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Preview: Jon Wilson, Food Map Design

The urban-rural gap is quickly shrinking and interest in local, organic food is continuously increasing. And today, it's not unusually to find gardeners harvesting their own produce even in a concrete-filled, car-centric city like Los Angeles. Food Map Design's Jon Wilson tells us the ins and outs of urban gardening, offering tips for even those with the brownest of thumbs for container gardening.

Jon Wilson Food Map Container

Founded by Wilson and his wife, Elizabeth Cochet, in 2008, Food Map Design oversees the design, local manufacturing, and sales of the Food Map Container (featured in our April 2010 Dwell Reports article), a mobile planter for food or flowers. The planter, currently available only online, will be sold in select stores beginning in July. "We're trying to influence the way people live and are really into the idea of growing your own, organic food," Wilson says. "We're social and environmental entrepreneurs."

You're an architect but are now working on Food Map Design almost full time. What lead to that change?
My wife, Elizabeth Cochet, and I started Food Map because we wanted to do our own projects. We wanted to try doing design-build-develop residential projects with little farms but unfortunately (or fortunately given that it was right before the economy crashed) we didn't have the money. We said, "We can't make buildings right now, how do we start small?"
Why a planter?
We were growing a garden in the apartment we were living in at the time and had an amazing tomato plant but a tree was getting in the way of the sunlight. We had to move it and thought it would be so cool if you could have something you could roll around. Wheels are still the world's greatest invention.
Have you always been interested in urban gardening or was this a departure for you?
I love food and I love eating. Growing up, I had cousins who had farms in Southern California. I bought into the idyllic idea of an agrarian lifestyle. Being able to grow your own food is an empowering thing but it's also healthy.
What tips can you offer for beginner gardeners?
The most important thing for container gardening is drainage but also maintaining your soil. The way it works in the natural world is there's a constant process of organic material falling to the ground, decomposing, and becoming part of the soil. In containers, you don't have that happening naturally so you need to add food to your soil. You need to add compost, fertilizer, or an organize plant food once a month.

Food Map Container Side
Food Map Container plants1

What's next for Food Map Design?
We have a second container called Big Food Container that will be out soon. As you can imagine from the very clever name, it's a larger container similar to the Food Map Container. The expensive thing is to make the mold for the plastic container so we're working on more designs for the frames, which are easier and cheaper to make and have endless possibilities.

Jon Wilson of Food Map Design will be joining Sarah Carnochan from Heart Beet Gardening and Dwell associate editor and panel moderator Miyoko Ohtake for a discussion titled Urban Gardening on the Sustainability Stage on Sunday, June 27 at Dwell on Design, taking place June 25-27 in Los Angeles. Register now!

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