Why I Do What I Do: Marion Owen, Organic Gardener, Lecturer, And Creator of PlanTea

Master gardener Marion Owen, coauthor of Chicken Soup for the Gardener's Soul (HCI, 2001), worked as a merchant-marine officer until 1986, when a longing for earthy smells and fresh produce landed her in Kodiak, Alaska. Still, healthy organic produce was hard to come by in the cold Kodiak climate, so Owen began to grow her own. Today, she has 25 thriving beds of flowers, vegetables, fruit-bearing shrubs, and herbs; teaches organic gardening; and holds the patent on an organic plant fertilizer, PlanTea.

Q: How did you get started as a gardener and a fertilizer developer?

A: I wanted to grow healthy, locally grown food, and I knew I wasn't going to do it unless it was organic. I started asking questions and had to learn how to compost because we don't have a lot of soil here. That's when I came up with the idea of an organic fertilizer in a tea bag because there really wasn't an organic plant feed on the market that was in convenient portions. My whole intention for PlanTea was to provide something for people who wanted a safe, easy-to-use, premeasured organic fertilizer.

Q: What do you focus on in the classes and workshops you teach?

A: At the University of Alaska I teach organic gardening. I also always include life lessons. For example, if you have crop failure, what is the worst thing that could happen? You throw it in a compost pile, and you chalk it up to experience. There are no failures in the garden; it is just experience, and that's how it is with life.

Q: Why focus on organics?

A: Organic gardening isn't new. I think we have to renew and look at what worked before and bring that forward again to the present. GMOs, herbicides, fungicides—they're all an extension of a business' ego. It's all about money. Organic gardening and organic lifestyles [mean] trying to make healthy purchases, perhaps with reduced packaging, or maybe keeping things out of landfills by composting—it all makes a difference. One of my favorite quotes by Margaret Mead is: "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world." Indeed, it is the only thing that ever does.

—Christine Wohlford