Kitchen Shrink: Sustainable gardens blossom in San Diego


Media personality Loren Nancarrow, who has been dispensing news, weather and savvy gardening advice for almost three decades to San Diegans, has reinvented himself - again.

He is going full-bore to try to solve the planet’s ecological problems by plotting the path of sustainable agriculture in his own backyard, becoming an environmental activist, writing books on organic gardening including “Dead Daisies Make Me Crazy” (his latest, “Garbage In, Garden Out,” is marinating in the compost bin) and now hosting an upcoming food lecture series on the “Sustainable Planet” at the San Diego Natural History Museum this fall.

Loren owes his inner bliss for organic gardening to his parents, who forced him as a kid to weed their overgrown plot of land in Connecticut. He now joyfully harvests 20 pounds of assorted tomatoes daily on his 3 acres, along with onions, peppers, strawberries, pumpkins and tree fruits such as avocados, mandarin oranges and macadamia nuts all grown without harmful chemical fertilizers and pesticides.

“We have to grow food in a smarter way - starting in your own backyard. Grow one plant from which you can eat, and it will change your life,” Nancarrow says.

He attributes his green thumb in large part to the use of homegrown compost that nurtures plants, maintains the integrity of the soil and reduces landfill contributions. He urges budding gardeners to use compost, not Miracle-Gro, since “plants only need compost to thrive while chemical fertilizers leave soil bankrupt.” When organic matter such as kitchen scraps, eggshells and coffee grounds decompose, they morph into rich compost that will continually improve the soil. Nancarrow recommends digging a hole in the garden as a depository for the scraps and keeping the heap as wet as a wrung-out sponge. He also uses his kids’ leftover sidewalk chalk, which adds calcium carbonate to the garden.

His latest ventures include environmental consulting and experimenting with a system of worm composting, which he has piloted at a retirement community in Rancho Bernardo.

Nancarrow is dedicated to transforming San Diego into a model for sustainability with a much-needed series of food lectures.

“We have to get wiser about how we eat,” Nancarrow says. “There is no point to eating organic if we have to ship it from Chile.”

He sees an unconscionable increase to our carbon footprint whenever produce is shipped long distances. He covers this in his museum series and other topics such as learning to eat greener and leaner with tips from an eco-chef, exploring the health-soil connection and promoting the “slow food social movement” to change the way we grow and consume food.

The Sustainable Planet Kick-Off party is Sept. 22 at the San Diego Museum of Natural History in Balboa Park. It is an opportunity for the public to mingle with local gardening gurus, chefs and other foodies while sampling locally grown, organic delicacies.

My sustainable contribution is an organic tower of heirloom tomatoes, fresh basil and buffalo mozzarella. You might even find some of the ingredients in your own backyard.

California Heirloom Tomato Tower

  • 4 assorted heirloom tomatoes (German pink, brandywine, green zebra, black krim …)
  • Fresh basil leaves
  • Fresh buffalo mozzarella, sliced in rounds (1/4-inch thick)
  • 1 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon of Balsamic vinegar
  • Pink salt
  • Cracked black pepper

Slice the heirlooms into 4 slices. Start constructing the tower, alternating a variety of colored tomato slices, basil leaves and cheese slices. Drizzle with oil and vinegar; sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste. Stabilize the tower with a long, sandwich-size toothpick.
Part 2 continues in next week’s Kitchen Shrink column for a primer on how to become a smart, sustainable shopper and restaurantgoer.

For information on the “Sustainable Planet Food Lecture Series,” contact Delle Willett, director of marketing at the San Diego Natural History Museum, at (619) 255-0244 or e-mail