Growing Food and Medicine in Public Spaces – Stephanie Syson









Great Big Ideas & Takeaways:

Creating edible public spaces takes more than just plant knowledge. With public policy and process as well as multiple opinions and community needs, we find ourselves working with the invisible structures that guide our towns and cities.

The Basalt Food Garden is three years old and Stephanie has encountered and overcome many of the hurdles that you might face when re-imagining your public spaces. Learn from her experiences and help to guide your town into a more sustainable and beautiful future!

  • Public spaces are ours to create.
  • Working within the system to re-imagine your public parks.
  • Why the biggest challenge is NOT money!
  • From design to implementation—the 50,000 ft view.
  • Guiding a community to envision and implement an edible public space.
  • Transforming weeds into a desired feature.
  • The nuts and bolts of public food forests and herb gardens.
  • Mobilizing people and gaining support for your vision.

About The Speaker:

Stephanie Syson has over 13 years’ experience researching and practicing various forms of sustainable farming across the United States and Latin America, including over 10 years’ experience growing medicinal herbs.

She is an owner of Dynamic Roots, an herbal product line as well as the lead grower for the medicinal herb gardens. She is a Certified Permaculture Designer, an educator and practitioner in the fields of Greenhouse Management, Seed Saving and Herbalism.

Stephanie is committed to community service through education and demonstration of herbal self-care and sustainable farming practices and strives to make sustainable farming practices and Herbalism available to under-served communities in her area through the Basalt Food Park. The Basalt Food Park is a public park that is edible and educational, open to all.


QUESTION: Do you participate in any community garden or growing projects?


  1. Marjory WIldcraft

    I’ve organized several attempts at neighborhood calorie crop production Calories crops (potatoes, corn, beans..) often require many hand for short bursts – versus the ongoing adjustments your kitchen garden needs. Plus working in community is so much fun!

    1. Dawne Vrabel

      Hi Marjory, I have seen Steph create great organizational tools in learning how to ease community through a project. I have seen her organize and motivate groups, keep them knowing what is ahead and what the benefits of the work are! Keeping kiddos excited and engaged is always helpful too. I think the permaculture food forest method has proved really successful for Basalt and Steph is now leading a neighboring town through the same process! I”m sure she would love to connect on more details in the future if you were interested!

  2. linda raymer

    Such an inspiration!
    Very realistic, detailed and organized.

  3. Dawne Vrabel

    Hi All, I am one of Stephanie’s herbalist partners in Dynamic Roots. I will be checking in throughout the day on Stephanie’s behalf to answer any questions or help guide you in good direction. Steph’s done a great job on so many levels here and is a truly dedicated community collaborator! If you have any questions that I can’t answer immediately, I will help get you those answers as best as possible.

  4. Inge Leonora-den Ouden

    Of course this was interesting, and inspiring, to me! We are busy here with a project like that (though smaller).

  5. Bonnie Krause-Gams

    If you have a dynamic leader, and willing core workers, you can accomplish a great deal.
    Master gardeners who were part of County Extension programs do a lot of this type of work. They are required to do so many community hours t complete the course. one year we took on 5 large community garden projects.

    We also had a school program. But , as Steph said, they tend to fall by the wayside and most of these have disappeared. Perhaps gardening needs to become an accredited class that is required in grade school, middle school and high school for this to work. Have one less sport and in its place put a reality class on life.

    Thank you Steph for all your hard work.

    1. Jon

      I agree Bonnie, kids have no appreciation of nutrition and until this happens this aspect will not have a good success rate.

      Most Americans value fast food and the easy for them more than true health unfortunately.

      Effective ways to alter that is the fight as I see it. Not so much in finding the means and material to make these projects happen but in the understanding and appreciation of the people regarding fresh and whole foods.

  6. Wendy Barner

    I always want big pictures – Enjoyed very much!

  7. Lisa DiNardo

    Greetings Everyone,

    My name is Lisa DiNardo. Steph and I worked together on the development of the food garden for the Town of Basalt when I was employed there as staff horticulturist.

    Turning a neglected park into a Food Garden was a dynamic, sometimes challenging and always invigorating process from a town staff perspective. Most of the garden construction was accomplished through supportive and passionate volunteers and funds and equipment from the town and other partners.

    From a town land use perspective, there were many i’s to dot and t’s to cross throughout the creation of the Food Garden and no matter the obstacle, having Stephanie’s levity, support and “we can do this attitude” was paramount.

    Collaborating with Stephanie on the Food Garden was an exciting and powerful process. To witness a rarely used park in a highly visible location evolve into a food producing and educational hub for the community was breathtaking to see.

    If anyone has questions regarding transitioning a park into a food forest garden from a town government perspective, please email me I’d be happy to talk about the process ; )


  8. Lisa DiNardo


    Lisa DiNardo’s email:

    ; )

  9. Theresa L King

    Excellent! So much great information shared with us from her experiences. I’m inspired to try to get something like this started in my community (something in the back of my head for a long time) and to learn more about Permaculture, maybe even take classes and get certified.
    I have some specific, nitty-gritty type questions, such as: how and where do you store tools and other materials for your public garden, and how are they made available to those working there? Do you have problems with theft, vandalism, etc., and how do you handle those? I don’t mean to be negative, but those are things many of us may need to deal with in public spaces. Thanks! 🙂

  10. Barbara Fess

    A very well organized talk. Very helpful breakdowns of all that is needed. Almost makes it sound easy but I know it would be really hard work. Congratulations Stephanie.

  11. Amy

    How inspiring! Stephanie – thank you for sharing your story and encouragement. 🙂

  12. Dolores Fielding

    Stephanie and Lisa, I emailed Stephanie a detailed account of my plans to start a food forest park on St. Croix in the Virgin Island.
    Hope you can help me. Thanks, Dolores

    1. Dawne

      Hi Dolores, I’d like to hear more about your St Croix project, I have family on island and I lived there for a bit and may know some interested folks to join you on your project if they aren’t already! If interested, email me at

  13. Susan

    Hi, how do you get the core team to start and maintain such a project? Tell us more about the “dreaming” phase up until you got the go-ahead to start the works.

    1. Lisa DiNardo

      Hi Susan,

      The start up of the Basalt Food Garden came about serendipitously. While on the NPR website I noticed Stephanie’s seed saving interview and was beyond excited that the seed bank was in partnership with the Basalt‘s library.

      Here’s a link to the NPR interview:

      As town horticulturist I was interested in the whole concept of seed saving and thus contacted Stephanie about the seed saving library and how it worked. Stephanie shared her vision of needing land to grow the edible and medicinal plants to stock the local seed bank and my mind began picturing the various parks or open spaces near the library and the rest as they say is history.

      Steph and I laid out an initial concept for the food garden and I took this to the town manager who supported the idea. Basalt’s Planning Department was an important partner in the development of the food garden as the project involved land use and all the practical components to be tended before the groundwork could begin.

      To maintain a project such as this takes committed partnerships and resources.

      The dreaming up phase was basically a no holds barred vision of what a food garden is and can be and who it will serve.

      ; )


  14. Susan

    Can you give us an idea of the time involvement on the part of the core team?

  15. Susan

    Thank you so much for sharing your experience. I took lots of notes… we found that the visual maturing of our community and school garden project has given us increased credibility. We are now in year three.

    Start with something small that you are sure to succeed with is good advice that encouraged me in the initial stages.

    Do you find that now you are finished with the start-up phase you need a different “social” skill set to keep things running? And that some people move on and a different type of participant emerges?

  16. Sandy

    Love projects and people who make the time to grow community! This video deserves to be seen by every community organizer, experienced or not. It is an excellent look into what it takes to successfully organize and maintain a situation where strangers are inspired to dip their toes into a bigger life to work as a family and raise what is essentially a community baby. Learned so much here! Gardening has always been a guaranteed happy place for me. Have had plots in a variety of community and shared gardens, once organized a little group garden. My learning and growing curve was nowhere so steep as the journey, obviously sometimes less than totally joyful, that Stephanie has taken on in her town. The story told in this video deserves to make the rounds of youtube gardening sites and community broadcast channels, not just in the US, but everywhere that people are reaching out to each other to learn and grow together. Thanks, and please show us more, Stephanie!

  17. Jean-Guy

    Great review … expect more permaculture public parks to become edable parks …. Well done !

  18. Yolanda

    That was fantastic. Thank you, Stephanie

  19. Brekke

    This was so inspiring! Thank you so much for sharing your story. I doubt I’ll have access to a public space like this anytime in the near future, but I do work with a lot of schools in my area and doing this on a smaller scale might be just the ticket.

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