Varden

The Varden Kit allows gardening to happen vertically. 

Starting a garden at home can seem like a daunting task. But one local nonprofit is encouraging people, both seasoned gardeners and newcomers alike, to grow their own food at home with ready-made kits that can be attached to almost anything. Walls, fences, balconies, you name it – Urban Harvest STL and Verdant are taking gardening in a atypical direction: up.

Urban Harvest STL, which has seven urban farms across St. Louis, has been growing food and educating the public about the at-home benefits of gardening since 2011. Its goal is to provide access to fresh, healthy food to those located in low food-access and low income areas.

“The more resilient and local you can create a food system to be, the more ownership people have over where their food comes from, how it’s grown and frankly, even the nutritional value of it,” says Clare Higgins, executive director of Urban Harvest STL. “A local food system also helps bring the community together and creates an opportunity to make a difference.”

One way Urban Harvest STL is trying to encourage people to grow their own food is through a vertical garden made locally.

The vertical garden, which comes in a package known as “The Varden Kit,” is designed with ease in mind. The kit, which is made almost entirely from recycled goods, contains a three-foot by two-foot frame, the infrastructure needed to make the plants grow (such as the support structure and the water irrigation system) and the Vardensok, which is a sleeve to put the soil and plants in.

“I really focus as an inventor on having things that have the highest amount of recycled content in them,” says Mark Woolbright, inventor of the Varden Kit.

Woolbright was originally in the business for ornamental living walls, not walls of edible plants. Those who frequent the Missouri Botanical Gardens can see Woolbright’s living wall on display at the Kemper Center for Home Gardening.

“It was designed to be for ornamental plants,” Woolbright says “Well, that’s fine — this guy looks at me one day and says, ‘Well, why would you waste water and labor and money and sun on some kind of plant you can’t eat?’ And that really, really kind of blew me away, and got me thinking.”

About a year ago, Woolbright started developing the first kit, an entire system that was made to be ready-to-use, which is especially beneficial to those living in an urban environment without access to space for a full garden.

For now, the kit works best with growing leafy greens and herbs, though Woolbright is hoping to expand to additional versions of the kit that support growing other kinds of vegetables, including tomatoes.

“This gives you the opportunity to understand what the heck you’re eating,” Woolbright says.

With every Varden Kit sold using the Urban Harvest STL promotion code (Foodroof2020), Woolbright makes a donation of $25 to Urban Harvest STL.

“I think one of the perceived challenges of growing at home, especially if you’re living in an urban environment, is you don’t think you have enough space to grow, but you can. You absolutely can,” Higgins says.

Urban Harvest STL, urbanharveststl.org

Varden Vertical Gardens, vardening.com