Lauri Kranz, founder of Edible Gardens LA, found herself volunteering in the vegetable garden of her son’s school many years ago. Little did she know that moment would pave the way for her life, her business, and her passion moving forward.
Do you remember your first week in LA?
Los Angeles is a city built around the automobile. I moved here from New York and I had let my driver’s license expire, so I spent my first bit of time in Los Angeles without being able to drive. I explored my new neighborhood on foot, which gave me a perspective I would have missed had I jumped behind the wheel of a car immediately.
What brought you to LA?
You’ve had your own business, Edible Gardens LA, for a long time now. How did you start that?
When my son started school I had to volunteer for something there. I looked at the list of what I could volunteer for and I saw gardening was an option. I remembered gardening with my father as a child, and I just loved it. I loved the smell of all the plants and the flowers. The giant sunflowers were all magical to me…. I wanted to do that with my own son.
So I started by volunteering in the school garden with the kids, and I fell in love with it so completely that I started talking to local farmers about gardening. I am a big supporter of farmers markets wherever I am. I developed friendships with the farmers—they're such a great resource—and I learned so much from them. After talking with them, I would try things out in my own home garden, and then the school garden became a testing ground.
I spent a lot of time in libraries reading about gardening. I just loved it. I had no goal with it; it was just my passion.
By then my younger son had started preschool, and his preschool did not have a garden. I said to the director, "I'd really love to start a garden here.” And she said, "Wonderful." So, we started the garden program and we built a raised bed garden from the ground up.
I love working with the children, I love teaching, I love learning from them. After I started the garden, the parents of the kids would say, "I wanna do a garden at home, can you help me?" It all started from there. Then their friends would see the gardens I did for them and they would say, "Can you help me?" and that's how the whole thing grew.
Was it all edible plants from the beginning?
All edible at first. But now it’s expanded. We're putting more fruit trees in and more native plants and pollinator gardens and all those things.
When you're designing a garden, are you designing it aesthetically as well as functionally?
Yes. They don't have to be mutually exclusive. You can have it all.
And this is what you do full time now?
Yes. That's where I am everyday: in the garden, six days a week, all day.
You used to play a lot of music, as well. Do you still play?
I do that in the evenings, but not every evening. Gardening is beautiful work but it's also physically intense, so by the evenings I’m just exhausted.
You had a goal to be a musician when you were younger. When you found gardening, did it feel right?
I do believe that when you find the path you were meant to be on, the universe pushes you along. When I started gardening I loved it, and when I turned it into a business I was supported so fully by friends and the community around me. There's an energy that just pushes it—you just feel the fullness. I feel an enormous amount of gratitude.
I'm in awe of these stories because I feel like I haven't found “it” yet.
You're on the journey…. Ultimately it finds you, and you find it.
But what if it doesn't find you?
Really? Always? Everybody?
Yes. I believe that if you put yourself out there, if you trust your instincts and you do the work, you will find yourself at that place, where it's really what you're passionate about, and the support you need to really have it comes to fruition. It's amazing.
Does it blow you away that this is what you do now?
I don't know if it blows me away, but I did turn to Dean, my husband, this morning, and I said to him, "I love the work that I do." And he said, "I know. We're both so lucky to love what we do." So many people are not able to support themselves in doing what they love. I feel very fortunate and I love it.
If I have have my hands out of the soil for too long, I get really antsy.
Do you go into people's gardens and just want to fix stuff in them?
Yeah, I did that this morning. I said, "Okay, we're pulling this, this and this.”
Has it changed your outlook on life?
Yes, I would say that having that connection to the natural world is important in really guiding the things that I can do. It takes you out of yourself. It's really important to connect to what's greater than you.
Having those moments where you can take a breath and reset are very important. I feel that when I’m listening to live music—it takes me out of my experience and makes me feel great.
Yes. It lifts our spirits, and it's a great connection because when you go to live music you're connecting with the performer, but you're also connecting with everybody around you.
Yes, and that's a nice segue into your music project.
So, [KCRW DJ and music supervisor] Anne Litt and I produce the Music in the Garden concert series. We did one here at the Natural History Museum in Los Angeles in August.
We both love music, and for us, there felt like a natural connection between music and gardening. We wanted to create this place where others would feel that.
We try to inspire people to grow their own food and to connect to where that food comes from, not just put it in a bag. When you buy lettuce from the store and let it rot in the refrigerator, you don’t care about it—but if you grow something from a seed, and water it, and see it grow, you have a deeper connection to it.
We wanted to create a place that brings it all together, two things that we think have tremendous value, music and gardening. We designed this concert series to create a community. We wanted to make it accessible for everyone, so people pay what they can, or just bring a bag of food from your garden or your local farmers market. Moby played our first show! We got as many donations of food as money. It was really beautiful.
Where was that?
It was in a private garden that overlooked Los Angeles. The next morning, all the money went to the charity Moby chose, the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank. And we brought all the food to Project Angel Food's kitchen, where they used it immediately to make their meals.
It's such an incredible story from volunteering at the school to where you are now combining music with gardening.
Anne and I really shared a passion of wanting to do something that creates a connection between people, nature and art. The world can get so crazy … it's hard to read the papers, it's hard to digest the news, but it's the things that we feel we can do that are important. The things that lift us all.
Do you have long-term goals for Edible Gardens LA?
I really want to inspire people to grow their own food, wherever they live. I'm in gardens everyday. I think it's important, whether you have vegetable beds or just a few pots on your doorstep. I hope to inspire people to spend time connecting in that way.
I love what I do, which is designing, building and maintaining gardens, and doing the Music in the Garden series. A lot of the people I work with are really creative humans, designers, and artists. What naturally came out of this was being able to speak about what “garden to table” means—what it means to life.
What's your team like?
It's me, mainly—I don't have a lot of people tending gardens. That's not how I want to grow my business. I feel like if it's not you and the garden, then it's not your garden. If you have people coming to tend the gardens, that's great, but it's their garden. I have crews when I’m building something really big and they've been with me for 10 years. Our working relationship is fantastic, but that's the extent of the operation.
Having your own business is a huge challenge.
Yes. You're responsible for everything.
What were some of the biggest challenges you had to overcome?
Here's the thing—I think everything I've done up to this point has helped educate me for this. Everything we do everyday educates us for the future. We just don't always know it as it's happening.
What’s the best piece of advice you could give?
I will tell you more than anything what matters is that the more we trust ourselves, the more we find ourselves where we want to be. Trust yourself, and you'll be fine.
What does LA mean to you?
Freedom. This is the place where I really found a place for myself as a woman and as a business person. LA has really supported me and allowed me to support myself and my children by doing whatever I love.
All photos were taken at The Natural History Museum Los Angeles.
Photography by Magdalena Wielopolski ©