A greener thumb more easily accomplished than once perceived

Danyal Akhavan showcases his sweet red peppers and basil herbs that take little maintenance for the gardening beginner. Melody Bathaee/Lariat

Peering inside the horticulture habits of a teen with a long-term initiative

One year ago, 16-year-old Danyal Akhavan began a small outdoor garden on the wall of his San Clemente home in California. With year-round sun and personal sprinklers attached because of scarce precipitation, the amateur farmer now tends to zucchinis, tomatoes, strawberries, eggplant and four different kinds of peppers ranging in spice and color. This flourishing nursery turned into more than a hobby once the pandemic washed over the world and research created a self-drive to keep it fruitful.

Overproduction of food in the United States is one of the leading contributors to landfill waste and pollution. Over a third of food produced by human consumption is lost or wasted and, as a result, generates 3.3 billion tons of carbon dioxide – accelerating climate change.

Constructing an affordable, low-maintenance garden as a part of the standard household eliminates excessive buying. It saves money in the long run by growing fruits and vegetables right in the backyard. However, starting up the process may seem daunting as it takes discipline and patience to maintain many different plants.

Akhavan explains how this cycling journey continues to teach him new information on veganism and sustainability every day.

What inspired you to start an at-home garden?

“It really started as a project during quarantine. I had been meaning to start a garden since we moved to our house, but I never had the time. Once quarantine started, I had a lot more spare time, and that’s what got me to finally start the garden. Me and my family have been trying to be more eco-friendly, especially since my Mom is vegan; it just made sense.”

Do you believe self-sufficient gardening will become a staple in every household in the near future?

“If people have space, I think it’s definitely possible. The issue is finding the space for the garden and the time to tend to it. I can’t think of a reason everyone wouldn’t be able to have a small tomato or mint plant in their kitchen, though, so it’s definitely viable on a smaller scale.”

“If everyone had their own little ecosystem, corporations would be forced to stop overproducing agricultural products and creating waste which is a positive reflection, I would think. If we all just made enough food for ourselves and our families, then we wouldn’t have a problem throwing away so much and adding to the already immense impact we’ve had on the climate. Plus, having a vegetative garden allows us to ingest natural ingredients instead of GMO foods.”

Watering the garden has become a time of relaxation for Akhavan, allowing him to connect with the natural remedies of this planet. Melody Bathaee/Lariat

What are the basics of starting a low-maintenance operation?

“The needs are very minimal, at least with the plants I grow. You just need the plants, some soil, water, and sunshine. It’s really that easy as long as you tend to the plants, they will grow quickly.”

“I would recommend starting with herbs because of how fast they sprout, making it more gratifying to see your own success so that you do not get discouraged by prolonged results. Once you get into a routine, start incorporating small fruits and vegetables like cherry tomatoes, strawberries and peppers that won’t overwhelm you.”

Have you ever faced obstacles or difficulties with the garden that made you want to stop growing it?

“There are only a few obstacles to growing my garden. Pruning is a chore. For certain plants, you must make sure to prune. Otherwise, they grow wildly, and the fruit will not be as good and they will grow slower. Secondly, some of my plants suffer from mites and mold, the easiest way to combat this is with a mint spray or some other kind of anti-fungal.”

“Oh, and there are some squirrels that love digging up my cucumbers. But it’s definitely worth the wait because of how therapeutic the whole process is. I mean, you get to see exactly where you are getting your food from and eat what you’ve created.”

Why is growing your own food important in advancing environmental progression?

“A personal garden decreases water usage on a larger scale which is important in California as there is not much rain in this state when compared to others. Also, giving ourselves the chance to expose our eating habits to more vegan cuisine incorporated because of what we can grow. I believe that this fairly simple beginning to more in-depth integration of environmentally conscious living points us in the right direction to reversing climate change and scarcity in food deserts around the state.”

“I mean, I’m no environmental expert, but in this day and age, I think every small bit of self-sufficiency counts. Especially with all the pesticides that your supermarket fruits and veggies encounter, an at-home garden is not only better for you but better for the environment as well.”

The United States has already enhanced and increased its contribution to sustainable living through a mindset developed by Americans like Akhavan. The Smart Climate Agriculture Program: plant-based agriculture, amended in California on April 8, gives farmers incentives for promoting the well-being of plant inventories that serve as ecosystems created on their land. The bill supports the growing vegan and vegetarian food consumption demands of the state by encouraging plant agriculture instead of meat production.