Foodie Underground: Growing Your Own


ColumnAdventures in urban composting.

“The worm compost bin is getting delivered next week, we can finally get the worms going again!”


This is what we call a romantic Foodie Underground conversation.

Let me take a few steps back. No wait, let me start from the beginning.

As an only child that lived in the country, I spent a lot of time outside plotting my own adventures. One of my favorite summer activities was to dig through the dirt in the garden and collect earthworms in recycled yogurt containers that my mother used to plant seedlings. I would put a few in the yogurt container, and walk around with them, taking great care to look after my little soil dwellers. I called it worm babysitting. Yeah, country girl, I know.

Fast forward a couple of decades.

Earlier this year I moved into a small, no, wait… tiny apartment in a huge city (it’s Paris in case you were wondering). Funny how in some of the world’s most expansive metropolises the housing is quite the opposite. It has been an adventure in accommodating my favorite activities to fit the space. Cooking and baking is a careful dance between slicing, chopping and mixing and doing dishes in between so as to keep enough counter space open. Dinner parties are capped at six people, because more would be hard to fit around the table. But somehow, with enough effort and desire, it all works.

It was into this space that the worms would work and the resulting compost would be put to good use.

If you get excited about food, it’s easy to get excited about growing it yourself, no matter where you live. This is not backyard homesteading with raised beds and a chicken coop, this is working around obstacles like space and creating an urban sanctuary that includes some greenery and fresh herbs to cook with. I’ll be damned if I let minimal square footage get in the way of gardening and cooking.

The worms had been on hiatus and were waiting for a new home, hence the need for a new bin. When the first round of vermicompost was ready, we pulled terracotta planters into the tiny dining room and sat on the floor, mixing compost and fresh dirt and replanted basil, mint, parsley and chives. I prepped two containers for kale seeds that would be arriving the following week (kale is, after all, quite difficult to find in Paris).

There is something about putting your hands in the dirt. There is something even better about putting your hands in compost. Call me a dirty hippie – you won’t be the first – but to be able to create your own fertilizer to grow plants from your own food waste is in fact an incredible thing. Don’t believe me? Try it.

The compost bins sit under the kitchen sink. When you open up the top one, you can feel the warmth that the breakdown of organic material (or in our case, 97 percent coffee grounds) generates. A reminder that you don’t need to live in the country to take part in the natural cycle of things.

paris gardening

The kale arrived and it was planted immediately; we’ll see which one of the two varieties do best. Some baby basil and cilantro seeds are doing well in the kitchen, and all of the terracotta pots hang off of the window guard rail, creating our own little Hanging Gardens of Babylon, four floors up in the Parisian courtyard.

It’s not just about eating good food, it’s about being part of the process, no matter where you are. It’s not a farm, or a raised bed with seven varieties of heirloom tomatoes, but it’s something; a mini-contribution to being a part of growing what we eat. To top it all off, next week a friend is passing on a kombucha baby. Compost, kale and kombucha… and you thought Paris was only for croissants and fromage.

At least you know that those tiny six-person dinner parties will consist of kale appetizers and kombucha cocktails, and we’ll be composting the leftovers of course. I promise not to show off the worms.

This is the latest installment of Anna Brones’ weekly column at EcoSalon: Foodie Underground, an exploration of what’s new and different in the underground movement, and how we make the topic of good food more accessible to everyone. More musings on the topic can be found at

Images: Anna Brones

Anna Brones

Anna Brones is a food + travel writer with a love for coffee and bikes. She is the author of The Culinary Cyclist and Fika: The Art of the Swedish Coffee Break. Catch her weekly column, Foodie Underground.