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Palo Alto organization helps locals' gardens grow

Terraformers helps connect landscapers with homeowners

Two years ago, Palo Alto resident Ezinne Uzo-Okoro took leave from a 13-year career engineering spacecraft and began something a bit more Earthbound.

She created Terraformers, an organization aimed at connecting professional gardeners with homeowners looking to transform their water-thirsty lawns and yards into edible landscapes.

"I just believe we can change the culture around lawn use by using our garden resources," Uzo-Okoro said.

But knowing where to find expert help is often the most difficult step in creating an edible landscape, she said.

"If you need your lawn mowed, you search for a landscaper, but what if you need help growing food in your yard," she asked.

That's where Terraformers comes in.

Through her service, Uzo-Okoro has partnered with about 45 edible landscapers who she helps connect with homeowners who need help growing produce that fits their needs and soil compositions.

Uzo-Okoro makes it really clear, however, that she's not a gardener herself. She merely helps people make connections.

One of the landscape designers who works with Terraformers is Oakland-based Leslie Bennett and her company Pine House Edible Landscaping. Though Bennett now lives in the East Bay, her roots, and many of her clients, are in Palo Alto.

"I was born and raised in Palo Alto," Bennett said. "I know, having grown up in Palo Alto, that Palo Alto has always been really innovative in bridging tech and environmental issues, and I think Terraformers is a very Palo Alto phenomenon.

"I really respect that (Uzo-Okoro) is trying to connect the dots (between clients and gardeners)," she added.

Uzo-Okoro's vision goes beyond just home gardens.

She was inspired to start Terraformers partly to cut down on transportation costs and the use of fossil fuels, among other things, as well as to combat hunger. One of the missions of Terraformers is to help homeowners donate excess produce to food banks.

"... There are people who are perpetually hungry and I wanted do something about it, and as a Millennial, I care about what is happening to our climate," Uzo-Okoro said. "The whole point (of Terraformers) is to focus on keeping this Earth habitable for us ... we want to make gardening commonplace.

"To 'terraform' is to make a place Earthlike and habitable for Earth-based organisms, like you and me," she added.

After more than a decade at NASA and five spacecraft with her fingerprints on them set to fly out of this world, Uzo-Okoro's dreams lie in the dirt at her feet.

"I want a million edible gardens by 2020," she said. "We can do such good by installing a million edible gardens around the U.S. ... food should be grown where humans live," she said.

For more information about Terraformers, go to the California Avenue Farmer's Market where the organization has a table, or go to terraformers.com.

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