To Jason Brunson, CEO of Rebel Gardens, planting a seed isn’t just an empowering act, but one direct action towards the rebellious future we deserve. Invoking the spirit of WWII Victory Gardens, Rebel Gardens has been building a better tomorrow in the same way we have at Million Gardens Movement: getting everyone gardening and digging into the dirt! Rebel Gardens sells high-quality seeds and grow kits, from purple kohlrabi microgreens to chamomile to Green Zebra tomatoes, all organic, heirloom, and non-GMO. As a product partner of the Million Gardens Movement, we’re so excited to have opportunities to share their seeds, kits, and spirit with our community. That all starts with Jason’s brilliant advice and tips for new growers. Read on to learn about Russian dachas, microgreen tacos, and if baby greens grow up to be teenage greens (hint: maybe not).
Million Gardens Movement: Tell us more about what Rebel Gardens does and what you mean when you say you want to “grow the rebellion”?
Jason: The mission of Rebel Gardens is really summarized in our slogan: Grow the Rebellion. So what we do as a company is try to find products and solutions to help your average person grow more. Right now, we’re mostly selling seeds, but I’m constantly in development for kind of whatever my people are telling me. The reason we’re doing that is I’m not just interested in gardening, right? It’s the world’s greatest hobby. But I consider gardening a powerful tool in creating kind of systemic change in our food system. That’s really what Rebel Gardens is about. That’s why we say grow the rebels, not just grow more food, or grow pretty tomatoes. We’re kind of I’m trying to attract people and support them as they move away from our industrial food system – and all the downsides that come with that.
Million Gardens Movement: How do you think our society would change if we had a million more gardens and a million more people gardening? What excites you about this future we can create?
Jason: If we had a million more home gardens, especially managed by people who are constantly trying to replace, 5%, 10%, 15% of their food with homegrown food, could completely change how our food system is run. In Russia, roughly around WWII, had dacha gardens that composed of 5% of their land, all home gardens, which produced 50% of the vegetables for their society (this is still true today). In the same era, the Victory Garden movement had very similar numbers, though a bit smaller. This tiny percentage of land had a huge percentage of vegetable production. Today, vegetable production is a tiny percentage of land, dwarfed by magnitudes just by lawns. Most of our land is wheat, corn, soy, the classic inputs for industrial agriculture. Another million gardens changes everything! There’s a lot of logistical challenges, but it could completely replace the industrial model for vegetable production. It is that big of a deal. It’s enormous and very encouraging to keep doing what I’m doing. It’s why I love what the Million Gardens Movement is doing. It’s why I love supporting school gardens. It’s why I love all these allies. Because we need that we need that tipping point. I don’t know if that’s a million or 100,000, but we need the tipping point where all of a sudden we can say “We don’t actually need industrial ag anymore. We can just grow our own.”
Million Gardens Movement: What is one thing you would encourage, as a parent, every parent to do to connect gardening into their kids daily lives?
Jason: If I can only have parents do one thing, it would be pick one food type, something your kid clearly likes, could be tomatoes, strawberries, whatever. Then plant a garden, no matter what size, even a one-foot tub, and put the kid in charge of it. If they’re three years old, they might just be with you while you take care of it. If they’re 12 years old, they can do it themselves. And then let them eat from that. That little thing seems minor, but there’s been just so many interesting studies done where kids in classrooms are shown foods and they have no clue where it comes from. No clue! So that one little thing that creates that connection and understanding about where food comes from, what goes into tending it, and those food cycles? It’s amazing. It’s not the whole ballgame, but it’s a massive first step. That’s a step I wish every kid could take.
Million Gardens Movement: Have you done that with your with your kids?
Jason: I do. Both my kids have strawberry plants, and their uncle made them each a little planter box. My 11-year-old is in charge of harvesting, and my four-year-old has put herself in charge of harvesting them all and eating them all. I try to get my kids out in the garden as much as I can. Not always successful, sadly, but it’s interesting how much more willing they are to eat from the vine than if I were to put them in a bowl for them at dinner.
Million Gardens Movement: What are the major mistakes that people make when starting microgreens? What can they do before they start to ensure they have a successful growing experience?
Jason: If you’re thinking of doing microgreens going into the winter, I would definitely just take stock of you as a person. If you’re like me, your garden has automated watering systems. Because, if it doesn’t, you would only water once a week and nothing would grow. Your gardening style is probably going to carry over to microgreens. There’s some really cool products we do, like a self watering microgreen kit that we highly recommend people check out, but generally there’s a lot out there in terms of sizes, styles, and designs. The first step is know yourself and know if you need something that’s mostly automated, or if you want something that’s more traditional. Second thing is amounts. Your standard microgreen setup is a 20×10 tray that has a lot of microgreens – like a lot – and they only keep a few days. Grow the amount you need, depending on if you add them to smoothies, salads, sandwiches, or just use a glob a day. The final thing is to make sure you have good airflow for your microgreens. The odds of them molding or anything are virtually nil, but if they do, it’s almost certainly because of bad airflow. You can do that with an open window, a well-ventilated rooms typically, or some fans. The latter two would be best in the winter.
Million Gardens Movement: What was some of the first microgreen success that you had? And I guess when did you know that it was a success?
Jason: My first consistent success was actually when I was prototyping microgreens. I’ve always loved the idea of microgreens. But I have always killed microgreens! They’re supposed to be foolproof growing. And yet I was lucky if I got half a crop out of them because I wouldn’t watch them. Once I had a system in place that just let it water itself, it was fantastic. Maybe I grow them too often now, according to my kids.
Million Gardens Movement: Are there some fun secondary uses for microgreens that people wouldn’t expect, like chia pets, or microgreen smoothies?
Jason: Well, I put them on everything. I put microgreens on my street tacos recently and it was fantastic, kind of spicy. They can replace lettuce in anything you’re not going to cook, because they don’t cook well, or store well, or freeze well. But you can dry them and turn them into powders. I have a feeling microgreen powder is going to be going to be the trendy thing in a year or two, which is about the only way to keep them longer than a couple days.
Million Gardens Movement: You heard it here first, folks, if you want to start getting on the next trend early, grow microgreens now so you can dehydrate them in powder them a year from now!
A lot of gardening supplies aim to be healthy for the planet but still wrap up its product in wasteful and oil-based plastics. Why was it important for you to design a full compostable series of seed packets?
Jason: Packaging and environmental causes were one of the big reasons I started the company. The origin of Rebel Gardens, in brief, started with me shopping on Amazon for some seeds from my garden. I was super disappointed by what I found on there. Back then, my day job was involved with selling stuff for a company on Amazon so I just decided, “No, I’m going to do this better.” And a big part of that was an incremental process of improving packaging. All of our seed packets are made from 100% recyclable paper and can be recycled, and our outer packaging that collects all the seed packets together is 100% compostable, and so you can shred that up and stick it in your compost pile. When it comes just to the overall society that we’re building, you can’t just keep throwing everything away and expect it to not have repercussions.
Million Gardens Movement: It’s all an interconnected web of climate topics! You discuss turning the ship of the current food system around towards a more nourishing, sustainable, and delicious world of food. What do you think are some signs that the ship is turning slowly in this direction?
Jason: What I’m seeing in terms of signs that point to an improving food future is centered in the interconnectedness of at all. Food is honestly at the intersection of virtually every problem you’re going to find in society, from climate change, to ocean pollution, to malnutrition, to animal abuse, to health care and education. So even though we’re in a society that feels like it’s splintered, I’m finding that food is a nexus point. Republicans are pushing the PRIME Act to help the localization of animal, and Democrats are pushing towards a more organic or green food supply. You see it just compounding everywhere, right? It’s an intersection where political parties can meet, different people religions can meet, the young and old can meet, you know, the boring business guy and the funky hipster. I was taught about an organic farmland tipping point recently. Once farmland was over 16%, certified organic, it was just a matter of time until 100% of the farmland came certified organic. Certified organic has been watered down over time but it’s step one! We’re at 7% or 8%. It’s been growing over time. So you see this consistent march towards improvements, and a lot of them look very minor, but we’re a lot farther along than we think, there’s a lot more underneath the surface. That gives me hope.
Million Gardens Movement: When did you realize food is the nexus point of all this? Was there a kind of lightbulb moment?
Jason: It was definitely a continuous change. When I got into health food as a teenager, it was full of hippie, granola people, but the longer I’ve been in these circles the wider they’ve become. I realized, “Well, this is just becoming something everyone wants, right? Everyone is realizing this is important and needs to be done.” Everyone is excited to get to change food, and that drives me.
Million Gardens Movement: You’re a big advocate of a perpetual baby greens garden. What does that look like and how can people design one indoors during the colder months?
Jason: For something like a perpetual baby green garden, you want to keep greens coming year-round. Really, that starts at going on YouTube and putting in “self watering lettuce garden” or “self watering baby green container.” There are some really simple DIY options, for the most part they’re plastic tubs with shoelaces running up to wick up water. What I like to do is have three different roughly the same size gardens that I succession plant. That way I have baby greens roughly 20 days until they’re ready to be harvested on this constant rotation until we have baby greens all the time. You don’t need a lot, unless you eat salad morning, noon and night. 1″x1″ is going to give you a pretty good amount. It’s not expensive, and it’s loaded with nutrients, a fantastic way to keep that homegrown food coming all year long.
Million Gardens Movement: This is gonna sound so dumb, but what’s the distinction between baby greens and microgreens?
Jason: It’s just the amount of time they’ve had to grow. Microgreens are usually at about a 7-to-10-day growth when they’re harvested. Baby greens are usually around that two week to 20-day mark. That’s it.
Million Gardens Movement: Is there anything between baby greens and just green? Is there like teenage greens?
Jason: I don’t think so! Though they do get bigger and more obnoxious like a teenager.
Million Gardens Movement: What is the most empowering part of planting a seed?
Jason: In modern society, we’re completely disconnected from our food supply. Most of our food comes from hundreds, if not thousands of miles away, it’s usually gone through multiple steps of processing – even a bag of salad greens is from usually hundreds of miles and gone through lots of hands to get to get to your plate. To me, planting is really empowering. Even if it’s one tomato plant, or a little tray of microgreens. To know that I did that, I grew that, and I ate that, that feels really good. And that I could do that again. There’s a sense of something you could call empowerment, or personal sovereignty, or a connection a timeless cycle of humanity that we’re really disconnected from. Bridging that connection, even in a small way, is a big deal.