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Tony Abruscato shares tips for growing your own food

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Updated: March 7, 2013 7:18PM

Every year, I’m amazed at how quickly the landscape turns in Chicago. We move from gray piles of snow jutting out from curbsides to the welcome sight of green shoots peeking through brown, matted grass.

Inspired by the onset of spring, plenty of people are finding new ways to connect with the earth. In fact, in Better Homes & Gardens’ latest issue, an article on the top gardening trends of 2013 cited homesteading — in which people plant their own edibles in smaller spaces using less water — as a noteworthy new movement.

Growing your own food allows you to become a true locavore and savor fresh, healthy foods. The agrarian resurgence — evident in greater interest in vegetable gardening, fruit growing and canning, chicken farming and even flour milling — is a trend, but it is also shaping up to be a long-term way of life for many people.

As the director of the upcoming Chicago Flower & Garden Show, I’m excited to share my own knowledge and the latest information on homesteading with gardeners and would-be gardeners. I learned about caring for plants, soil and trees from my father, an arborist who passed away last month and inspired me in my own vocation of educating others about the joy and tangible benefits of gardening. It doesn’t matter if you live in the city and only have room for a few containers on a balcony — like I do — or if you have a large plot of land in the suburbs. All you need is a container or patch of land, good soil and natural nutrients for that soil, water, sun or shade, an assortment of seeds and plants, and an interest in tending to what you sow.

My advice to you is simple:

• Grow what you like to look at and eat. That’s why the containers on my balcony are teeming with heirloom tomatoes by late summer, and why I tried my hand last year at growing lettuce.

• Share. Community vegetable gardens beautify the city, provide nutritious, affordable food and foster a love and appreciation of the environment. That same Better Homes & Gardens report included community gardens as a top gardening trend this year.

• Nourish. Opt for natural fertilizers to sustain your plants and the health of soil. Use water in a more sustainable way, too, such as through a rain barrel.

• Tinker. Don’t be afraid to try something new. If a vegetable or fruit plant doesn’t flourish this year, move it somewhere else next year or choose another variety in its place.

As we dust off the garden gloves, we can be inspired to improve our surroundings in many ways. The best part is, because of the abundance of vegetables, fruits, blooms and trees that thrive in the Midwest, the choices are as broad as the bounty.

The Chicago Flower & Garden Show runs March 9-17 at Navy Pier. Friday, March 8, a special “Evening in Bloom” preview will benefit nonprofit organizations including The Peterson Garden Project and Chicago Gateway Green. 6-9:30 p.m., Navy Pier Festival Hall A&B. Tickets are $125 at

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