Digging In 

Mary Phillips: from Urban Farms to Farm Girl Food Gardens.

Mary Phillips (foreground) and Caitlin Dupuigrenet

Mary Phillips (foreground) and Caitlin Dupuigrenet

If you were sad to see Mary Phillips leave her post as manager of Urban Farms in Binghamton, you'll be happy to know that she's staying plenty busy and she certainly hasn't left the urban farming behind.

"I left Urban Farms in April, and I knew I wanted to be growing things," Phillips says. "It seemed natural that if I couldn't find a garden or a farm to work at, then I would want to create them."

So Phillips, along with Caitlin Dupuigrenet, Debbi La Rue, and Stephanie Rachelle, have started their own urban farming cottage industry: Farm Girl Food Gardens. You pay somewhere in the ballpark of $250, and they will build, install, and plant a 4-by-4-foot raised vegetable garden in your yard.

"I'm not a landscaper. I don't do gardens. But I want to help people grow their own food," Phillips says.

A 4-by-4 bed is the example Phillips uses for pricing purposes, but Farm Girl Food Gardens is open to custom garden projects of all sizes, in raised beds or tilled soil, on trellises, or behind chicken-wire fences. She's even working with a client who is interested in building a chicken coop.

As for how much you can fit in your garden, Phillips says it depends on what you want to grow.

"I use the square-foot gardening method, so there are a certain number of vegetables you can fit in each square foot. It's perfect for people with OCD tendencies who want everything to be in order," Phillips says. "I have one tomato plant per two squares or four basil plants per one square, and I tell clients if they want tomato plants or squash, those take up more room and they won't get as much variety."

Although Phillips can offer them a variety of plants, clients are usually after a few items in particular.

"Everybody wants tomatoes," Phillips says. "And herbs. I've gotten a lot of requests for perennial herbs. Things that would cost a lot to buy in a grocery store."

Tomatoes and summer herbs are well and good, but Phillips is on a personal mission to disabuse Memphians of the notion that gardening is only a warm-weather pastime.

"I'm a huge fan of fall and winter gardening," Phillips says. "We are lucky to live in a climate where we can grow all year-round. I am going to do a big push in the fall to encourage people to plant spinach and kale and lettuce and other things that do well in our winters here. It's really hot outside right now, and it's more pleasant to garden in the fall."

But, she adds, if you're interested in getting started this summer, there are still plenty of options for the rest of the season.

"I'm installing a garden today with winter squash transplants, sweet potatoes, some kind of mature tomato transplants, and a lot of perennial herbs," she says.

Phillips is working on some other projects as well. For the summer, she's market manager at the Cooper-Young Community Farmers Market. She's also teaching at Green Leaf Learning Farm in South Memphis, a program run by Knowledge Quest to teach kids the merits and mechanics of urban farming. This fall, Phillips will take a position teaching farming and horticulture at Hutchison School.

For more information on pricing and availability, email farmgirlfoodgardens@gmail.com or go on Facebook at facebook.com/farmgirlfoodgardens. Prices vary from project to project.

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