Q&A with David Kennedy, author of “Eat Your Greens”

By Shelley Pierce | July 23, 2017
by Shelley Pierce
July 23, 2017

Dave Kennedy is the founder and director of Leaf for Life, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the elimination of global malnutrition through the optimum use of leaf crops to support human health. He has designed and implemented projects and workshops involving small-scale agriculture and innovative food processing in 13 different countries on four continents. The author of 21st Century Greens and the Leaf for Life Handbook, David is a tireless advocate for the development of wholesome food systems worldwide.  In his latest book, Eat Your Greens, Kennedy demonstrates the surprising power of homegrown leaf crops.  Read on to learn more enter to win one of two copies from New Society Publishing!

1. How did you become an advocate for leaf crops?

When I began gardening many years ago I was fascinated with the idea of growing all the food I needed. As I studied the subject it became obvious that leaf crops could produce more of the essential nutrients in less space and in less time than other food crops or livestock. Curiosity led me to get a masters degree focusing on food systems and to begin working on building more equitable and durable food systems.

2. Why is it important that we embark on a re-envisioned home vegetable garden movement which has a greater focus on leafy vegetables? What are the advantages?

I think the home vegetable garden has the potential to address two of our biggest food system problems; lack of diversity and low nutrient density. We derive something like 75% of our calories from just four plant species corn, rice, wheat and soybeans. There are over 1000 species of plants with edible leaves. Greater variety builds greater resiliency at all levels of eco-systems, including our food eco-systems.

Calorie rich, nutrient poor foods like soda, candy and chips force us to consume more calories than we need in order to obtain the required micro-nutrients. This is a primary cause of the global epidemics of obesity and diabetes.

3. How does your book help us take leafy vegetables to the next level?

Eat Your Greens was written to encourage people to explore the possibilities of home gardens. I wanted to share my passion for growing leaf crops in a way that was practical and non-technical but that provided a bit more depth on the subject than most popular gardening books.

4. When it comes to leafy vegetables, most of our thoughts likely turn to lettuce and other more traditional choices but the fact remains that there is quite a diverse catalog to choose from. Just how many species of plants have edible leaves and are there any plants that you would highly recommend for the adventurous gardeners among us and why?

There are over a thousand plant species with edible leaves. In helping people choose which ones to grow I lean towards perennials, high nutritional value, ease of growing, and plants with multiple uses.Flavor is obviously very important as well, but I would suggest that this is not an absolute. The North American palate is actually evolving quite rapidly and we are beginning to embrace foods like kale, arugula and kimchi that have more complex flavors than those offered by macaroni and cheese and iceberg lettuce. There is a good argument to be made for learning to enjoy some plant foods that are nutritious and easy to grow rather than insisting on growing plants that we already enjoy eating even though they may be not be well-adapted to our climate or especially useful to our bodies.

Perennial leaf crops such as chaya, moringa, goji, garlic chives, Pacific hibiscus, Okinawan spinach, and longevity spinach are good choices in many gardens. Perennials don’t need to be replanted from new seed every year. That saves money and it reduces soil disturbance. They can all be easily propagated and shared with friends at no cost. Perennial vegetable crops are also better at capturing carbon from the air and adding it to the soil where it feeds beneficial microbes.

If you have a little extra space in your garden I recommend experimenting with several new leaf crops to see what grows well where you are and what tastes good to you. The Internet is making it much easier to track down seeds and cuttings to start unusual garden plants.

5. In your book you mention the importance of seeing plants in their entirety. What crops would our readers be surprised to know are actually multi-use?

This may be a bit of a round about answer, but I like to think of home gardens as intimate eco-systems that we manage in a way that is beneficial to us. A key to this approach is learning more about the lives of the plants we are growing. As we learn a bit of botany we start to see leaves as the dynamic engines of growth, stems as supports and transport systems, roots as anchors and gatherers of nutrients and water. In this view most of the fruits, seeds, and tubers that are familiar vegetables are where food created in the leaves is stored.  Food created in leaves can often be intercepted at various point in the plants growth. Though they are primarily grown primarily for their fruits, and roots, and seeds the leaves of pumpkins, okra, sweet potatoes, grapes, beans, peas, wheat, and many other common food crops are edible and nutritious. Usually they are more nutritionally dense than the primary product.

Probably the most important category of multi-use garden plants are edible cover crops such as black-eyed peas, barley, and cowhorn  turnips that can improve the soil while providing nutritious leafy vegetables.

6. Your book not only discusses the growing of leafy greens but also in how to prepare them in the kitchen with a section of recipes. What is one of your favorite recipes from the book?

There are a lot of good ways to prepare mild flavored greens like spinach. I am especially interested in recipes that encourage us to eat meaningful amounts of some of the nutritionally impressive but stronger flavored and tougher textured greens. One that we eat often at home is pasta  made with 20% dried moringa leaf powder. We make up big batches of five pounds of so of dried pasta and pack it in meal sized bags. It offers the convenience of Ramen noodles with a lot more nutritional punch.

For milder flavored greens I like Malabar bars. They are pretty delicious for a snack food that is good for you.


To enter, simply leave a comment on this blog post by midnight on Sunday, July 30, 2017 (be sure to provide a valid e-mail address) in answer to the following question:

What is your favorite leafy vegetable?

Be sure to include a valid e-mail address. The winner will be drawn at random from all qualified entrants, and notified via e-mail. (See rules for more information.)

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