Agent for Change – Jamie Warner

Small scale food production through sustainable gardens

Welcome to our June Agent for Change feature. The purpose of this blog series is to bring a little inspiration into our lives. Each month we feature an interview with everyday people creating big changes in their little corner of the world. The goal of these stories is to spark a passion, help you set a goal, or move past some frustration as you work to be an Agent for Change in your own system.

This month we feature Jamie Warner of The Great Full Garden. To impact a thriving, healthy planet, Jamie is using her passion for sustainable gardening and small scale food production to help people learn to start and care for their own “green” gardens, with design, installation, and organic heirloom plants.

Jamie (right) at her Food Day 2015 table.

Jamie (right) at table at Food Day 2015.

SCH: What is a typical day as an “Agent for Change” like for you?

Jamie: A typical day includes me waking up at 3:00 am to do a daily check on all the plants and garden. I check them for water needs, indications of pests or nutrient deficiencies and whether any need to be repotted. As it gets light out I’ll move outdoors to plant or weed, depending on the time of year, cut herbs and begin the process of preserving them. I spend a lot of time just watching the garden. Observing what’s growing and even what’s not. I work on The Great Full Garden until about 7:00am and then head to my day job at The Bayshore Center where I work in program development, marketing, and membership. I work there to bolster the region’s image as a tourist destination and am involved with efforts to help small businesses and entrepreneurs. I get home around 5:30 and am committed to spending the evening hours with my husband and three young children. Sometimes after the kids go to bed I’ll work on The Great Full Garden some more, but mostly I Just try to get a good night’s sleep since I wake up so early.

SCH: How did you get involved with The Great Full Garden?

Jamie: The idea for The Great Full Garden is one that has been brewing for a long time. When I was a kid I would design gardens around fictional houses. My dream houses were never about the house, always about the garden surrounding the house. I should say that at some point when I was a kid I heard a statistic that in 25 years the world would be drastically changed due to what was then called “global warming.” I was anxiously fascinated with how individuals could disregard their impact on the environment. As a young adult I went to see an influential speaker, who I asked in the question and answer session, what he thought the number one thing people could do to offset “global warming” and he said, “Grow their own food.” This stuck with me as I had already designed a hundred gardens for my to-be house complete with mini-orchards and berry patches.

The Great Full Garden in bloom!

A bountiful garden tended to by Jamie.

When my husband and I bought our house I started a huge garden and one day, working in it, I was marvelling at all we had done and I realized I had built a great, full garden. I was grateful for my great, full garden and loved the play on words.  For a while it was just the name of my own garden. But as I became more concerned with the movement for local food, and as I saw a market for local food and the popularity of community gardens, I knew that this is where I was supposed to be making my impact in the world. There’s so many personal stories and experiences that have shaped my passion for healthy, local food. Ultimately, when deciding how I wanted to contribute to my family financially, I felt like I needed to do the one thing that I always wanted to do. Design gardens, build them and introduce people to the joy of growing their own food.

SCH: What are some of the biggest challenges or barriers that you’ve faced? How have you dealt with them?

Jamie: Material challenges have included not having a large vehicle, finding sustainable ways to mass produce plants (because big AG is pretty scary right now) and trying to grow my business without loans or traditional funding.
Other challenges include being a stay at home mom, having to learn how to manage my time in a way that was effective and full. Kids are a challenge by themselves, trying to start a business with three kids age 5 and under felt utterly ridiculous at times. A big part of putting family first meant that I couldn’t promote my business as well as I wanted to. Thankfully word of mouth has been kind and add to that my husband has always been incredibly supportive and recognizes the inherent value of what I was doing (even if the books weren’t always in the black).

Now that I’m working out of the home the time constraints are even more obvious. I want The Great Full Garden to grow organically, and for now that means slow growth. Having to be content with slow growth is a challenge. My vision of Cumberland County and the South Jersey region is so vibrant, colorful, and happy. Day to day it sometimes seems like that vision is still so far off. What keeps me going is the fact that no big, permanent changes happen overnight. I am willing to put in the effort to see my vision come to fruition.

Lastly, a big challenge has been space constraints. With ⅓ acre, mass producing plants is definitely within the realm of possibility, but I’ve had to be creative with how we use our space because there’s a lot going on. Vermicomposting, storing food for the off season, drying herbs, starting seeds, the garden itself. I start plants for my garden, plants for sale and I put out A LOT of plants for community gardens and nonprofit plant sales. I want to be be able to do all of that in this very limited space!!

SCH: Dream Big! If you had no constraints, what would you like to see happen in five years?

Jamie: Dreaming big…my ultimate vision is a network of community gardens which barter food, equipment and services between communities and sell produce in community stores to fund improvements to the gardens and educational programs. I see these gardens providing a vast amount of food and medicine for people all over South Jersey and especially in Cumberland County. As the idea of local, fresh food grows I hope to establish community kitchens, where the produce, eggs and honey produced in community gardens provide a healthy, affordable option for families on the go. The money earned in the community supported kitchens would go right back into the garden programs. Programs would be dictated by the expressed needs of the community and would include programs for educational and economic development in the region. Because the gardens would rely on a bunch of people with different skills I could see The Great Full Garden becoming an employer in the region. People with marketing skills, laborers, festival and market vendors, communications coordinators…it will be a huge community project using people from the community to build local wealth.

SCH: It’s important an Agent for Change stay inspired too. Tell us about an experience you’ve had recently that really energized or moved you.

This is where Jamie becomes inspired to be an Agent for Change!

This is where Jamie gets inspired to be an Agent for Change!

Jamie: It’s hard for me to say one thing that has inspired me. I am in a constant state of inspiration. It’s overwhelming at times. I really have had to learn how to reign in my imagination. Sometimes being inspired by everything means you burn out before you’ve done anything that really has any impact. I don’t want that to be the case.

Just this morning I was inspired, simply, by my garden. The columbine and comfrey are blooming, the herbs have all come back to life after winter and there are birds, toads and snakes all enjoying the diverse bounty of the garden. It is so simple and so real. It comes from this intense labor of love. I have birthed this garden like I’ve birthed my children. I know every piece of it – every stone in the walkways, every errant evening primrose. It is a visual testament to the love that I have for the land around me and the love I wish to plant all over my little corner of the Earth.

SCH: How have you connected with SCH in your Agent for Change role? What ideas do you have about how we might work together in the future?

Jamie: For the past two years I have participated as a vendor at Food Day hosted by the Green Health Task Force. But, because there is only one of me, it’s hard for me to commit to doing more. My plate is truly full! However, one way I’d like to work with SCH is to do workshops and lectures on growing food. Food in small spaces, preserving food, growing food throughout the year, recognizing edible weeds, growing native edibles, making all-natural, effective compost and fertilizers. There are so many topics to speak on…and so many ways for participants to really try their hands at different projects, to get a taste of microgreens before buying the supplies. To see a vermicomposting set up. To learn about the best native, edible plants. I also love doing workshops with kids and am willing to donate plants to any sustainable, community gardens being built.

For more information visit The Great Full Garden