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GROW INSPIRED: SHANNON OF @URBANFARMFOODS TALKS URBAN FARMING & DOING WHAT YOU LOVE

Shannon Feltus is a woman of many, many talents. You may know her from her popular Instagram/blog @UrbanFarmFoods, which she uses to tell the story of her literal farm-to-table journey from her own urban farm in Oregon. A self-proclaimed food nerd and culinary horticulturist, Shannon grows year-round and is always looking for a new way to cook up the bounty from her garden. She chatted with us about her gardening roots and everything she learned from her grandmother, how she gets her son Aidan involved in gardening, and how she’s found her own place in the world through doing what she loves. Plus, she gushed about C-BITEs — of course. 

You’ll love her and her recipes. We promise. 

On How Shannon Got Started Gardening 

I learned everything from my grandma. When we were little there were four of us [siblings] and so when we went to grams to give my parents a break, she would just put us to work. I got to be dirt, pull weeds, eat carrots out of the garden and helped her plant things. This is when I was a toddler —so I’ve really been gardening my whole life. 

As an adult, I’ve had a garden at probably every house I’ve ever lived at; whether it was an apartment with a balcony or a rental I would put pots all over the driveway — wherever the sun was. 

On Her Urban Farm 

We’ve been at our current home for about nine years now and it has really evolved. We’re on about a quarter of an acre in the suburbs, so this is like the most urban farm I could probably get away with. Every year, I sneak in another raised bed or like ten more pots and my husband just asks me to leave me a little bit of lawn to mow. So we've got everything from a greenhouse to chickens to fruit trees, trellises of all different sizes, and about then raised beds. So it’s definitely a little farm with a little orchard on it. 

We’re in zone 8 because of our frost, but we also get a lot of the coastal rain here so the climate can be very unpredictable. I garden year-round because I’m a crazy person. I’m like that meme of that woman in the apron, dress, and sun hat standing in the sun saying “Screw it, I’m gardening.” So I garden year-round in the greenhouse or indoors because I do a lot of testing for different seed companies, I love to grow microgreens, and we start all of our seeds inside for the season. So there’s something happening basically at all times. 

Shannon’s Favorite Thing To Grow 

I’m like a super plant science nerd, so I really love growing any new variety of tomatoes along with my tried-and-true. This year we’re up to twenty different varieties and my husband’s always like, ‘Are you for real?’ and I respond, ‘How dare you.’ I’m a canner so I have a variety of canning recipes and really love all different types of tomatoes but probably my favorite tomato is the pineapple tomato — I’m obsessed. I also really love my Persimmon tree. 

On Growing Flowers 

I’m one of those annoying people that only likes to grow things that I can eat, so any flower that I grow is usually to help out pollinators. I have milkweed, lavender, some wildflowers, and I always let my herbs go to flower. We have a lot of beekeepers in our area so I try to keep the bees happy and fed but I’m not too into cut flowers.

On Shannon’s Biggest Challenge In The Garden This Season

Last year I really jumped the gun with putting my plants out too early. I’m one of those people who like to test crops to see if they’ll thrive earlier in the garden, but last year we had a snowstown after our apple trees bloomed and had blossom failure in almost all of our fruit trees. This weird weather system really screwed up a lot of our trees. So this year I’m a little gun-shy, which is definitely not like me. I’ve been cautious about putting things out because I’ve been worried about frost or snow. 

So I think my biggest challenge this year would be battling my Farmer’s Almanac and my grandmotherly superstitions about planting. I have methodic systems for planting — for example, my corn goes in in April and I put in my row covers and my plastic and I do a little hoop house over it because I like a specific kind of corn that’s a longer season (of course) but the hoop houses can only do so much. If we get some snow they cave in pretty easy and it’s sad for things to fail when you put so much effort into it. I’ve been keeping my fingers crossed for most of the spring this year but it looks like we’re in the clear now. 

So yeah, the biggest challenge was getting over last year’s trauma and trying to figure out Mother Nature because she’s really tricky up here in Oregon! 

Shannon’s Advice For New Gardeners 

Don't give up! Some folks give it a go with just seeds or plant starts and if they don't have immediate success the first time, they automatically decide that they don’t have a green thumb and don’t want to try again. Sometimes you’re just trying a more difficult variety or something that may not do well in your area. Go as simple as possible and don’t give up if you fail! 

On Getting Her Skills From Her Grandma

All the garden skills and food skills that I started with all came from my grandma. Like all of my weird little habits, my kitchen tools, the way I grow things. Even the fertilizer I use all comes from just years and years of handed-down traditional methods that she taught me at a young age. We didn't have a lot at the time and those were things she could do;  we didn't have a ton of toys, we didn't have a ton of money, but she had skills, time and energy to give and I'm really grateful for it.

On Her Evolution As A Hobbyist To Professional Gardener/Chef 

For a long time, gardening has really been a form of therapy for me. I get out in the sunshine and it resets my mood. And then slowly all those skills I’d had since a child started to be appreciated as I became an adult. I like to joke that I’ve had all the nerdy skills for a long time but they’re finally just in fashion, so I’m cool now. Like I was never cool until everyone is now into cottage-coor or whatever they’re calling it now. It’s now really popular to preserve food. I did it out of necessity because I didn’t want to waste anything that came from the garden after putting so much time and energy into it. 

I really love growing a ton of food, but you can only give away so many zucchinis before people get sick of you. So you have to learn how to do more with what you’ve got and for me this involved canning what I grew. I learned how to make pickles and gave them out to a lot of our friends. I had a few recipes from my grandma and tweaked them to add more cool stuff — like I have a mesquite pickle and a balsamic pickle. (ed note: Shannon’s mesquite pickle and pickled spruce tips are DELICIOUS!)

A friend of ours kept telling me that I should try to sell the pickles. I had originally just intended to sell to family and friends but it kind of snowballed from there — I took a big leap after encouragement from a lot of friends and decided to sell my pickles at the Farmers Market. I went through a co-packer and all of a sudden had a thousand jars of pickles sitting in my garage and I thought, ‘This is weird.’ 

From there it evolved into teaching pickling lessons and then eventually I became a private chef and did pop-up venues while also assisting other chefs in the community. I really liked doing collaborations and assisting in friend’s restaurants so it was just a natural progression. It was great because all of these things have always been hobbies for me and to have them as a job was next level.

On Becoming A Mom 

I had my son ten years ago and I really fell back into becoming just a mom — when I say that it was exactly how it felt. I really felt like I was “just” being a mom, so I really wanted to get back into working. So I started doing the Farmers Market stuff again and pickling classes and really just finding my groove with stuff that fit in with his schedule. It’s definitely not where I expected to be fifteen years ago when I was just making pickles out of the back yard — and I love it.  

As an adult, I don't want to lose any part of myself just because I have a child. So I try to dip my toe into things and if it fits with our family, awesome. At least I gave it a shot. I think it’s harder to sit still and it’s braver to step out and try to be a working person. And some of us never lose that drive, no matter if we’re a mom or not, and I think that’s really important. Just because you’re a mom you don’t want to lose that sense of yourself, especially if you have all these other skills that you’re passionate about. 

On The Importance Of Connection

One of the biggest things that I have done for myself over the last few years is solidified a safe, adult, non-toxic group of women friends that I can truly bounce things off of. I can go to them with a wild idea and they will be brutally honest if it’s not good, or really gas me up if it’s a great idea. They won’t let me sit in my doubts. It’s so nice to have a good sounding board of women who are also in the trenches doing all the things that you are and have a really realistic dialogue with other adults. It’s amazing to have a sounding board that doesn’t have to be therapy or counseling. So that has been a great thing for me in the past few years. 

At the same time, through social media, the culinary world has kind of kind of stepped into a real woman shift right now, which feels amazing. I’m working with developers, makers, business owners, marketing team members, promoters — all of these different people that I would say are predominantly female right now which feels really good. Those connections feel more personal, even on a professional level — those are the connections I want to make, more meaningful and purposeful connections. It makes me feel like what I do isn't just a crappy desk job — this is something I get to do and I’m enjoying it. . This is something I get to do and I'm enjoying it. It’s true, especially after this last year of kind of sitting in a very crazy standstill, any movement forward feels like it needs to be more personal and feel good. 

My son is nonverbal, his mood changes like the weather and sometimes things just don't work out. If I need to miss a meeting or something like that, the folks I work with are flexible and get it. And I will say that the majority of those people in my working world are parents and especially mothers. This good sense of community has kept me grounded. I guess all of that to say it's the sense of community has kept me really sane and I think it comes with finding your niche, doing what feels right, and doing what you love. 

On Shannon’s Son & Getting Him Out In The Garden

Aidan is 10. He is autistic, nonverbal and goes to special ed at school a few days a week. I like to get him out in the garden and he’s very meticulous — he really likes rules, likes chores that have a system to them. For instance, we have chickens because he's not very invested in pets, but he was fascinated by the chickens because of the routine. If you think about it, they eat at the same time every day and you take them out at the same time. Then you check for eggs — they usually lay an egg about every day — and he knows what to expect.

He’s very organized and it’s the same in the garden. We water every day; we pull weeds.  I found that I have to be more specific nowadays because when he was younger I had him helping me pick tomatoes. The tomatoes were right next to the peppers so I told him to pick everything round so he wouldn’t pick the peppers. But I didn’t think it through and didn’t tell him to pic everything round AND red, so we had a huge basket of green tomatoes that day. It was totally fine — we enjoyed a lot of fried green tomatoes. 

He’s a great helper and he really loves it. He doesn't eat a lot of diverse things from the garden which does drive me insane. But I feel like just exposing him to all of the different things will help him come around. He tries things here and there and eventually maybe it'll click into place, but he's a good little workhorse and can last a long time out in the garden, he loves the sunshine. 

On Using C-BITEs In The Garden

I love them because there's a ton of different things you could do with them.Once I started fiddling with them in the garden, I realized they could be used for so many things. They fit the standard green garden stakes so that was awesome. Everybody has those or at least bamboo stakes. When I first started putzing around with them in the garden, I used them to add netting around some of our smaller blueberry shrubs and that helped keep the vermin away from them. So once I realized that they worked well with netting, I used them to clip netting to stakes to create temporary fencing to keep my free-ranging chickens out of the garden.  

C-BITEs are great for putting up barriers or protecting with netting, but I’ve also extended trellises with it. The different sized C-BITEs connect different sized stakes to one another. I’ve tried to explain it to people — it’s like a game! You can create pretty much anything, any structure you need to support something, to shield something, and I’ve even used them with our hoop houses. We have some hoops that are the same diameter as a standard green garden stake and they do a way better job clamping the plastic to the hoops than the clamps do. The clamps always rust out and I always lose them. 

They are just super universal, I think I have them in like 10 different places in the yard right now. They're holding up really heavy peonies right now — it just rained the other day and they’re waterlogged and slopped over and normally I lose branches but with the C-BITEs and stakes I haven’t. It's a lateral move from thing to thing — once you have C-BITEs in your yard it’s like, oh, I can use them for this too, right?

Shannon’s Favorite Summer Recipe 

I’m crazy about developing recipes that are based out of classic garden crops, so people can go walk out and grab something from their garden. But I would say my favorite would be my Stuffed Squash Blossoms because everyone always has a ton of squash. 

Stuffed Squash Blossoms 

Ingredients: 

  • 1/2 cup cauliflower rice
  • 1/2 Tbsp onion powder
  • 1/2 Tbsp garlic powder
  • 1 Tbsp mushroom powder
  • 1 bunch of basil leaves roughly chopped
  • 1/4 cup chopped tomatoes (I love cherry tomatoes for this recipe)
  • 2 Tbsp ghee ( or olive oil )

View the directions and complete recipe on Shannon’s website Urban Farm Foods.

What Shannon’s Looking Forward To 

I have taken a little bit of a hiatus from in-person backyard farm classes and cooking classes, but I am looking forward to getting back to that once everything starts to open up again. 

For now, I do have a fun online cooking class planned in partnership with Le Creuset for Father’s Day. It will take place at the beginning of June so people can DM me on Instagram @UrbanFarmFoods to get on the mailing list — it’s sort of VIP only. Another fun thing going on in May is I’ll be having a lot of giveaways on my Instagram including a cookbook, seeds, and more so be sure to follow me and look for those! 

You can keep up with Shannon on Instagram at @UrbanFarmFoods and on her website UrbanFarmFoods.co 


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