Staring at a sea of grassy front-yard islands from a half-acre garden on the Santa Clara University campus, Kamila Lambert planted seeds for an unusual startup.
“I would look around and ask myself why people had lawns instead of using their yards to garden and give back,” said Lambert, who grew up in Los Altos and studied public health science and environmental studies at the university.
Launched as a weekend project to assist friends with cultivating organic backyard gardens, Lambert’s passion for connecting people with food production evolved in 2013 into a full-time passion – Edible Urban Farm Co. The company helps busy people discover the art of farming on a small scale – one 4-foot-by-8-foot planter box at a time.
“People in this area care about eating healthy, organic and local … but, everyone here is busy,” Lambert said. “Even if someone has these grand notions of turning their backyard into an urban farm, they don’t always know where to start.”
That’s where Edible Urban Farm steps in.
Values through vegetables
Beginning with a home visit, Lambert and her team guide clients through the process, from design to seed selection, installation, planting, maintenance and harvesting, if desired. With personalization that accommodates family size, physical logistics of a client’s yard and level of post-installation support required, the business model makes it “easy to be successful,” according to one of Lambert’s recent clients.
“We’ve always done vegetable gardens, but not to this extent,” said longtime Los Altos resident Kate Evard, in whose yard Edible Urban Farm this month installed six raised beds. “It sounded like a perfect opportunity to work with Kamila to do something good for my family and myself.”
The mother of two teenagers who are embracing veganism, Evard said she looks forward to engaging her children in the garden to reinforce their beliefs. The prospect of cutting greens minutes before meals and compiling a repertoire of recipes that feature in-season produce appeals to Evard.
Although many of Lambert’s clients do not have much time for gardening, they like how Edible Urban Farm supports the process from seed selection to harvest and gives them the ability to control where their food comes from.
Instead of trips to the grocery store, Urban Edible Farm delivers crates of vegetables and herbs harvested just steps from its clients’ doors.
“The biggest impact that I see is that we’re making the community a little more knowledgeable of how to support themselves and how to feed themselves,” said Lambert of her company’s mission. “Vegetables don’t have to start at Safeway, and you don’t have to be reliant on a food system you don’t agree to.”
By providing clients the tools to produce food in their own backyards, Lambert believes that her company is planting values along with vegetables.
“It’s about making relationships and fundamentally changing the way people are eating,” she said.
Since Urban Edible Farm installed its first planter boxes last November, interest has grown throughout Silicon Valley. At a rate of approximately two gardens per week, Lambert’s company has installed 46 gardens to date this year in cities from Sunnyvale to San Mateo.
Nearly 90 percent of people who request a consultation decide to install a garden, according to Lambert, who attributes the popularity to the drought and the interactive experience she fosters.
“A lot of people are saying, ‘I have this huge lawn – our gardeners are doing things to make it look green, and we’re using a ton of water when we have a shortage,’” she said.
Lambert noted that Urban Edible Farm is not looking to compete with traditional landscape companies offering full-yard landscaping services – its focus is designing small-scale gardens that meet families’ food needs. With the recommendation of one planter box per person in the household, Lambert’s team of three works with clients to create a design that uses natural light and maximizes potential growing success. After the initial consultation, Lambert orders seeds and supplies and returns a few weeks later to complete construction and planting during a one- to two-day window.
Although her services may seem like a shortcut, Lambert said her team engages clients in the process as much as possible.
Clients help in the garden-planning stage, beginning with a checklist of plants customized to their individual taste buds and culinary needs. The company uses Smart Gardener, an online tool that enables clients to design their gardens and create weekly to-do lists.
On the back end, Urban Edible Farm employees keep a garden journal for clients. During weekly garden visits, the team uploads photos and writes notes about work completed and pest problems they might encounter.
“They really like it because it keeps them in the loop,” said Lambert of her clients’ reactions to the tech tools. “I really want this to be an interactive experience, where they know us and see our faces.”
Although Urban Edible Farm is less than a year old, Lambert said she’s satisfied with her initial success, noting phone calls from clients celebrating their first harvest boxes and the joyous reaction of parents who finally managed to get their children to eat vegetables after they installed their gardens.
For more information, visit edibleurbanfarm.com.
Urban Edible Farm Company - Photos by Ellie Van Houtte/Town Crier