Whole Foods has a Gardening Coach



by Susan
This guy may look more like a football coach but if I pointed that out I’d be stereotyping based on looks and
we don’t do that here, now do we?  So I’ll just say  he’s the gardening coach for the 35 Whole Foods stores in the DC area and I think that’s cool. 

Though he calls himself a coach, Mark Smallwood’s official job title is Green Mission specialist for Whole Foods, which means he does lots of training and teaching.  And in that vein, I recently heard him spread the gospel of growing food at Kathy Jentz’s seed exchange, where he bragged that the company now diverts 71 percent of their waste from landfills, with the goal of 90 percent by ’09.  They actually have garbage audits.  And he preaches  "Less grass, more food."  And this:  "You don’t need pesticides anymore" because there are "natural organic replacements," which is kind of a misnomer – pesticides can be organic, after all – but we’ll let that pass.  (Are we always perfectly precise in our language?  I think not.)

More Whole Foods news:  They’re selling fresh aerated compost tea at 15 stores in the D.C. area this year, part of their increased offering of lawn and garden products. 

And this veggie-gardening coach gave all sorts of tips, like:

  • Grow fast with slow – like beets and radishes.
  • Grow high with low – maybe tomatoes with impatiens (wait – they’d have to be sun-loving impatiens, right?)
  • Get into companion planting – Google it.
  • Get into succession planting – Google it.

And I liked these quotes:

  • "IPM is actually Integrated Pesticide Management."
  • "Talk to your gardens.  Listen to your gardens.  Meditate in your gardens." 
  • And "Just email me with your questions.  The address is coach@wholefoods.com."  (Try it and report to us!)

From the Green Action part of the Whole Foods website, here are some of their "eco action tips":

  • Plant a Tree, seriously.  A single tree can absorb one ton (2,000 pounds) of carbon dioxide over
    its lifetime. One acre of tree cover in Brooklyn can compensate for
    automobile fuel use equivalent to driving a car between 7,200 and 8,700
  • Grow Your Own  Plant a garden or a few pots of veggies without pesticides and chemical
    fertilizers that can harm both human health and the environment. How
    delightful to step out the back door and pick a ripe, organic tomato!
  • Switch to Organics  Organic
    agriculture protects the health of all the earth’s inhabitants by
    limiting input of toxic and persistent chemicals into the air, soil and
    water. Organic methods support natural ecosystems by using long-term
    farming solutions that help preserve the earth’s resources for future
  • Start a Compost Pile in Your Yard As landfill space becomes increasingly scarce and expensive, composting
    is an extremely valuable idea for reducing needless garbage. Composting
    requires little effort and, in time, will create an earthy, crumbly
    substance to help your plants flourish.
  • Buy Local. Purchase locally grown food when possible to support independent, local
    farms and the environment. They use fewer resources on their way to
    your plate, and they’re usually fresher, too, since they’re typically
    picked more recently.

That last one’s particularly interesting to me, given the pounding they took in Michael Pollan’s Omnivore’s Dilemma. Readers, what’s your reaction?

Thanks to Kathy Jentz, editor/publisher of Washington Gardener Magazine, for the excellent line-up of speakers at her Third Annual Seed Exchange [pdf].


  1. I think this guy sounds spot on. The only statement which I think is controversial is the generalization about IPM, but I think it is also a fair critique, especially if one had time to discuss the details. Yeah for Whole Foods, even if they’re still not the same as a farmer’s market!

  2. I absolutely agree with Nancy – IPM is most certainly Integrated “Pest” Management – NOT Integrated “Pesticide” Management!

    A very basic IPM strategy is simply growing a plant in the right place – which has absolutely NOTHING to do with pesticides!

  3. I’ll echo a distaste for this statement.”IPM is actually Integrated Pesticide Management.”

    In IPM the use of pesticides is a last resort measure when the acceptable damage threshold is passed and all other measures have failed. All the cultural practices of good soil, right plant, right location, resistant varieties for healthy plants come first. Then you go to mechanical, biological or physical barrier control, even good sanitation is a pest control option before pesticide use.

    Maybe the guy is a lumper putting all pest control measures in the category of “pesticide”, but it isn’t accurate.

  4. I just sent a question off to him so I’ll let you know if he responds.

    Re: buying local-
    Our local WF has been big on using local vendors since they arrived. They sell their products and encourage buying locally, here anyway.

    BTW, I noticed that the new venture of the original Wild Oats owners, Sunflower Mkt, gets a lot of their foods from overseas. Organic sweet gherkins from India, no less!

  5. Wonderful holistic program to leap out of the shopping rut and into the lifestyle zone. Why stop at shopping green? Live it. It would be great if more people, especially the younger “wired” set, could be increasingly comfortable with the delayed gratification that gardening offers.

  6. while I understand the commenters dislike for the IPM statement I take his point to be that using IPM correctly means no/few bugs which means no/few use of pesticides and hence IPM “manages your pesticides” by restricting the need to use them. which doesn’t seem to controversial to me. I like what I’ve read here – now to investigate further. I also like wholefoods attitude. I get Pollan’s issues with them but hey isn’t big organic better than big-non-organic even if it ain’t perfect? Things like this on the website are what make me believe whole foods is a positive actor not just a profit seeker.

  7. I tried mightily a year ago to divert the green waste from the local Whole Foods here in D.C. to the compost bin at my daughter’s charter school without success. The produce manager told me they just did not have the space or the equipment to separate and save their un-sellable produce. Presumably, it went into the trash bin. Have things changed so much at the P Street Whole Foods in the last year? I don’t know. What you do see is the culling of fruits and vegetables so they can be sold in little plastic packages as convenience products. The rest, I believe, is going to the landfill.

  8. The guide to pest management used in our “Organic Landscaping” class at the USDA graduate school was “The Gardener’s Guide to Common-Sense Pest Control.” There, “integrated pest management” was defined as: “an approach to pest control that utilizes regular monitoring to determine if and when treatments are needed and employs physical, mechanical, cultural, biological and educational tactics to keep pest numbers low enough to prevent intolerable damage or annoyance. Least-toxic chemical controls are used as a last resort.”

  9. My IPM class (at a major Northeastern agriculture program) made a point of “acceptable pest levels”–that is, IPM practitioners don’t even bother trying to shoot for “no bugs,” just “few bugs,” a kind of baseline number that won’t cause major damage. And that’s a major point, actually, because if you prefer the use of predatory insects rather than pesticides, you want *some* bugs to keep your predatory insects around and create a balanced ecosystem.

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