Her kitchen cupboards were once lined with processed foods—think, Oreos, Cheez-Its, and the like. When she bought fresh vegetables from the store, they often turned before being eaten.
Eventually, however, Vanessa Shim realized the lack of fresh produce in her family’s diet. So, the yoga teacher and mother of two living in El Dorado Hills decided to shift her family’s eating habits and to take a more hands-on approach by growing the food herself.
“I have always liked the idea of growing my own food,” says Shim, who does not consider herself to have a green thumb.
That was nearly three years ago. Today, Shim can proudly say she rarely buys lettuce, spinach, or herbs. Going to the store for produce is now the exception rather than the norm. She currently grows 10 varieties of lettuce and four types of kale, and her aeroponic vertical garden produces enough leafy greens to make at least one salad a day, along with a big blender of green smoothie that can be split between herself, her husband, and her two kids.
“It makes it so that I try to use what I have on the tower before I buy anything,” Shim says. “The only time I can’t eat off it is when I just plant.”
Her kids also willingly eat vegetables off the vine and even assist in the growing process. And she’s pretty sure that, somewhere along the way, her own taste buds underwent a transformation, as did her attitude toward certain vegetables.
“The vegetables taste completely different. I had no idea how much better it tastes when you literally pick it right before you eat it,” Shim says. “And I would eat tomatoes before, but I didn’t really like them. But when I grew them on the tower, I fell in love with them.”
Still, these lifestyle shifts didn’t occur without a lot of hard work and a willingness to try something new. In Shim’s case, it was ditching the old planter boxes. When her family moved to their current home, she decided to give gardening a shot and attempted to grow tomatoes, zucchini, and squash in a few planter boxes leftover from the previous owners.
To her dismay, plants didn’t take and the wood boxes started to rot. Upon further inspection, lying beneath it all was a grid full of weeds, bugs, and a snake.
“No wonder I couldn’t grow anything; there wasn’t room for the roots to grow, and I didn’t know that at the time because I couldn’t see the gunk,” she says. “By that point, I was over it.”
So, when she discovered aeroponic vertical gardens, she was ready for something different and her curiosity was piqued. Today, Shim not only grows the majority of her family’s greens using this system, but she is also a representative for the company that produces the vertical aeroponic gardens.
The set-up itself is fairly simple. The 20-gallon reservoir that sits at the base stores water mixed with nutrients and holds a submergible pump, which pushes the solution to the top of the garden.
The solution continuously trickles down over the plants’ exposed roots while becoming oxygenated. There is no dirt, not a lot of space is required, and significantly less water is needed to grow plants than a traditional garden. Shim also keeps each vertical garden on a dolly for increased mobility, so it can be moved inside when the weather cools.
“It’s convenient, and doesn’t require the maintenance a dirt garden does,” says Shim. “And I do believe in putting my hands in dirt, but we do that with flowers.”
Maintenance of the system is pretty chill, you could say. Depending on the weather and rate of evaporation, water is changed every three to four weeks. Shim will check the pH once a month. The only thing she does every day is check on the plants’ progress and sees if there’s anything ripe for the picking.
“It’s like a game for the kids—when do we get to eat it,” Shim says. “And to see how far we’ve come. They pick it off the tower and eat it, which is huge for us.”
The longer Shim sticks to eating what’s fresh and growing in her backyard, the more she notices that the food she was once drawn to just doesn’t quite do it anymore. When she got her wisdom teeth pulled recently, Shim was afraid she’d revert back to old habits and reach for comfort food.
And she did, for a moment. “I got a piece of pumpkin pie and tried to eat it, and it was extremely sweet to me,” she says. “I ate a couple bites and realized it didn’t taste good, and realized I was craving fruits and vegetables.”