Get to Know Kitchen Garden Expert, Rita Bachman
Please meet Rita Bachman of Rita’s Roots. Rita and her crew provide total kitchen garden design and installation for the Lowcountry, and our Nexton residents love stopping by to chat (and nibble) when she’s working in the garden of our model home.
We think Rita is amazing. She embodies our values of living local and healthy, and we know for a fact that a custom kitchen garden quickly becomes the highlight of a home’s outdoor space. We caught up with Rita recently for a fascinating Q&A and we learned so much! Rita isn’t just a gardener and entrepreneur – she’s an artist. Now it all makes sense…
Q: Rita, when did you fall in love with gardening?
A: I grew up spending a lot of time outdoors and making art and being creatively organized when I was indoors. Gardening collides art and the outdoors and the organization is crucial in running a business. We had a garden when I was very young and I remember walking amidst the towering tomato plants.
We moved to a new house when I was eight, which had tremendous deer pressure, so gardening became a thing of the past. I do recall my mother teaching me about talking snapdragons and saving marigold seeds at the new house. I revisited growing my own food in college by participating in community gardens and was intrigued by the possibility of minimizing money spent at the grocery store.
Q: Why is organic gardening is so important?
A: I surely do not want to eat chemicals on my food, and I can’t imagine many others do either once they sit down to think about it. Many chemicals used in conventional agriculture were originally left over from World Wars – chemicals used to kill people in concentration camps and used to defoliate forests in Vietnam. And their repurpose after the wars end was to help grow food. These chemicals are incredibly toxic and are known carcinogens. Why use them on food, when farmers do not have to?
Organic is a legitimate, viable option that nurtures the soil and uses natural fertilizers and specific bacteria to target problem pests. When soil health is optimized, plants are healthy and naturally repel pests and disease. I do not believe in using products or practices that toxify the soil or the water or our bodies.
Q: Where did you go to college, and how did that help you expand your passion?
A: I went to the College of Charleston from ’00 – ’04 and graduated with a Political Science major and a Sculpture minor. At CofC I met some incredibly formative people in my life who helped educate me on where food comes from. I became a vegetarian for seven years and joined community gardens where I began experimenting with growing my own food and learning how to cook and use vegetables in the kitchen.
Q: How did you decide to start your own business instead of following an established career path?
A: After graduation (and not knowing what my career path should be) I began an apprenticeship on an organic vegetable farm in upstate New York. It was the hardest, longest work I had ever done, but by far the most fulfilling and empowering. To grow your own food and rely that much less on the industrial supply chain was liberating.
I learned how to be more self-sufficient and was honing my trade-able skill set. From medicine in the herb garden, to fruit in the berry patch and vegetables on the farm, we produced about 50% of what we ate. And it never tasted so good! I was hooked. From there I knew I wanted to be a farmer. I worked a second season on a farm in California and moved back to Charleston after that. There was very little happening in terms of organic vegetables here, so I had to make my own way.
Starting my own business came out of necessity. I began growing vegetables at a local farm and selling them at the farmers market and to restaurants. I worked in varying capacities with other established farmers, but once you work for yourself its hard to go back! Luckily my parents and my farmer mentors taught me how to work long and hard which has proven an absolute necessity for self-employment success.
I farmed in the field until 2010 and transitioned my passion to helping people grow food in their own yards. Rita’s Roots Backyard Harvest was founded spring of 2011 and we have been growing (figuratively and literally) ever since.
Q: Tell us about the vision for Rita’s Roots.
A: Rita’s Roots takes the Guesswork out of Gardening. We install raised bed organic vegetable gardens for our clients and then teach them how to grow food. We bring over all of the supplies needed in the garden – plants, seeds, fertilizers, sprays – and work with our clients to teach them all aspects of caring for a garden and keep them on the planting calendar to ensure garden success! We follow and teach only organic practices.
Our goal is to have everyone in the Lowcountry growing their own food, or at least eating locally grown vegetables. We have the ability to grow year-round here, even through the winter. Why not take complete advantage of that? In addition to supplying fresh, delicious organic vegetables, growing a garden gets families together outdoors to exercise, chat and share with neighbors, and is a major source of happiness and pride.
Q: What’s your favorite thing about your job?
A: Growing beautiful healthy plants and seeing the joy it provides my clients. I also love living with the seasons, the weather and how dynamic the business is. All seasons are different and it keeps it interesting! My clients are really fantastic, interesting people too!
Q: And you’ve got a great team helping you, right?
A: I have been blessed with reliable, talented, hard working friends who help me with all aspects of Rita’s Roots. Kim helps me with client visits and garden care, Aron builds boxes and perennial installations, and Jessica does the bookkeeping and nursery care. I could not do it with out them. I joke that when they are ready to move on, I need six months notice because that’s how long it will take to find and train a suitable replacement. Everyone knows their responsibilities and gets the job done, without me needing to micro-manage.
Q: Do you have public projects where people can see your gardens?
A: I own a small shop space downtown at 1630 Meeting Street, which I call the Container Garden. It is literally a shipping container that I have turned into part storage shed, part pop-up shop for essential Rita’s Roots approved garden supplies. The shop is literally open only after gardening classes and during plant sales in the spring and fall.
All around the Container, we have built garden boxes, which show off what can be grown throughout the seasons in our area. The gardens are open for viewing at all times. I also mentor the Green Heart Project by helping them match their gardening schedule with their programming curriculum. I help them grow a bountiful garden to teach and feed their students and get organic veggies into their homes and cafeterias.
Q: In what areas of Charleston have you built gardens for customers?
A: I have built gardens for families from Wadmalaw to Lake Marion and everywhere in between! We have a concentration of clients in Mt. Pleasant and West Ashley. The toughest part of my business is the driving, but a good podcast and some Spotify tunes help the time fly.
Q: Do you do educational or pop up events?
A: We began offering gardening classes and Pop-up Plant Sales at the Container Garden last fall. We do part of the class indoors in the conference room in the big building using the smart TV and then head outdoors to get our hands dirty in the gardens to apply the knowledge we learned.
The hands on makes a world of difference in conveying proper soil amending, transplanting, seeding and watering techniques. I’ve had about 100 people go through my Gardening 101 workshops, and will be creating and Advanced Garden Management class for this Fall.
The plant sales are held at seasonally appropriate times of year with the offerings being appropriate to plant at that time. We grow all of our plants using 100% organic techniques. We also sell select garden products such as SC compost and fertilizer to get folks fully equipped for gardening success. Folks can join our mailing list to get updates about these classes and plant sales through the link on our website www.ritasroots.com.