AN INTERVIEW with Joel Simoes urban gardener, chef, nutritionist and spiritual integration coach. We met Joel at Wanigan Organic Fruits & Vegetable Store in Brampton where we found a connection in understanding the importance of eating and growing organic healthy food.
Danuta: What made you grow your own food? Was there a major event that happened in your life? What triggered that?
Joel: I guess it was a part of the journey of evolving to eating better. I spontaneously came across an aeroponic system called the tower garden and this is a system of growing hydroponically and this was my first getting my green thumb on if you will.
It is fairly straight forward, it is really intended for a kind of person who wants to have it done easy and after a little while I enjoyed it and I just realized that hey, I have all this space, why don’t I just start doing some more traditional style of growing food and I just got bitten by gardener’s bug and it just never stopped and it keeps growing with it.
So it has been constantly evolving journey and I continue to do it because both it challenges me, brings out the best of me and it brings out the worst of me…and I think it is very important because we have to look at other side as well too.
Danuta: And how long ago was it?
Joel: With hydroponic stuff it started about 5 years ago and in the ground I started 3 years ago with just one bed there by the fence. Every year I add on another phase and I continue building. Although this year I am planning on ending the phases for a while now.
Even though I have other things that I would wish to evolve in the future, I have noticed that it can be difficult to manage both the growing of the food and building infrastructure at the same time to have a proper and adequate space to grow things. It can be very time demanding, resource and financially demanding as well.
I am taking a break after this year from the building aspect and then I am going to focus more on strictly just the growing because also for me that’s what most of the magic is at. This is where I have had some enriching moments spending time nurturing the plants, control their growth or observing the changes of the seasons.
This teaches you a lot about adaptation and natural intelligence of nature and it is something that we never stop to think about that things actually know how to take care about themselves and in the meanwhile human society is full of complexity and trouble and we can really learn a lot by connecting and this is the main thing that keeps me going that relationship of between me the Earth, and really, I become more of who I am in the process.
…it has become the co-partnership with me in that way.
Danuta: It is beautiful the way you described it. What do you like to grow and why?
Joel: I like growing weeds and edible flowers, hahaha, and every year I plant around a different kind of fruit and vegetable. This year I did my first year of doing eggplants and they are like little trees, I love them.
Danuta: So this is your first year and they are performing so well! Great!
Joel: I also got okra growing as well and some of these thing you have to have an abundance of them, otherwise there is almost no point of growing them. I have to take that into consideration meaning every year is going to be a little bit different.
This year I also did sweet potatoes. I did plant 6 bushels of them here because if I just plant one or two it is not much of the harvest. If I am going to do it, I am going to have something that will last me through the winter right.
I am also trying to add as much as I can and not focus so much on annuals but perennials. From the people that I initiated my learning through, I see that it is a lot in terms of how you can make it spending time taking care of the things so the system take care of itself; that definitely is something that I need to adopt more.
The perennial systems, I have adopted primarily with the berries that I have been growing along the fence line, so taking the advantage of the fence line is a great way of growing vertically to expand things and this way, I literally have different berries throughout the entire growing season.
I also have the blackberries and the goji berries and somewhere between these there is the red currants and off course tomatoes; which is favorite gardener’s fruit. I like cherry tomatoes, I find them they are the most flavorful sweet.
You do not have to cut them up or anything, you can throw them on anything you eat so one of my favorite things to do is just to come up with a big bowl at some point of the day and just pick a bit of everything and before you know it you have a salad already in your ball.
Danuta: That is the best part right when you can just pick it up at the spot and have your salad ready
Joel: And anything that is in overabundance always you can share it.
I also have a lot of peppers coming in this year. Last year, I only had small number of plants.
Noticing that one really needs to be mindful of how much to grow is why I learned a little bit from the permaculture concept that having systems that naturally support each other, I do not have say one morning I pick up 9 tomatoes hornworms on pepper plants.
If I did not catch them the next day the plants would be gone, they literally eat everything, it is amazing how quickly they eat.
Danuta: You are talking about companion planting here?
Joel: Yes, as much as possible the space permitting. I think this is comment factor when it comes to urban gardening that people may only have backyard or just a balcony in the building.
Things that I like to encourage people to do is to grow according to what you have available and how much effort you are willing to put in and with that in mind anybody can grow.
Danuta: Which vegetable do you like to eat? Which is your most preferable veggie?
Joel: As recently eggplants actually. I have never thought that I would like them so much, because everyone talk how funny texture they are but I actually find that oven roasting them is my favourite way of doing.
Just little bit of coconut oil and light spices on top coriander turmeric little bit black pepper and cumin.
Danuta: Oh you are giving us a recipe now, thank you.
Vitoldus: Can I throw a question? When you grow vegetables in your garden what challenges do you find as a gardener?
Joel: Yes there is whatever the local pests are and here the worst one are squirrels. I used to think that they are cute now I feel destructive impulses, they bring my dark side when they come around because almost every morning I wake up and have to spend easily over an hour to undo the damage they cause.
We also have raccoons here and maybe wasps – they love depositing their larva inside the black berries, also tomato hornworms I get every year. I have to do regular inspection as a gardener. Working in the system that is not entirely self-sufficient, we have to be on top of monitoring, observing, practicing art of observation is so important to successful gardening.
Danuta: Any advice for a new aspiring urban gardeners, someone thinking about having her or his own garden?
Joel: I definitely have a piece of advice for that. Adopt a value in that it is worth doing. If the person does not see value in the effort they put into, they are going to be discouraged and they would not want to do it.
So that the 1st thing is to find for yourself why it is valuable for you to do it. I can tell you several reasons why but that could be another whole conversation. The other thing is in looking at what you have to work with so is the amount of the space that you have.
If you have let’s say …let’s use a limited scenario where you live in the condominium, you have a balcony and maybe it gets like 4-5 hours of sun utmost throughout most of the day but you also have big windows.
You can actually get very creative with this, you can use vertical growing systems either in soil and on your balcony you could have planters in the vertical fashion along your window. You could build systems or you could buy systems, there is quite a number of them available and YouTube is an amazing resource because you can literally search “DYI” and then “indoor gardening “or “small space gardening.”
You will have people throwing at you so many ideas that if you have any ounce of imagination you can initiate new ideas what to do with what you have, anyone can do it, even if it is literally just a couple of herbs plants and on your kitchen window, it can be that small and still so powerful because herbs are medicinal foods that we have available to us anytime…. so anyone can do it you just have to have desire to do it and just little bit of planning and the rest is ongoing learning.
Vitoldus: You mentioned that this a whole new conversation when it comes to the benefits of growing and I want to ask you, in addition, if you could give us maybe a couple benefits of growing from your point of view, why people should start growing their own food?
Joel: Probably the most obvious one and most of the people will be able to relate to it is just that when you are growing of your own food you are offsetting a bit of your own grocery bill.
That is the surface level but even deeper than that is the fact that you are getting potentially more nourishing food, more nutritious food because if you take a little bit of time to really build a good soil and have good biology in the soil than you are going to get a lot more nutritiously dense fruits or veggies whatever is that you are growing.
And the other benefit, this is often and almost entirely misunderstood or unknown is just the importance of the biological diversity in our own digestive tracts and people know very little in general about digestive system.
And the matter of fact is that the microbiology and our small intestines and our large intestines are the key determinant, some of the key determinants in our health and what we feed our intestines determines what biology is going to be inside of us and that determines a level and quality of health or disease we are going to have.
So how I am linking this to gardening, when you are growing your own food what you can and should do unless is really dirty, you eat fresh you pick without washing it because the most beneficial microorganisms that are more beneficial than anything you ever buy in an encapsulated probiotic at the supplements store is going to be the microorganism sitting on the skin on that apple on the leaves of those broccoli, are going to be on the edible flowers that you are growing.
All these things need to be inoculating themselves with diverse and local microorganism that are going to be our natural inoculation to the disease and temper us to our immediate environment. This natural inoculation occurs when eating directly what is around us, that is the way of communication to our organism’s inside.
What we need to be aware of that is on our outside and this a relationship that no one really thinks about yet. It is so vital that you can nourish that when you grow your own food.
Other benefits that I found is just the ability to almost have a meditative practice, grounding practice. There is honestly nothing I love more and that might not be as appealing to some people or not an option, is to come up here in the morning to my garden strip of my clothes and just lay bare underneath the sun brazing the wind and having my feet bare on the grass.
There are very few feelings that are more satisfying than that and to having your hands in the ground and getting a little bit dirty it makes it ok to that life is messy; it is a stress reliever.
Even though gardening can have stresses on the whole it has a huge benefit of just allowing you to just discharge of that positively charged energy which is not good energy having in the body to allow it to be sucked up into the earth through ionization. It is both physiologically, chemically and spiritually healing and that is an element that can be underestimated and you have to do it to really experience it and see the value in it.
Vitoldus: Very Inspirational…
Danuta: If you had a choice just pick one, which vegetable seeds would you take with you to the deserted island?
Joel: Nothing, I would grow whatever is available locally.
Although, I will say chances are that at the deserted island would be coconuts. I actually love trees, climbing trees is my favorite form of exercise so I would just plant trees and pick up whatever would be growing on them.
If I would have spontaneously seeds with me, if I landed up on the island, it would have to be berries, any kind of berry, berries are absolutely ma favorite fruits.
I do not care if that be raspberries, blueberries or blackberries, I love them all almost indifferently probably because I find they bring most life at anything I eat and I find they can be added to any meal whether sweet or savory and they are also one of the most healing fruits that are available to us so it definitively be any berries. I can just pick on berries all day.
Danuta: Is there is anything that you would like to add that we did not ask?
Joel: This is not necessarily directly tight to the gardening, but this is something close to my heart is that there is very easy to look up in the world today and be discouraged how much negativity 0is around, how much distraction there is around and this can take its toll especially on sensitive people, the weight of impact of this kind of issues, especially if it happens close to home and it can feel like you are caring a weight on your shoulders.
One of the things that I found is that gardening is empowering activity, it pushed me to learn, it broad out or expended my desire to teach and I think that the quality of becoming empowered to grow something and to teach others is very powerful thing and I think that to whatever degree anyone is capable of doing the activity of growing, expanding and learning should always be embraced to offset some of what we have to face on the day to day basis that often pulls us down.
To see more of Joel, please visit his YouTube channel at: https://www.youtube.com/joelsaxis