AMY PENNINGTON is a whirlwind of entrepreneurship. From hosting a television show to writing books and tending gardens, her ventures are firmly rooted in her love of growing food and eating seasonally.
She was an early employee of the Tom Douglas restaurant empire, leaving that job on the cusp of the urban-farming movement to start her own food-gardening business. “I go into people’s backyards and grow food for them. We build, plant and tend,” she explains.
Pennington lives in an apartment on Queen Anne, where she grows herbs and vegetables on the deck. She got into canning and preserving in the pursuit of living seasonally, and wrote about it in her first book, “Urban Pantry,” which she describes as an homage to homemaking.
Does she still do all that preserving now that she’s taping KCTS TV’s “Check, Please!” and spending winters in Glasgow with her Scottish boyfriend? “Yes, but what I’m most into right now is dehydrating,” says Pennington. She’s had great success with peach rings and apple leather, but laughs over dehydrating Monukka grapes into the most expensive, and delicious, raisins ever.
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But back to that little apartment on Queen Anne. How does a gardener live without a garden? “It’s why I love my job,” she says. “Gardening for others connects me with nature, makes me feel rested, content, comfortable.”
To help other landless gardeners find the same sweet spot, Pennington started Urban Garden Share. It’s a website to connect those looking to garden with those who have property to spare; she calls it “online dating for garden space.” Pennington regularly receives inquiries from cities around the country wanting to start similar programs.
So what’s this gardening dynamo up to at the moment, besides dehydrating grapes? She’s filming a new season of “Check, Please!” which she calls a challenge with many moving parts. She plants vegetables in the parking strips around the Volunteer Park Cafe on Capitol Hill, and makes it a point to answer questions about growing edibles as she tends the beds. She gives cooking demos around the Northwest, and recently in France and Mexico. When St. Martin’s Press asked her to write a book on apples, she sat down and came up with 72 apple recipes in a half-hour, and thought “I can do this.” The result is “Apples: From Harvest to Table,” published last year.
So what does Pennington see as the next big trend? “Urban farming is still having its place in the sun; it’s becoming the norm,” she says. She thinks people will refine what they grow, take out lawn and expand their vegetable gardens from a few raised beds to take over front and backyards. She’s pleased that developers are considering rooftop gardens, and incorporating edibles into landscapes to draw people in and engage them.
Her latest passion is clean eating, which she describes as vegetable dominant, with lean proteins and healthy fats. “Last night I made an infusion of chickweed and dandelion, a liver-supportive tea,” she says. “It tasted like spinach.” Whatever Pennington is eating, it gives her loads of energy and enthusiasm.
Pennington has a new book coming out this month. “Fresh Pantry,” from Skipstone Press, is an expansion of her monthly e-book series that focuses on cooking ideas for single, seasonal ingredients. “January is winter squash,” she says. “February is onions and alliums, March is carrots, April is rhubarb, May is lettuce….”
Valerie Easton is a Seattle freelance writer. Check out her blog at www.valeaston.com.