We had the good fortune of connecting with Jade Luu and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Jade, where are your from? We’d love to hear about how your background has played a role in who you are today?
I came to the U.S. with my family as refugees from Vietnam in 1975. We settled in the Bay Area, where I grew up from the age of 10 – went to high school and undergrad in San Jose – Silicon Valley. I was fortunate that I was brought up in a family of people who really understood the value and nature of Food. My aunt, my mother, and my uncle were restauranteurs in Vietnam, and we had a thriving restaurant business there. After we immigrated to the U.S., the adults all went to work in Silicon Valley’s factories, making computer chips and medical supplies. They all started growing food and designing edible & medicinal plants gardens as soon as they could afford to buy a property of their own. I grew up hanging out in their backyard gardens and visiting public botanical gardens. With them, I learned how to appreciate all the edible & medicinal plants, flowers and fruit they grew, propagated and tended to. Although I didn’t know it at the time, I realize now that those days, weeks and years I spent around their gardens laid the foundation for the appreciation and connection I have with Nature today. The things I learned from them about plants and Nature are very much still with me today in the work that I do – with every garden I design and build, with each workshop I share my knowledge through, and with every plant I work with in all of the gardens I have the privilege of connecting with.
What should our readers know about your business?
Thanks for asking, as I don’t get the chance to really think about that much. I’ve worked pretty hard and diligently for 25 years in the Sustainability field, first as an educator, and now more recently leaning more into the growing and diving deeper into the soil. The fact that I’m still in the field is something I’m proud of because there are not many of us still left here. The burnout factor is high and very real because let’s face it, the pay is crappy, and up until just about 5 or 6 years ago, getting people to believe in climate change and actually doing something about it has been an uphill battle for decades since the Environmental Education movement first began in the 70’s. Financially, I was able to hang in there as long as I did because my husband could earn a living and support my teaching habit. Lol. But as far as the work goes – the task of teaching and spreading awareness about the effects of climate change and the importance of earth stewardship began to weigh my spirits down after 20 years. To be honest, I almost hung up my hat on the whole thing about 6 years ago because I felt hopeless about the future. .
It wasn’t until I discovered Kiss The Ground and studied their Soil Advocacy course that I began to see a future in the field again. I began to see the missing link in our previous work of environmental education – that was the part about how much soil restoration can have an extraordinary impact on reversing climate change. It was a link that we as educators (and even scientists really) had been missing all those years. It was then that I became a soil advocate, and set out to start my own business to teach again and to commit to the greater goal of helping people to understand how important it is to restore our soil.
Today, as a natural gardener and educator, my work is not just about gardening. When people ask what I do, I always say I’m not really a gardener. I’m really a Nature reconnection educator. Yes, I’m a certified Permaculture designer and I build gardens. But if you’re not interested in reconnecting with the land and re-establishing your own personal connection with Nature, I’m not really the gardener for you. Because if it’s just about growing food for utilitarian purposes, and if you’re very concerned about borders, weeds, and hardscaping for entertainment value, you wouldn’t be interested in the types of gardens I design and build, and you’d probably be very bored with my workshops. Aesthetically, my gardens are more natural and wild looking. There are no hard borders or neat rows or graveled paths; just a natural food forest dense with a very diverse mixture of plants, trees, flowers and shrubs with mulched pathways and soft corners where one plant runs into the other, and everything has room to flow into. The kind of food forests I grow take a lot of time and attention to observing and caring for. But in the end, what you have is not just a garden but an entire soil food web – one that creates an ecological haven for many happy plants that are supported by millions of good microbes that will help grow the best plant food that will keep you healthy. That magic soon becomes apparent once things start flourishing, and that starts bringing about a kind of appreciation and respect that is almost mystical.
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
I invite all my friends to my garden where I would host them for a proper tea during which I would prepare some seed-to-table treats for them and serve them teas from the herbs and plants that are grown just a few feet away from our table. We would sit under the shade trees and get to know each other over several hours of conversation with the occasional interruption of some monarch butterflies and hummingbirds fluttering by. After a while, the scent of plants and flowers would invite my guests to stretch their legs and wander around the garden to explore all the little corners and pathways in hopes of discovering the source of the fragrances they picked up in the garden. As they leave, I would send them home with some jars of the season’s teas harvested and processed onsite to remind them of the time we spent together.
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
I’d like to give a Shoutout to my design collaborator & friend, Stacey Messina of Seed & Trellis in the San Diego area in California.
Linkedin: @Jade Luu
Jade Luu, Ellume Gardens