Monday, July 22, 2013

Back to the Basics with Leonard Pouder By Kathy Litchfield

Pouder photo July 2013Respecting Mother Nature and working within her parameters is a choice  Leonard Pouder made over 30 years ago. Growing up on a small scale hobby farm in the then-agricultural suburb of Bedford, N.Y. and working for his father in the nursery business, gave him a secondhand knowledge about the benefits of a farm-based lifestyle.
            "Being exposed to the soil, planting, growing and eating what you grow is very normal for me," said Pouder, owner of Lieb's Nursery & Garden Center. "When I was a teenager, I worked on a farm for three to four years picking vegetables. It was an amazing experience."
When he first moved to New Rochelle after college, Pouder yearned to create a semblance of where he grew up so he started raising pigs, sheep, chickens, meat rabbits and goats - a couple of each a year - to feed his family. He butchers and processes the animals and makes his own sausage. He grows a large organic vegetable garden, loves to hunt, fish and loves the simplicity of this lifestyle. "I would way rather eat what I raise or hunt, than buy it in a supermarket, there's no comparison."
"I've always been organic because it just makes sense and it's so easy," said the father of two grown children whose wife is a professional chef.

            Lieb's Nursery & Garden Center has a long history in the New Rochelle community. Founded in 1910 by a man named Henry Wagner who built glass greenhouses heated with coal to grow cut flowers, the business originally supported the New York City flower market. In 1923, Mr. Lieb bought the business and continued until the 1950's. At that time, Pouder's father purchased the business, growing bedding plants and cut flowers from seed and rooted cuttings through the mid 1970's when he reduced the cut flower aspect and shifted more towards growing annuals. Pouder began working with his father in 1980 and soon changed the focus to landscape design and installation.
            Pouder attended  SUNY Canton and The  New York Botanical Gardens courses. Pouder focuses on landscape design and contracting in lower Westchester County, N.Y. He also works in Manhattan, designing and installing rooftop gardens . He loves educating people about the simplicity and benefits of organic growing.
            "In this city of 100,000, most people are not outdoorsy, not farmers, not really big gardeners," he said. "They may have never been to a farm or picked their own lettuce and they think food comes from the supermarket wrapped in cellophane. At the same time, in Westchester County organic food is everywhere and organic products are really becoming very mainstream. People don't want to buy products that have pesticides in them, or GMOs. People are mad about that so when they can be given a choice, they frequently choose organic. They're aware that pesticides are linked to cancer, health problems and diseases."
             Pouder himself once became very sick from unknowingly handling plants treated with Temik (a now-banned pesticide) and quickly turned his back on the synthetic chemical industry.
            "It's a scam that they get you to buy their products that kill the insects and kill the funguses and the 'problems' . . . and then we ingest this stuff. It doesn't make any sense. Most of the pesticides we used 20 years ago aren't even on the market today. What does that tell you?" he said. "I like to not fight Mother Nature. I've been successful by working with nature, choosing plants that thrive in the environment where you want to put them. Following the rule of " the right plant in the right spot" , goes a long way. It works really well and makes so much sense."
            Pouder took the NOFA Accreditation Course in the winter of 2012.
"With the formal training I started promoting OLC more. It gives me more credibility and people love it. The difficulty is managing the growth and demand for it, not getting the work," he said. In fact he is presently seeking highly-qualified AOLCPs to hire.
Last year Pouder combined his passion for organics with teaching - he worked with 260 elementary school children at the Cottle School in Eastchester, N.Y. to plant an organic "learning garden" with carrots, spinach, sweet peas and three types of lettuce, starting seeds in the classroom and transplanting into the garden.
"The kids flipped out. Most had never put their hands in the soil before. Never picked up a worm. They worked hands on from site location, soil amendment and preparation, sowing, transplanting, weeding and finally harvesting and eating the crops we grew. It was a huge success. There is no doubt that many of those children benefitted from this experience and now have a skill that they will use the rest of their lives," said Pouder, who also donates leftover vegetable seedlings to a local organic community garden.
Pouder and his wife plan to eventually relocate to Litchfield County, Conn. and start a small scale farm raising sheep and organic produce, perhaps opening a bed-and-breakfast where city folk could retreat to learn about growing and preparing meals with homegrown vegetables, meats and fruits.
"The problem is we have been brainwashed by chemical companies into thinking that using their products is the way to go. I love showing people the opposite by composting, using manure, organic products, etc." he said, stressing OLC's importance to him. "It's important to me to be able to have a choice, a way to avoid to some extent the bombardment of toxins by growing my own and not being at some giant company's mercy. . . . I want to teach and show other people how they can do this for themselves and how to do it very simply. The joy of this - it works and it's easy."