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Using the land: Ways Sandy moms can turn their yards to micro agricultural patches

The growing season here can be useful on many levels for families willing to do the work. Instead of just a lawn, more families are turning their land to more useful applications, and with the right knowledge, the plants that run rampant here in the summer can be put to use as well.

One example is the leaves on blackberry vines. Not only are the berries tasty, the leaves can be dried and used for tea. With so many such vines, a smart mom’s tea needs can be met with just a few harvests.

Another lesser-known edible plant is the dandelion. Normally thought of as a pesky weed, these are a great source of vitamin A.

“You can use dandelion greens for salad,” said Iris Healing Arts owner Heather Michet. “They’re a bit astringent, and the young leaves are better. Of course, people absolutely should only gather plants from areas you know are chemical free for at least three years.”

Dandelion root also is a great resource for tea.

With this in mind, a smart gardener can turn even her weeds into usable stuff. Michet said it doesn’t stop with blackberry leaf and dandelion.

“Another common one is fireweed,” she said. “You’re going to find it more on roadsides and in disturbed areas, and the leaves make good salad greens.”

According to Michet, the nasturtium, an otherwise ornamental flowering plant with large, lily pad-like leaves, is another everything plant.

“It makes a pretty garnish,” Michet said. “They’re beautiful in salads to eat. And they have this tiny bit of peppery (flavor). You can also take the buds and make your own capers. You can basically strip the entire plant.”

With so many uses for plants not found in the produce aisle, the question becomes: Why are we oblivious to so many edibles in the forest? Michet thinks it’s a cultural dynamic.

“Let’s put large quotation marks around convenience, laziness and disconnect from the natural world,” she said. “There are children who do not know that milk comes from a cow. Common culture and media have created the image that the natural world is scary.”

The idea to turn land to use for food and medicine, thinking of the yard as a grocery store, is becoming more popular, Michet said.

“Lots of people are beginning to do that,” she said. “The real bible for me on biodynamic and sustainable food is by John Jeavons, and it’s called ‘How to Grow More Vegetables on Less Land Than You Ever Thought Possible.’”

One Sandy resident is already making this so. Bornstedt neighborhood residents Tracy and Adam Triplett have drawn attention in their neighborhood for converting their front yard to a vegetable and herb garden.by: POST PHOTO: NEIL ZAWICKI - Tracy Triplett, with the help of her husband, Adam, turned her front yard into a garden, something she said has made her feel more connected to the community. The daughter she is expecting no doubt will enjoy the benefits.

“It’s what we wanted to do as soon as we moved here in 2008,” Tracy said. In 2010, they took the plunge and tilled up the whole yard, planting corn, potatoes, onions and tomatoes, to name a few.

“It’s made me feel a lot more part of the community,” she said. “It’s really a good conversation piece, and people just love it. Everyone knows our yard.”

Tracy said she’d like to get to the point where they’re storing the crops they harvest, but she knows that takes time and work. As it is, their front yard is a great advertisement for urban farming.