Las Vegan uses yard to embrace slow food movement

Can you imagine walking out your back door to find something scrumptious to nibble on any day of the year? Ray Talarico does just that every time he wanders out into his backyard to graze — as he calls it — on his many kinds of vegetables and fruits.

Talarico wants to share his experience so you can make your landscape a feeding ground while significantly lowering your grocery bill. The class will be at 8:30 a.m. Saturday at the Springs Preserve, 333 S. Valley View Blvd.

While sitting with Talarico on his porch, my panoramic view took in apples, peaches, plums, pears, jujubes, figs, grapes, pomegranates, eggplants, cucumbers, squash, tomatoes and a wide assortment of leafy vegetables. And to make the occasion even more enjoyable, he served me fresh tomatoes, figs, kale and a few other goodies to munch on.

Talarico is part of a trend called the slow food movement. It has spread to more than 87 countries and is gaining more traction as people become more Earth conscious.

Americans have become a fast food society. A fast food manager told me that more than 50 percent of his business comes from the drive-through window. People are not even getting out of their cars to walk into the fast food counter. We need to slow down and taste the food!

The slow food movement has coined a new word, “localvore.” It means consuming food locally grown such as that found at the farmers’ market featured every Thursday at the preserve.

Talarico is one of the big supporters of the movement and practices everything he preaches. He plants only vegetables and fruit trees that produce food with one exception: His wife loves flowers in her corner of the yard.

Ultimately, the slow food movement is about pleasure and taste, knowledge and choice. Once you become interested in the enjoyment of food, and in finding out where your food comes from, you can begin to see the effects of choices.

Talarico grew up in western New York where his family raised vegetables and fruit. He never picked up on the importance of raising vegetables and fruits until 25 years ago from the nutritional point of view. He finds kale, watercress, collards and greens set the standard as the highest nutritionally. That is why you will find so many leafy vegetables in his garden.

He became interested in edible landscaping six years ago and has assisted others in developing their yards to do the same. He’ll have examples at the seminar.

The slow food enthusiast says Las Vegans can grow high quality produce from their own gardens 365 days a year if they put a little forethought into the process. “I am able to graze my garden and the produce doesn’t have a chance to lose its flavor. I want my produce to travel the shortest distance possible, and that is from plants in my garden to my dinner table.”

We are in the age of the green revolution, he continued. We need to get back to producing our own food. With prices of land going through the roof, we need to put those spaces around our yards to producing fruits and vegetables. Talarico went on to say it is the best use of our most precious water supply and it is one way to stymie the high cost of groceries. And it will make your landscape even more inviting, too.

“We are so lucky to live in Las Vegas,” said Talarico. “We have very few bugs and plenty of birds hanging around to feast on them and plenty of bees to pollinate crops. All we need to do is plant and care for the produce.”

Talarico’s yard sits on 6,600 square feet. “I have 350 square feet of raised beds and another 800 square feet in vegetables, with 35 fruit trees spread around the perimeter of the property and nine grape vines hidden under those trees. With all this, my water bill for 2007 was less than $500.”

Talarico said it is a great satisfaction to know he has the skills to grow his own food. It is even more comforting knowing where his food comes from and what was used on it. It gives him a feeling of going back to nature. “I am connecting to the earth, which is an innate need of man.”

The slow food hobbyist knew what he wanted his yard design to look like. He used the same designing principles as any other landscape but with emphasis on an edible landscape. He even overplanned his irrigational system just in case he wants to add something later on.

Talarico wants people who visit his garden to experience all the senses. Eyes to see the beauty of the fruit and vegetables in development. Nose to smell the fragrance, which is always breathtaking. Taste for visitors to savor the fruits and vegetables at the peak of quality. Many people have never experienced the delicious taste of kale at its peak. Ears to hear birds gathering in trees waiting to consume the ripening produce.

You won’t find any bare soil in the Talarico edible landscape. He uses woodchips to mulch. Mulch cools and warms soil, reduces evaporation, keeps water available to plants and controls weeds. Its microorganisms thrive having something to feed on, which improves the soil for future crops.

Talarico considers his garden the best room in his house. It has significantly expanded his living space, and is a great place to meditate, listen to the birds, watch squash form and relieve stress.

FARMERS’ MARKET

The Las Vegas Farmers’ Market has become a whopping success since its inception, both in numbers of vendors and in people attending. The market features tomatoes, strawberries, yams, corn, onions, garlic, oranges, beets, avocados, squash and now we are starting on other produce as it becomes available through the season.

There is an emphasis on organically grown produce that comes from within 500 miles of Las Vegas. It takes place from 4 to 8 p.m. every Thursday through the summer. And the organization is expecting many more vendors to participate. If you desire to become a vendor, call 562-2676.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY

The Springs Preserve is a year old today. Come and enjoy the ice cream festival co-sponsored by Anderson Dairy, Wholesale Foods and AV Vegas from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Expect some exciting events to take place including behind the scenes tours of the environmentally friendly buildings and exhibits that have won numerous awards. Experience a flash flood, see wild animals and reptiles in a natural setting and come see the greatest part — I’m prejudiced — the gardens. See you there.

PLANT GIVEAWAY

In honor of Father’s Day, there will be a plant giveaway from 10 a.m. to noon Thursday at the Dr. Green Thumb booth in the preserve’s beautiful botanical gardens. The free plants are either native or desert adapted and will make a perfect addition to your yard. In order for you to receive a plant, you must answer questions related to that plant. Don’t worry, we’ll assist you in answering the questions.

Linn Mills writes a gardening column each Sunday. You can reach him at linn.mills@springspreserve.org or call him at 822-7754.

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