EARTH DAY: Playing in the dirt with Andy Schwartz

Once a sharp-dressed hotel employee, gardening consultant Andy Schwartz now enjoys grass stains on his knees as part of the job. Ready to take on anything from tomato pots on the porch to acres of farmland, Andy will lead a workshop at the Earth Day Festival about composting your food scraps into nutrient-rich soil for your garden.

How you get into dirt?

Andy Schwartz: I'm originally from Indiana, and my degree is in tourism and hospitality. I came to Savannah a year before I graduated from college to take an internship at one of the hotel, but after the year was up I decided it wasn't for me. But I liked Savannah enough to hang around.

Then I met Darron Joffee - everyone knows him as "Farmer D" - and volunteered at the farm he started at Hampton Island for a couple of weeks. They ended up hiring me and I worked out there for two years, learning about farming, composting and soil biodynamics.

When did you venture out on your own as a farmer?

Andy Schwartz: After Hampton, I went to Cumberland Island for a year and helped them rejuvenate their garden for the restaurant at the Greyfield Inn. They had a chef who had gotten serious about wanting to do a farm to table thing. They had some raised beds already, but they were kind of scattered, so I helped organize and get them good soil. We got a veggie garden going and helped them harvest their seasonal fruit trees - figs, a persimmon.

What kind of current projects do you have going on?

Andy Schwartz: Lately I've been out at the community gardens at the Landings, also called Skidaway Farms. The chefs from each of the clubs are interested in growing their herbs and vegetables, so now we have four plots, one per restaurant. There are six or seven types of salad mix, different colored radishes, kale, spinach, all that good stuff. We're just about to transition to summery-type things, like bush beans and squash.

We harvest once a week, and so far it's been enough to supply two restaurants with salads, but come middle of summer there's going to be plenty of stuff.

So, composting. Sounds complicated.

Andy Schwartz: It's actually pretty simple. Mostly, people just need to know what goes into compost - it's not the same thing as recycling. You can't put plastic in there.

Most people think they have to have land, that it's stinky, a nuisance, not worth their time. Even if you don't have space to make a pile or heap in your yard, there are other options. There are people who will come pick up your kitchen scraps and take them to a community garden. Some will return a finished product for potted plants or your own small garden. But even if someone doesn't want the dirt, they're still reducing their waste by composting.

What's the deal with worms?

Andy Schwartz: That's different from the compost, which heats and breaks down waste into soil. Worms are more active, and produce a much more potent fertilizer. But you need to feed them. A pound of worms will eat a pound of veggie scraps a week.

If you drain the bin properly, you can collect the worm "tea," which is a great natural fertilizer and helps plants resist disease without using chemicals. It also gives a huge growing boost.

A little handful from the worm bin can supply a three-gallon pot. It's great for living in the city.

Find out more about Andy at



About The Author

Jessica Leigh Lebos

Community Editor Jessica Leigh Lebos has been writing about interesting people, vexing issues and anything involving free food for more than 20 years. She introduces herself at cocktail parties as southern by marriage.
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