of Woodstock?
Melanie: Master Gardener and Farm Bureau member Liz Porter of Buckeye Creek. She has been so supportive and she’s fantastic at seeing somebody and pulling them in and helping them out and clicking them into community. For us, she’s been a huge blessing.
If you could travel anywhere in the world right now if Covid-19 was not an issue, where would it be?
Rob: I loved Kauai. We were there for ten days and for part of that vacation I had a 102-degree fever and did not know it because I was just so blissed out. I just loved being there and if I got back there, I would probably never leave.
Melanie: I would go to Paris for six months. I went with my mom in ’98 and we stayed in a little flat that was maybe 100 sqft and we stayed for a week or so, but it wasn’t long enough. I would visit all the galleries and take my time so I wouldn’t feel rushed or like a tourist.
What is your favorite movie OR what is the first movie you remember seeing in a theater?
Melanie: Pete’s Dragon was my first movie, and then I wanted a dragon [laughs].
Rob: I saw American Graffiti when I was way too young for it. I think my parents were trying to have a date night and couldn’t get a babysitter or something but I wound up there with them, and the séance scene on the beach? I got so scared and was crying and screaming and they had to leave the theater.
What advice would you give a crowd of people?
Melanie: I would say love one another. It sounds simple, but it’s not always easy. We all have our differences and we all move in different ways, but there’s still room for love and it’s what we all need.
Rob, do you have anything to add?
Rob: [to Melanie] You’re beautiful. I love you.
Melanie: I love you, too. [Both laugh]
What is something on your bucket list?
Melanie: Ideally, we keep converting lawns into food, make food accessible, and I really hope to become well-versed enough in herbal medicine to bring that knowledge back to the people.
What is your favorite music/ three bands you would like to see (dead or alive)?
Rob: The band I would like to see is Meatloaf in his prime and I want to be front row center covered in spit and sweat [laughs].
Melanie: I love live bands because there’s so much positive energy. I really like the smaller event green performances in downtown Woodstock.
What current / former local business makes you the most nostalgic about Woodstock?
Melanie: I’m nostalgic about Tea Leaves & Thyme. When Eon was little I used to go there on my own just to have some time to myself. And also, Woodstock Coffeehouse. It used to be where Vingenzo’s is now.
Rob: We’ve been here for twenty years and a lot has changed since then, but not Morgan’s Ace Hardware. It seems like a lot of hardware stores are turning into giftshops these days, so there’s a whole different feel to them. But I love hitting an old hardware store.
Choosing anyone alive and a non-relative: with whom would you love to have lunch? Why? Where in Woodstock would you have lunch?
Melanie: We decided we would really like the Dalai Lama and Noam Chomsky because the Dalai Lama is one of the most joy-filled people, and Noam Chomsky is one of the most intellectually diverse people. I think it would be fantastic to have them together.
Rob: I’m not sure we would get a word in edgewise.
Melanie: But we would have so much fun! I think I would get the cheese pizza appetizer from Partners II and bring them to the event green and have a picnic on the stage, and then we’d get some pie from Pie Bar.
What is your favorite thing or something unique about Woodstock?
Rob: There’s so much space here for interaction across socioeconomic boundaries, with the trails, shared space at The Circuit, and in our neighborhood. There’s a real authentic cross-culture here, and we want to make sure we protect that, honor that, and lift that up.
Where do you see yourself in 5 or 10 years?
Rob: The same place I’ll be next week – pushing a wheelbarrow around the neighborhood barefooted.
Melanie: I’ll be in my little herb garden.
Rob: We’ve got some goals that we talk about on our website, but I think ultimately, my hope is that we’re built out to sufficiently provide food at least to the families that are living in our neighborhood. It will take more of our neighbors being engaged to do that because we’ve only got so much available land in the yards that we’re gardening right now.
How many yards do you have?
We have one- ours. The rest of the gardens we manage belong to our neighbors. Right now, we manage gardens on eight neighborhood lots and two others that are remote. We are trying to create a diversity of regular market crops as well as small fruits and even some nut trees, and we’re moving into a lot of herbs and perennials as well. So, it’s a broad and diverse but more stable plant portfolio that we’re working toward. Right now, it’s a lot of market crops, a lot of salads that we’re growing.
Even for friends or family, what is something interesting that most people don’t know about you?
Rob: We were building a treehouse in the backyard and I fell and bumped my head pretty hard.
Melanie: He was walking across a joist and the board that he was walking on slipped and he went forward, so all of his weight and all of that momentum and the hundred pounds or so he was carrying, went on his head.
Rob: That was pretty impactful in our household, Melanie and Eon having to navigate me learning how to be a human being again. I’ve been getting back to who I was before the injury. I’ve been using Lion’s Mane mushrooms to help with that. I couldn’t tell the difference when I first started taking it, but my family could. These days I can tell the difference.
Melanie: Sometimes going out or being in large crowds can be overstimulating for me. I love live music because I can be anonymous. I generally avoid going to market though because it can be overwhelming to have that attention directed toward me.
What three words or phrases come to mind when you think of the word HOME?
Melanie: Food, family, and comfort.
Rob: I couldn’t offer a better answer than that.
If you had a full-time staff member that was fully paid for, who would you choose? Chef, Housekeeper, Driver, Coach, Physical Fitness Trainer, or Nanny?
Melanie: Hands down, we don’t even have to think about it.