Michele Bumbier is the Program Coordinator for Fleet Farming in Orlando, Florida. Fleet Farming transforms unproductive lawns into community-driven urban farm plots. The organization’s bike-powered fleet eliminates nearly all fossil fuel consumption during production and transportation, and everything they grow is sold at local farmers markets and restaurants within a 5 mile radius.
We talked with Michele about her personal approach to gardening, how she got involved with Fleet Farming, and the top five crops she’d recommend for people who are just starting to grow their own food.
Tell us about your garden and your approach to gardening.
My personal garden is my sanctuary. I can go to it day or night and truly reconnect with my roots and with my purpose. My style of gardening is permaculture oriented, meaning I focus on sustainable growing methods. In my garden I have a variety of medicinal herbs, leafy greens, berries, fruit trees, and flowers which all support each other. I see my garden as a part of me. I try to approach the plants in an intuitive manner, and listen to the them for what they want or need.
When did you first start to garden? What did you grow?
I started my first vegetable garden 5 years ago in a tiny plot in my backyard. I began a typical veggie garden and mapped it all out and was very organized. It was hard work but the rewards were more than just edible for me. I gained so much spiritually. Seeing my intentions literally grow before my eyes and then nourish my body was and is such a blessing. That first season changed my life forever!
Who or what inspires you in the garden?
My first inspiration for gardening is my ancestors. Knowing that they had to cultivate food and medicine for survival was so moving for me, and to connect with them I started growing too. In doing this, I was intrinsically involved in the land that I lived on and the people who were here before me. Also, seeing the current state of our food system scared me and made me realize that I cannot trust everything supplied in stores. I see myself as my ancestors, but now trying to survive in this new age of industry and chemicals. Growing my own food is empowering!
What do you love to grow? What’s your favorite plant at the moment?
I really enjoy growing anything I can get my hands on. In the past year or so, though, I have taken a fondness to growing my own medicinal herbs. As an herbalist, I personally do not want to source my medicine from outside of our region—this is called bio-regional herbalism. We have to focus on what we have here in Central Florida, the South East, and then in America. If I can grow some of what I would need to outsource, that is a win for me and my community!
I don’t think I could pick a favorite plant, because they all speak to me in their own ways, but I have been bonding with Violet lately. This is a sweet, low-lying ground cover that grows in temperate and tropical areas of the world. The heart-shaped leaves appear just as it starts to heat up for the spring. It is cooling and moistening and I use it as a poultice on bruises, rashes, and sores.
Tell us about Fleet Farming and how you got involved with such an inspiring organization.
Fleet Farming is an amazing program that I am so grateful to be a part of. Last August a permaculture friend of mine forwarded me the job posting. Right when I saw the description, I knew that I was meant to be apart of this movement. When I saw that the number one irrigated crop in our country was the American lawn, I knew that I had inform people to make a positive change. If we can grow organic food on lawns all across the country, there would be no need for these mega corporations who are poisoning the environment and our food system.
Fleet Farming is about taking action and giving the community opportunities to learn and take part in growing local food. To be outside farming with passionate people fills my heart with so much joy! Sometimes I look around and I am in awe of what we have created with this community. Fleet Farming empowers people to make localized choices and to be the change. With branches in Uganda, Oakland, CA, and toolkits being sold to many other places, the Fleet Farming movement is on a fast track to success for people all over the world.
What books and/or blogs are you reading right now?
I have to say, I am a bit of a book nerd. I read about three or four books at once. I like variety. Right now, I am reading Curtis Stone’s The Urban Farmer. Curtis is one of our inspirations for Fleet Farming and his book is somewhat like our bible now! He teaches the reader how to efficiently use underutilized land for food production. With that, I am also reading Stephen Harrod Buhner’s The Secret Teachings of Plants: The Intelligence of the Heart in the Direct Perception of Nature. This book dives deep into techniques used by indigenous and Western peoples to learn directly from the plants themselves and to open the heart to plant communication. This man is one of my greatest inspirations. I am also reading a book about Amazonian and Andean shamanism, which is also helping me deeply connect with the spirits of the plants.
As far as blogs go, I have to say, Garden Tribe has become my go-to for inspiring stories of other gardeners and farmers—we are doing it! We are making the movement MOVE. We have to share these stories, our successes and failures, and our love for the environment to keep this alive. I also love Modern Farmer because they provide content for every type of grower from all over the world. AND I have to add Chestnutherbs.com, an incredibly informative blog about herbalism and plant medicine that always keeps me inspired and excited to play in my apothecary!
We know you are an accomplished and experienced gardener, but what was your biggest gardening fail?
My biggest gardening fail had to have been when I first installed my permaculture food forest. Here in Florida, we have a really nasty incisive grass called Torpedo grass. It gets its name from the sharply pointed or torpedo-like growing tips that infiltrate lawns and gardens. According to the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, by 1992 torpedo grass had taken over 70 percent of Florida’s public waters. Well, it definitely took over my food forest! I made the mistake of not deeply observing my property before I began planting. This resulted in a lot of back-breaking weed pulling that I am STILL working on. A temporary solution is to smother it with cardboard and 2 feet of mulch, but eventually it will find its way through. I see this instance as a great learning experience, though, especially in terms of making a well-thought out plan before starting any garden or yard project. I am also learning to work with this plant rather than against it. Roundup is NOT an option and chemicals are not the answer. We have to learn how to work with all that nature provides.
What are the top five crops you’d recommend for people who are just starting to grow their own food?
- Edibles like kale and arugula.
- Perennials like moringa and katuk.
- Medicinal herbs like yarrow and elderberry trees.
- Natives—whatever has thrived in your area for a long time.
- Pollinator-attracting flowers like calendula and sunflowers.
If Michele has inspired you to grow your own food, but you need a little help getting started, sign up for our online food-growing Boot Camp. You’ll be a confident shovel-wielding, seed-starting, crop-harvesting pro in no time!
Michele Bumbier is the Program Coordinator for Fleet Farming in Orlando, Florida. She is a passionate gardener, finding true joy connecting the community with plants. She has a Permaculture certification (2014) from The Green Education Center and is studying Horticulture at Valencia College. She is a student, intern, and teacher at the Florida School of Holistic Living where she studies Herbalism. She is also a Garden Instructor for The Living School Orlando where she works with a homeschool group.
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