Barnstable entrepreneur helps customers grow produce in their own backyards
The farm-to-table concept of eating fruits and vegetables within hours after they are harvested is nothing new, but the trend has been gaining momentum in recent years. As more and more people become aware of the preservatives and other things that are included in many of the packaged foods sold in grocery stores, as well as the pesticides used in the growing of the fruits and vegetables that fill produce departments, the demand for fresh, seasonal food, grown locally and without the aid of chemicals, will continue to rise.
While many Cape and Islanders visit local farm stands and farmers markets to purchase freshly picked fruits and vegetables, Dave Scandurra suggests that much of this produce can be grown—and picked—even closer to home.
In 2013, Scandurra founded Edible Landscapes, a company whose mission is to increase the number of local homeowners who are tilling their own soil and planting seeds. For those who do not know how to start a vegetable or herb garden, or lack the time, Edible Landscapes may be a solution. The company offers a variety of services, from establishing gardens in customers’ yards, to tending and weeding the gardens, to harvesting the produce for the customers. They also offer a mentoring program where Scandurra teaches customers how to grow their own plants. “All of our work is customized,” Scandurra says. “We can establish a garden that is as small or as large as the homeowner wants it to be.”
When meeting with clients, Scandurra asks a lengthy list of questions to gain a firm understanding of how much work they themselves want to do in the garden, as well as the kinds of foods they like. “It makes no sense to plant food they don’t eat,” he says. “I want them to enjoy the foods they are harvesting from their garden.”
Some clients prefer Scandurra and his staff handle the weeding and harvesting, while others want to take over this work themselves once the plants become established. Jason and Ali O’Toole, the owners of Pizza Barbone in Hyannis, fall into the former category; they hired Scandurra to tend the garden they had already established on the rooftop above their Main Street restaurant.
The Edible Landscapes owner says Pizza Barbone’s garden has a unique set of challenges. While he does not have to fend off typical garden pests such as moles, he does have to fight off others, and contend with some unique conditions. “Some of the most challenging things I have had to deal with at that garden are the high winds and seagulls,” he says. “The seagulls pull out the plants, and they will attack the gardener,” he says. Although the tomato plants haven’t fared well against the high winds and hungry gulls, other botanicals, such as leafy greens, carrots and herbs, are thriving, and provide a plentiful supply of fresh ingredients for the food the O’Tooles serve in their restaurant below.
Some of Scandurra’s other clients like to take on an active role in designing a garden that will yield the herbs and vegetables they want to serve on their table, and utilize in their medicine cabinet.
In the spring of 2015, Maureen Courville had just moved into her Orleans home and given her daughter-in-law, Valerie Courville, free reign on the property’s landscape design. “The backyard was an empty canvas,” Valerie recalls. As an acupuncturist and massage therapist, Valerie had studied various plants that are used for medicinal purposes; she wanted the garden to feature those plants as well as others her mother-in-law would enjoy.
Another requirement was that the garden should require minimal effort. Valerie began inquiring about landscapers who were skilled in what she called “permaculture,” an agricultural system that integrates human activity with one’s natural surroundings to create a highly efficient and self-sustaining ecosystem. Working with Scandurra, she says, was the perfect fit. “I had a clear vision of what I wanted to do in the space, and together we came up with a list of plants,” Valerie says. “He had a ton of suggestions, including creating a huge, winding rock bed that acts as a natural irrigation system. Dave has such a talent for taking advantage of what is happening naturally.”
After planting a variety of crops, from goji berries and dwarf peach trees to chamomile and herbs—some of which are used in medicinal teas— the finished product in this Orleans garden is a kind of sanctuary; one can walk through a labyrinth of plants that are both beautiful and edible. “The work that Dave is doing really is leaving the Earth better than when he found it,” Valerie says.
According to Scandurra, planting an edible garden does not mean having to choose function over form, or compromising on aesthetics. Scandurra’s work demonstrates that edible gardens can produce both beauty and bounty, and rather than detracting from the landscape can add to it.
From skirret, a member of the carrot family and an old-world perennial that boasts a delicate flower similar to Queen Anne’s lace, to fennel, an entirely edible plant with tall ornamental flowers, Scandurra is slowly changing local landscapes with his gardens that are both ornamental and delicious.
Scandurra recommends including perennials in an edible garden, and sea kale is at the top of his list of favorites. “The entire plant is edible,” he says. “It is also a stunning, gorgeous plant, and it stands out in the crowd. The flowers smell just like honey.” Because the perennial’s native habitat is by the ocean, Scandurra says the sandy soil of the Cape and Islands is fertile ground for this botanical.
He adds that a lack of experience should not thwart homeowners from establishing a food-producing garden just steps from their back door. “It’s not complex, difficult or hard,” Scandurra says. “The only way to learn is by doing it. Plants want to grow. Give them light and water and decent soil, and they will grow.”
Coming from a generation of farmers—his grandfather was a farmer as was his uncle—Scandurra was raised to grow plants the old-fashioned way, without the aid of pesticides or chemicals. And that, he says, is a skill that has been in decline of late. “We have lost a lot of information over the years about how to grow food without the use of chemicals,” he says.
Working through Cape Cod Cooperative Extension Services, an organization whose mission is to improve the health and well-being of families and communities, Scandurra helps to lead a grant-funded, after-school program for children at Hyannis West Elementary School, teaching them how to establish a garden, plant seeds and grow vegetables. The program begins in February, with the planting of seedlings in an indoor environment, and runs through June. The children are taught how to transfer seedlings into the ground and tend the gardens. “It’s so rewarding, and the kids love it,” Scandurra says. “I’m happy to be bringing back organic farming to the next generation.”
Now, Scandurra did not always think that gardening and working the land would be his calling. During summer breaks from college—he studied at Loyola University New Orleans for two years before transferring to Berklee College of Music, where he graduated in 2010—he worked conventional landscaping jobs, mowing lawns, cleaning up leaves, adding fertilizer, et cetera.
“One day it struck me that the manicured landscapes I was tending to were a waste of time, energy, and effort if they were not producing something of sustenance,” Scandurra recalls. “We were pouring all kinds of chemicals onto these lawns. From an ecological perspective, I thought it was silly.” Though he does appreciate the importance of having a well-maintained lawn where a family can play games and spend time together, Scandurra also believes lawns should be free of pesticides and chemicals, and at least a small patch should be devoted to growing food.
In those summers, his passion about edible landscaping began to take root. One summer, Scandurra planted some edible botanicals in the front yard of his mother’s Barnstable home; the plants flourished, and Scandurra’s career plans began to blossom.
Today, with his company in its fourth year of operation, Scandurra continues to use the garden space at his mother’s home to grow some of his edible plants. He built a small hoop house—a kind of portable greenhouse—where he grows winter vegetables and starts the spring seedlings he will use in the gardens he creates. “Ideally,” he says. “I would like to see everyone growing their own food and living off the land.”
For more information about Edible Landscapes, visit ediblelandscapes.net, or call 774-994-0333.