Lisa Kennedy: Adelaidean on a quest to grow her own food
Imagine being able to pluck fresh, tasty, and pesticide-free vegetables from your garden and using them to prepare delicious and healthy meals every day! Lisa Kennedy, an internal medicine doctor and an organic food enthusiast is living that dream. The 33-year-old, an avid gardener since her early twenties, grows her own veggies and is aiming to be self-sufficient in vegetables and fruits production by the end of the year. Her persistence and determination have seen her garden produce an array of vegetables including kale, beans, tomatoes, and spinach, among others. And, this, she says, is only the beginning.
Being a doctor and a mother altered Lisa’s perspective towards food production and consumption greatly. “I work in the Endocrine department of a local tertiary hospital and my passion for producing fresh organic produce complements my values as a doctor. I believe that consuming fresh local veggies can do wonders for our health and the benefits of gardening itself - physical fitness, psychological well-being, exposure to vitamin D - are also numerous,” says Lisa.
As a mother, Lisa feels she has a responsibility to create a food environment that's nature-friendly and uses minimal chemicals. “We try to stick to a plant-based diet at home, and we are striving to – at least by year end - be self-sufficient in fruits and vegetable production. We want to reduce our burden on the environment by being less reliant on agriculture, and reap the immense nutritional benefits of homegrown veggies,” she adds.
A long journey
Lisa’s gardening journey has been a long one. “I started experimenting with vegetable gardening in medical school - almost ten years ago. I was living in various rentals and was trying to grow vegetables in ridiculously small crevices on the property or in pots - wherever I could find a patch of dirt. But I didn’t find much success there,” says Lisa.
It is a different story today. Lisa’ s home in Mitcham houses – depending on the season – a variety of produce, including lemons, tomatoes, chillies, kale, brussels sprouts, and beans, among others. “My garden is not very big and I mostly work with raised beds. I have 10 beds (about 1.5m x1.5m, some not in ideally sunlit areas, so only about seven of these are productive), plus a few smaller additional areas where I sew straight into the ground,” she explains. Lisa also has fruit and nut trees around the house that are quite old, but still productive.
Currently, with cooler months on its way, Lisa is all set to produce autumn and winter veggies. “In the garden at the moment we are in autumn coming into winter phase, so the veggies I have growing in there are the ones that will produce in late autumn/winter, or grow slowly over winter and produce in spring. I have extensive crops of peas and broad beans which are too easy to grow, and I would recommend these to anyone looking to grow winter veggies but is unable to invest too much labour and time,” says Lisa.
“The other winter veggies I am growing take a little bit more effort because they require protection from slugs and caterpillars; kale, chard, beetroot, mustard greens, carrots, broccoli, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts,” she adds.
To create a seasonal vegetable garden, Lisa says, it's important to know which season you are in and which veggies will grow well. “For example, in spring summer you could plant your tomatoes, cucumbers, pumpkins, zucchini, eggplant, capsicum - all the colourful showstoppers. Autumn/winter, on the other hand, is the best time to plant root veggies like carrots, beets, potatoes, onions and garlic,” she explains.
“However, common principles apply - if you are creating a vegetable garden from scratch, you need to understand the basic requirements of your plants, which is moisture, sunlight, and a quality growing medium - the hardest and most contentious bit. If you are growing vegetables on raised beds as I have mostly done, you are fortunate to be able to have control over the growing medium with which you fill your raised beds. A combination of potting mix and compost is an easy and reasonable starting point. Then keep your soil moist, plant your seedlings (or seeds if you're feeling extra adventurous) and enjoy the journey,” she adds.
Being a busy professional stops Lisa from being too pedantic about garden care. “I accept a degree of weeds, pest damage and weather variations. The time is taken to tend to my garden differs, and more time equates more results. However, with the knowledge I'm gaining, I aim to develop and share a method of very low maintenance gardening, which I believe is achievable. At the moment, I'd estimate I'm putting in about three hours work per week. I wish I could spend more time! I enjoy the time spent in pottering around the garden and gazing lovingly at my plant babies,” says Lisa.
The numerous advantages
Encouraging those with gardens to give growing veggies a try, Lisa enumerates the immense benefits of having a vegetable garden.
“As a doctor, I'd rather my patients ate store-bought veggies than none. However, non-organic store bought veggies are treated with pesticides which are unhealthy and are less nutritionally dense than organic. Also, it takes a lot of land and water to produce them,” says Lisa.
She adds, “I think if you are in a position where it is possible for you to grow veggies at home, and take the burden off the agricultural industry, then you are almost obligated. There is so much urban space that could be utilised to feed us. If you are too busy at this point in your life to grow food, the alternative is buying local and organic produce from the farmers market.”
Before creating the garden, Lisa undertook intense research to understand the nuances of creating and maintaining a healthy vegetable garden.
“The research sources I have referred to over the years have been diverse. There are a lot of amazing YouTubers I listened to, who trade some invaluable insights. I am also a member of Diggers Club and have attended some of their workshops at the Adelaide Botanic Gardens. Another amazing Facebook group called Earth Gardeners comprising the most authentic, helpful and generous bunch of people have been of great help. There’s no gardening question of mine that this community hasn’t been able or was willing to answer,” she says.
“But as I am very stubborn and impatient, unfortunately, most of my learning has been by way of many, many, many, many, dumb mistakes!” adds Lisa with a chuckle.
Lisa’s passion for organic vegetable gardening has its roots in the many wonderful days she spent as a child on their msall veggies patch with her father. “My dad always encouraged me to work on the veggies patch, and I loved it! His parents were amazing gardeners, and I have delicious childhood memories of picking fresh sweet cherry tomatoes off the vine, biting into the warm juicy peaches off the tree, and looking after huge pots of lush herbs like parsley and dill. My grandmother grew beautiful flowers, which I adored,” says Lisa.
Growing up in a European immigrant family also made Lisa more passionate about healthy eating. “My father is from England and my mother is from Holland, so the extent of healthy eating was being force-fed with over-boiled vegetables along with our meat and potatoes. Sometimes, having to smother them in tomato sauce to get it all down,” she says.
She adds, “I wouldn't call any of the food we ate healthy - my dutch Opa (grandfather) was a pastry chef, and so there was a lot of ridiculously delicious but artery-clogging food that I grew up eating and loving. I think if I hadn't become interested in nutrition and fitness I probably would have become overweight following the diet I was raised on. For about 15 years now, I've been on a quest to learn more about health and nutrition. It is an insatiable need - it fascinates and excites me, and there's always more to learn.”
Striving to grow one’s vegetables and be self-sufficient by the end of the year is a challenging mission. “Some of the challenges I face include, not having enough time to prepare and maintain my garden beds. But I have managed to develop easy methods for growing food that involves minimal maintenance - mulch and a solid irrigation plan play a major role! Another issue is sifting through all of the conflicting information out there - knowing which sources to reject (typically the ones that want to sell you a product you don't need),” she says.
Steering clear of pesticides and dealing with pests are two other issues that Lisa fights with on a regular basis. “I have come to the realisation - after way too long - that nature knows best, and store-bought fertilisers are completely unnecessary and redundant. With the right strategies, we can and do harness free natural local resources. I also have a more sensible pest control strategy now - live and let live! For productivity, some minor steps towards trying to create a balanced environment for beneficial and non-beneficial critters is useful,” says Lisa who is also a belly dancer.
A word of advice
Lisa has some advice for all the aspiring gardeners. “If you're new to growing food, and embarking on the journey without a gardening-crazed friend like me, then take a few hours to check out YouTubers like MIgardener, calikim29, Self Sufficient Me. They have amazing insights into gardening," says Lisa.
She adds, “You'll want to start out by either growing in large pots or raised beds, using a mix of potting mix and compost as your growing medium, and keeping your soil nice and moist and covered in mulch. From there on, there is an entire world of gardening challenges and adventures to explore and conquer.”
Lisa plans to make tutorials for amateurs and experienced gardeners who are busy like her and are on the lookout for easy and inexpensive gardening methods. “I'd also like to combine my passions for growing food, and nutrition with my career as a doctor and help my patients find health and happiness through growing and consuming plants,” says the Adelaidean.
Follow Lisa's incredible vegetable garden journey on Instagram.