In 1976, gardener Jim Kennard discovered the Mittleider gardening method and was blown away by the bountiful fruits and vegetables he reaped that year. His harvest was far more abundant than any of his previous crops. When he retired from a successful career as a certified public accountant, he founded and became the pro bono president of the Food for Everyone Foundation to share the Mittleider techniques with the world.
“Jacob Mittleider was a nursery plant wholesale grower in Loma Linda, California, for 19 years, during which time he became very successful, earning 11 plant patents and selling plants all the way to Louisiana,” Kennard said. “In 1963, he gave it up to devote his life to helping others.”
Over his years as a wholesale grower, Mittleider had developed a scientific growing method taking into account what he identified as the six laws of plant growth, including the 16 nutrients that all plants need to grow, and the right light, temperature, water, airflow, and competition for each particular planting.
Unlike traditional gardens that are planted in rows, Mittleider gardens are planted with two rows of most plants in 18-inch-wide soil beds or grow boxes, allowing for plant spacing based on size at maturity, but requiring less water and fertilizer; the idea is to get the best results while reducing labor, cost, and garden space. Many plants are trained to grow vertically, allowing more plants in smaller spaces.
Crops are large and resilient because the plants are close together, and nourished by weekly feedings of a fertilizer made with a custom, balanced mix of natural mineral nutrients—think of it as a multivitamin for plants. The model is similar to hydroponics, but with the benefits of being planted in soil, and without any expensive special equipment.
As a result, Mittleider gardens succeed even under difficult conditions. For example, while traditional gardeners in Florida, Arizona, and southern Texas aren’t able to grow during summer months, Mittleider gardeners are able to sustain their gardens right through the hottest months.
Over the next 38 years, Mittleider “conducted 75 humanitarian gardening projects in 27 countries,” Kennard said, “expanding his knowledge and improving his methods everywhere he went.”
Kennard, in carrying on Mittleider’s work, has continued to see the method’s amazing results.
“One year, tomato gardens in northwest Missouri were decimated with blight,” Kennard recalled.
However, the foundation’s Mittleider garden in the city of Kidder was the only garden in the area that continued producing tomatoes.
Further afield, in Armenia, “a bad hailstorm wiped out every garden in the village of Getk—except the Mittleider demonstration garden,” Kennard said. “Recently, we received a picture of a Mittleider garden that came through a five-inch rainstorm, while neighboring gardens were all washed away.”
Carrying on an Important Legacy
Like Mittleider, Kennard has a long history in the garden. He was born during the Great Depression, and during World War II, his family had a small victory garden. Although his parents were college-educated—his father was a lawyer—they didn’t have a lot of money, and he was expected to earn his way from an early age. Farm work kept him busy until age 16, when he started a “real job” at an Albertsons grocery store. After marriage, he had a loving family with five daughters but not much money, and he always grew a garden.
After discovering the Mittleider method, Kennard created a half-acre garden adjacent to Hogle Zoo in Salt Lake City, Utah, in 1989, to allow as many people as possible to see what he considered to be the best gardening system on the planet. At that time, Mittleider himself took an interest in Kennard’s impressive efforts and began mentoring him. When Mittleider retired in 1998, he asked Kennard to carry on his work.
“I couldn’t think of a better way to spend my own ‘retirement’ than making a positive difference in people’s lives; sharing the Mittleider method allows me to achieve that,” Kennard said.
With the Food for Everyone Foundation, and with the assistance of many volunteers, Kennard has digitized, updated, and improved Mittleider’s materials. He has personally conducted humanitarian projects in several countries, including Turkey, Armenia, Georgia, Madagascar, Colombia, and the Philippines.
Many of the countries Kennard and the foundation traveled to were dangerous, so they purchased a school in Kidder, Missouri—pretty much the geographic center of the United States—to allow the world to come to them for week-long intensive Mittleider gardening certification training boot camps. The foundation has also conducted hundreds of free group gardening seminars in the United States and western Canada.
“Vegetable gardening is very important today—soon, it may well become essential for a family’s food supply,” Kennard said. “Even if all you have is a flat roof, a balcony, a driveway, or any other sunny space, you can grow a highly productive garden. Even just one-fiftieth of an acre can produce more than 1,500 pounds of fresh, healthy vegetables.”
This takes into account that, in most locations, a garden can produce food for about eight months, and during the four months of winter, sprouts and microgreens can be grown on kitchen countertops.
Inspired? A PDF providing a short course introducing the Mittleider gardening method is available to download for free at GrowFood.com. Getting started is simple and inexpensive. For tools, all you’ll need is a spade, a rake, and a two-way hoe.
You’ll also need some good seeds—Kennard recommends the wide selection at True Leaf Market—and the do-it-yourself fertilizer, which you can make following the recipe detailed in the introduction course. The recipe calls for a pack of micronutrient mix formulated according to Mittleider’s research and sold on the Grow Food website, as an easier alternative to buying and combining the separate ingredients. (Or, for a quicker start, grab a premixed bag of Andersons’ Mittleider Magic weekly garden food, sold on Amazon.)
When planning your garden, choose a level location that gets six to eight hours of sunshine per day. Plant rows may run in any direction—north-south, east-west, and so on. For north-south rows, plant tall plants on the east. For east-west, plant tall plants on the north.
Kennard recommends including these 14 edible greens in your garden: beets, broccoli, cabbage, carrots (yes, carrots), cauliflower, celery, chard, kale, kohlrabi, lettuce, onions, radishes, spinach, and turnips.
The secret? Harvest a few leaves from each plant every week. These can be used in salads, sautés, smoothies, soups, stir-fried dishes, and more. Most of these plants can be harvested for many months.
As examples, celery, chard, and kale can grow for almost a full year in the garden, without a hard frost. Four square feet will provide celery for a family for many months, four to six square feet of chard, likewise, and six to eight square feet of kale can provide some of the healthiest food possible.
“Whatever size garden you can grow,” said Kennard, “get started toward your family’s self-reliance now.”