Califonia Bountiful

Sprouting from change

September/October 2020 California Bountiful magazine

Urban gardener connects with customers and food in new ways

Edible Gardens LA founder Lauri Kranz expanded her business of helping people establish vegetable gardens to helping farmers sell their produce through her food-box deliveries. Photo: © 2020 Yoshihiro Makino

Even before she started farming, Los Angeles-based gardening guru Lauri Kranz had been on a bountiful journey for years.

As founder of Edible Gardens LA, Kranz has turned urban spaces into productive vegetable gardens and edible landscapes for chefs, celebrities and other clients interested in growing their own food.

When COVID-19 forced many restaurants to close—and farms that supplied those restaurants had nowhere to go with their crops—Kranz turned her green thumb to helping farmers who mentored her, by launching a new produce-delivery business.

"It was so reactionary to the times, to what was happening," she said. "I knew there was a lot of food coming from those farms. I reached out to them and said, 'Can I buy this food from you? I want to start bringing it to people.'"

Food boxes from Edible Gardens LA's CSA feature products from farms including Schaner Farms in San Diego County and Flora Bella Farms in Tulare County. Photo: © 2020 Yoshihiro Makino

Farm to door

Across the nation, subscriptions to community-supported agriculture food boxes have soared during the pandemic, with many farms that market their crops through CSAs reporting increased membership and growing waiting lists. The Edible Gardens LA CSA business represents one of many farm-to-door services that sprouted this year to meet surging demand for locally grown produce, as people shelter in place and make fewer trips to the store.

Kranz described response to her CSA as "very overwhelming." Her produce deliveries grew, mostly through word of mouth, from just five members during the first week to thousands of sign-ups, with hundreds more requesting the service each week, she noted.

Some of the crops come from a "very small, modest urban farm" in East L.A. that she started farming a year ago, but most of what supplies her boxes comes from "favorite farmers" she's known for years from farmers markets and "who really nurtured my early interest in growing food."

Kranz talks with San Diego County farmer Peter Schaner at the farmers market. Photo reprinted from "A Garden Can Be Anywhere: Creating Bountiful and Beautiful Edible Gardens." Copyright © 2019 by Lauri Kranz. Photography by Yoshihiro Makino. Published by ABRAMS.

Connections that count

San Diego County farmer Peter Schaner, who grows citrus fruit, avocados and seasonal vegetables, has been selling at farmers markets for more than 30 years. He first knew Kranz when she was in the music industry, recording and touring with her indie band Snow & Voices. She's been a customer of his at the farmers market. Not only is Kranz a "very talented musician-singer," he said, but she's in tune with the restaurant scene and chefs in the L.A. area, some of whom are her gardening clients.

Kranz's connection to the food world provided insight on how Schaner and other farmers struggled to find alternative markets for their crops when purchases from restaurants and chefs plummeted during the pandemic. Being a part of her CSA has been "a big financial support for our farm," Schaner said, as it has allowed the farm to keep working and the crops to not go to waste.

"She saw a way where she could help people out, and that's what motivates her," he said.

James and Dawn Birch of Flora Bella Farms in Tulare County have known Kranz for 20 years, first as a customer of theirs at the farmers market in Hollywood and now providing produce to her CSA twice a week. The couple had stopped going to farmers markets because of health concerns brought by COVID-19.

"I'm glad I know her because (the CSA) is really helping our farm out a lot, and I'm sure it's helping out other farmers she's getting produce from," James Birch said.

Kranz tends to a garden house designed to keep out wildlife. Photo: © 2020 Yoshihiro Makino

Seeds of inspiration

Kranz's reintroduction to gardening came when she volunteered for her then-5-year-old son's school garden. Having lived in New York City before moving to Los Angeles, she'd spent many years without a garden, but the experience of gardening with her father growing up made a lasting impression.

"He had an office job during the week, but on weekends we would work in the vegetable garden—this very small, modest vegetable garden, but so prolific with watermelons just rambling about and tall, beautiful sunflowers," she recalled. "This was such a happy time I had with my dad and I thought, 'Oh, I would like to have this experience with my own child.'"

She fell "madly in love" with the school garden and started other gardens, learning mostly from books and talking to farmers. People began asking her to set up their gardens, eventually hiring her to design, build and sustain them, which led to her business, Edible Gardens LA.

Kranz shares some of her garden creations in her book "A Garden Can Be Anywhere," which includes praise from famous clients such as actor Jason Bateman, singer Katy Perry, model Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, TV personality Nicole Richie and chef Suzanne Goin, who also wrote the foreword and is now one of her CSA customers. (See Book Reviews.)

"I think this desire to be a part of where our food comes from … just really resonated with people," Kranz said. "I hope it continues to forever more, because I think (gardening) is one of the most powerful and important things any of us can do to stay connected to the natural world and to nurture each other."

In her edible gardens, Kranz interplants plenty of flowers and flowering herbs to attract bees and other pollinators. Photo reprinted from "A Garden Can Be Anywhere: Creating Bountiful and Beautiful Edible Gardens." Copyright © 2019 by Lauri Kranz. Photography by Yoshihiro Makino. Published by ABRAMS.

Beauty with purpose

Kranz said her gardens are both edible and ornamental, interplanting vegetables with flowers to bring bees, butterflies and other pollinators that are "vital to the success of any garden."

Schaner said he's been impressed with Kranz's "passion and vast knowledge" of growing food, even though she has no agricultural background, and with how she "turns the landscape into something that is still very beautiful but also usable and edible."

Because of the pandemic, Kranz said she had to put new garden projects on hold and hasn't done home visits, but her clients continue to send photos of their gardens and ask questions.

"I am so happy and encouraged to see people really digging in and spending time," she said. "I think people feel really comforted by these gardens, and I've gotten an extraordinary amount of inquiries for new gardens."

As she waits for "the health of the world to return a bit" so she can again create new spaces for people to grow food, Kranz has kept busy with CSA deliveries and running the Edible Gardens LA Farm, ventures in which she partners with her husband, Dean Kuipers. They have plans to expand, she said, but they want to do so in "tiny baby steps" to ensure they're "doing it safely, wisely and keeping the integrity of the deliveries, and honoring the beautiful food that the farmers we work with grow."

"I feel very fortunate and grateful that these farmers are able to provide food for all of us," Kranz added. "We're just helping to get it out there."

Ching Lee

Follow us on: Facebook Twitter YouTube Pinterest Pinterest