Gardening is more than just a fun pastime. In this episode, Katy Bowman and Rose Hayden-Smith talk about historical victory gardens circa World War II and what they still have to teach us. Rose provides three tips to those who want to start gardening right now, and Katy supplements with three movement-based tips to help you on your way. Turns out the garden is the perfect place to put your movement rich lifestyle to the test. If you loved Movement Matters, you’ll love this episode – and if you love this episode and haven’t read Movement Matters yet, you’ll totally want to! Plus, Katy answers a question on how to carry a bag, and Terral Fox of Unshoes drops by to talk about how his minimal footwear company came to be, why growth too soon almost took it down, and how Unshoes emerged from that stronger than ever.
00:04:20 – Listener question from the mailbag – Jump to section
00:10:52 – Meet Dr. Rose Hayden-Smith – Jump to section
00:23:09 – Rose’s First Tip – Jump to section
00:24:32 – Katy’s First Tip – Jump to section
00:26:07 – Rose’s Second Tip – Jump to section
00:30:03 – Katy’s Second Tip – Jump to section
00:31:19 – Rose’s Third Tip – Jump to section
00:33:33 – Katy’s Third Tip – Jump to section
00:40:38 – Meet Terral Fox of Unshoes – Jump to section
LINKS AND RESOURCES MENTIONED IN THE SHOW:
You can find Rose’s book “Sowing the Seeds of Victory: American Gardening Programs During World War I” at your local library. If it’s a keeper for you, buy a copy from McFarland (publisher) or on Amazon.
The Dynamic Collective
Sign up for Katy’s newsletter at NutritiousMovement.com
Hello! I am Katy Bowman, and this is the Move Your DNA podcast. I am a biomechanist and the author of Move Your DNA and seven other books on movement. On this show, we talk about how movement works on the cellular level, how to move more and how to move more of your parts and how movement works in the world, also known as Movement Ecology. All bodies are welcome here. Are you ready to get moving?
KATY: I was the local newspaper at 4 years old. And I’ve got the clipping here and the picture shows a little kid with braids, kneeling on the ground, filling a cut off eggnog carton with dirt and little plant and it reads: “Gardener Katy Bowman, 4, works on technique.” Although I was raised on a small commercial apple farm – so I did a lot of labor for the growing and selling of our apples – my gardening skill set has barely grown in 40 years because I didn’t do much of it between then, when I was 4, and now that I’m 42. I wrote on my blog in early 2017, I think, “I realized through my work in research on sedentary cultures that I really needed to be moving my body for the food I ate.” That’s largely what makes a sedentary population possible – it’s a lack of moving for food. So wild food for sure. That’s a set of skills I’ve also been working on. But in our culture, it’s so much more feasible for the millions who can to start learning to grow stuff. Anything really. And I’ve been doing that as well. And I’m ok at being a totally crappy gardener. Because I’m essentially back at age 4. Similarly to how I was learning how to write. My writing at 4 was really terrible compared to how I write now, but it actually wasn’t relatively terrible compared to the level of practice that I had writing. So just keep that in mind. I’m doing, trying, making mistakes, reorienting, doing, trying again, learning, adopting, lather, rinse, repeat. So, terrible or not, I derive a lot of nutrition out of that time in my garden. Because gardening is a simple way to stack my life. I get time outside, time with my family. I get lifting, bending, squatting, walking, digging – and I get all of those movements out in nature or green space. I’m growing food that we can actually eat. I’m growing a knowledge set that is really mine to keep. Meaning I could lose a lot of things but I can’t lose really the skill set that I’ve developed to know how to grow stuff. I could lose all my tools, but I’ve got the tool on how to do it and that stays with me. So even though I haven’t been doing it long and I am by no means an expert gardener, I keep at it. So this year I’ve focused on plants that return every year – perennials. And I didn’t do too many annuals which are plants that needed to be planted every year. And last year I did a ton of annuals. I was gone for, I guess, at least 30 days. I had to travel for work. And so I decided to focus on perennials instead. So I built a bed for herbs and strawberries in my front yard. For my birthday I asked for nut trees and we made a small nut forest of walnuts and hazelnuts. And wood! Yo! It turns out you can grow your own heat if you’ve got space to plant a tree or two. And I learned that all over rural and urban communities people have started community gardens to give access to a garden – a solution to some problem. Because there are always more thoughts to grow and more to learn, I’m very happy to have Dr. Rose Hayden-Smith as my guest on the podcast today. She’s an expert on gardens but not in the way you might think. And she’s gonna be here to share her three tips for taking action in the garden today. And of course, I will share my tips too.
Hi Katy, can you talk about bags, please. I’m thinking purses, handbags, clutches, tote bags, grocery bags, diaper bags. All those big or small bags we carry out and about when we need to keep our basic things together. I experienced one side of back pain this summer and it made me aware of how much my own bag usage relies heavily on that same side of my body. Do you have recommendations on what kinds of bags/purses to use and how? What do you use? Thanks, Katie.
Great question. I posted a short video on this on Instagram last year so I’ll link that in the show notes. If you can think of your bag and the way that you carry it as creating a load and if you can consider that each load is a particular movement or it lights up a particular set of muscles, then I will let you all think for a minute to see if you can figure out my answer…
Ok, it’s not a minute. How about 15 seconds. If you guess there’s not one superior bag shape or a way I recommend carrying one, then you’d be correct. But to break it down quickly, let’s assume you have a single bag. In this case, I’d recommend varying your carry. And that is to carry that bag in different ways. Over your right shoulder and then over your left, as a backpack, in your arms. Hopefully, you get the idea. Also if you search my hashtag #varyyourcarry on Instagram, that was … I’m sorry … just me even reading that sentence felt really hilarious. “Search my hashtag”. You will see more mini-lessons to cement this idea. Because I’ll take pictures of me using one bag in different ways to kind of show that we’re so used to thinking that the bag dictates how we must carry it. But often times you have way more flexibility and freedom in how you carry the bag. You just have to maybe not use the straps, for example. If you have multiple bags, then you can also rotate through them, as each bag is designed to load your body in a particular way. So when you use it as designed, when you use the straps in the way that you would maybe see featured on the advertisement for that bag, if you used every bag as designed, then you would just need a ton of bags to change up the way that you’re using your body. But having a ton of bags and varying bags to me is like the opposite of minimalism. I personally look for a bag that functions well in at least a couple of different positions. So I have one single bag. It’s kind of hard to explain. So this bag drapes across my body. So it goes over one shoulder, the straps cross my body with the bulk being at my hip. So it would be like a messenger bag but it’s not that structured. It’s very loose. It’s kind of like if you just took a big blanket and wrapped up the corners so that you had volume at the bottom and straps up the side. So I like bags like that because they wad up into almost nothing when you travel. So if they’re empty, they don’t take up any space. Where an empty messenger bag, like the bag itself, takes up so much space. So I can wear that bag and easily change carrying positions from draping over the right side versus angling from the left side. I also gather the strap up in my hand and I hold the stuff that’s in the bag with one single hand – so using my grip strength … it’s not draped over my wrists. It’s literally me pinching – if you imagine again gather that blanket up by the four corners and grasping it so that your grasp was forming the bag, that is a, that’s one of my favorite carries. So I like to vary my carry. And I like purchasing items, so if I’m gonna buy something it’s gonna be one thing that works in multiple ways so that it allows a lot of movement diversity. It doesn’t cast me into one single bag use. And then I also have a small backpack, I think it actually was a kids’ backpack, that I’ll use for long walks or hikes. And sometimes I’ll put my little collapsible bag inside my backpack so if I get tired of carrying the bag loaded on to the frame of my body I can throw my backpack in my bag and go back to carrying it with my grip strength. So those are my two solutions, you know, so I’m walking with people for a long time, so being able to carry food and water and other supplies, bags are great. But I tend to stick to the most uncomplicated design as possible. So thanks for that question. That was a great question. And PS, all of your questions are fertilizer for my thinking so do not hesitate to ask me a question by emailing email@example.com.
But keep in mind that I might have already answered your question in a previous podcast- or not your question per se. If you have a question, go to the blog, use the search box. Use the search box from the blog. That will search the website differently than if you use the search box from the home page. Put in some keywords because I look for the questions that come in and I would say that 50% of the questions you are asking are answered with sometimes hour long explanations in the form of other podcasts. So if you have not worked your way through the hundred plus episodes, which I totally understand why you wouldn’t have done that, you can at least start reading the show notes or listening to that podcast if you have something you want to know that’s already been answered.
Ok. So, I also notice that I use a lot of gardening puns in that last bit of introduction so I promise I’ll lay off them, for now. So coming up we’re gonna meet Terral Fox of UnShoes. UnShoes is a member of the Dynamic Collective of companies that support this podcast. They are Soft Star Shoes, MyMayu, UnShoes, and Earth Runners, they all make minimal footwear. And Venn Design makes beautiful, minimal home furnishings. I have been enjoying getting to know these makers. I use these products. I believe in them. And this episode contains our final interview in that series. So stay tuned for that.
ROSE: Thank you so much for having me. What a privilege to be here. I love this podcast.
KATY: Well, thank you very much for listening and just so you listeners out there know, I’ve known Rose for a long time. I feel like time has just maybe flown by but I feel like we’re somewhere around 15 years, maybe 12 to 15 years, with my Ventura time in California.
ROSE: I would say at least 15 years.
KATY: Yeah. And I haven’t aged a day.
KATY: Neither one of us has. And I’ve been following your work for a long time. And so I know Rose personally just as someone who used to come move at our old studio there, but Rose is an academic. And she has an amazing book which we’re gonna talk about. It’s called Sowing the Seeds of Victory: American Gardening Programs of World War 1. I love academics and I Iove technical reading especially when it’s really accessible and not jargon-heavy. So when I wanted to talk about action orientated items that get people moving in ways that they hadn’t thought of, gardening and food consumption is a big part of that. And so it just occurred to me that Rose, you have such a unique perspective on food, food systems, that I just want to put your voice out here. So thank you for coming on.
ROSE: Yeah. Thank you again for having me. I’m thrilled.
KATY: Before I left twitter your personal account, I don’t know if it’s your UC account, but you have this hashtag, the #foodobserver. And I loved it because I feel like it sums up what I do. I’m a movement observer just as much as I’m a movement instructor. And I see movement and how it works everywhere. I see how various systems that are maybe off other people’s radar of being movement related – as related to movement. So what does food observer mean to you?
ROSE: Well, so that’s really interesting about that question. So, my personal twitter handle is @victorygrower, which is a riff off my interest and passion for the victory garden movement and the radical notion that we should have gardens everywhere and everyone should be gardening. So @ucfoodobserver is my account that I created for the University of California, a digital platform called the U.C.Food Observer, in support of the University’s global food initiative. And it’s been really wonderful to be able to, as an academic, observe what’s going on in the food system and basically curate content and then create original content that’s designed to connect people with information and perspectives and ideas about all the topics that would involve the food system. Not only in the US, but internationally. Whether it’s… well you know. Food touches everything.
ROSE: And we’re all stakeholders in the food system because most of us eat – several times a day. And it’s political. It’s social. It’s historical. It’s cultural. It’s economic. Food is involved in all of these things.
KATY: Yeah. We had a guest on, Philip Brass, whose work with the first nations in Canada, he has this statement where food is the spine or the axis of a culture. And I just was thinking about that – that indigenous perspective as I was reading your book because Sowing the Seeds of Victory is really about using gardens as a political strategy. As a patriotic strategy. Which I just thought was, “Wow, that is such a unique …” it was just a different perspective than I was used to hearing it. And it could be the circles that I move in but, gardening is becoming a thing – a new thing. And I have to just kind of laugh when I say that because from the historical perspective it’s the opposite. We only see it as a new thing because of this brief window of human history where we haven’t had – each one of us pulling the food off the land – cultivating it, you know, hunter/gathering in some way. I’ve seen gardening coming up in various magazines as a new way to get fit. Just get a garden and do these exercises. And I’ve seen farmers discuss starting farm fit programs to help people get complex exercise while helping them out with the labor that they really struggle to be able to do, especially on smaller farms. There’s gardening as part of social justice initiatives. I’m thinking of Ron Finley, his personal story.
KATY: He grew up in a food prison. Growing food is like printing money is his statement. And then a couple months ago I read, there was Paul Quinn College. And it was a financially struggling institution and they decided to give up their football team, rip up their football field, and start an organic garden. I just want to read this to set the complexity of what we’re talking about.
“9 years ago when the historically black college on the South side of Dallas was in crisis and had a 1% graduation rate, a new president turned everything over, including the football field. There’s more than one field of dreams, all right? Why should we tie everyone’s future to athletic success? When Paul Quinn college decided to convert its football field into an organic farm, eyebrows were raised, but the move symbolized the college’s dedication to a team of a different kind. A team of individuals and organizations fighting to end food insecurity and injustice in the United States. Located in a federally recognized food desert, the farm has produced and provided more than 30,000 pounds of organic produce since its inception in March 2010. No less than 10% of this produce has been donated to neighborhood charitable organizations. The rest supports community members, the college, and restaurants and grocers throughout Dallas. In addition to providing fresh, healthy, affordable food options for its surrounding residents, the farm strives to improve communities through the Metroplex by providing hands-on education for youth and adults alike to promote healthy eating, improved food access, and environmental stewardship.”
This is what I have seen in the last few years. Rose, what have you seen that convinces you that gardens have the power to transform the world?
ROSE: Well, I’ve traveled a lot, not only in the United States but internationally. And gardens are a thing. And I think work like what Ron Finley is doing with the sort of radical nature of gardening in public or community spaces is really important. In the time that I’ve been working with gardens, we’ve seen the school garden movement just absolutely explode. And, you know, gardens are the first step, right? So you get a school garden and then maybe you get a farm to school program. And you get nutrition education in the classrooms. And so I’m seeing a lot of interest in gardens and a lot of interest in heirloom varieties. Which I find really hopeful in terms of people learning more about biodiversity and environmental health. And also, again, just sort of about food trailways. So I’m seeing a lot of interest in gardening and you know I look, for example, at the master gardener program in the state of California. And there are over 6,000 active master gardeners in California out there working with communities and these classes are packed across the United States. The master gardener classes are just packed. People are hungry for knowledge and people are also seeing gardening as a means of civic engagement. Which I think is absolutely critical and wonderful. It’s really collaborative.
KATY: How did you get into gardening in the first place?
ROSE: So that’s kind of a weird story. So my family did some gardening when I was a kid. My grandparents were from a rural area and then later ended up in a city, Jackson Mississippi. And they gardened. And really raised much of the food they produced. I remember being pretty surprised when I went with my grandfather to the grocery store on a visit in high school because his week’s groceries were a small bag because he was going out fishing and then they had this big huge garden at their home. And I was pretty impressed with that. So I always did some gardening. And then I went to work for the University as a director of a 4-H program. And there was an adviser from Northern California named Dan Desmond who was my mentor. And he said, “You know, a great foundation for a 4-H program would be to go garden-based education.” Because you’re gonna hit all of these wonderful high points with kids and families about nutrition and stem and environment and stewardship and community service. And I became absolutely hooked. And so I started doing not only gardening programs with 4-H clubs, but also in school-based programs. And I led a school garden program at my daughter’s school for 5 years because there were so many ways to weave it into the curriculum no matter what you were studying whether it was history or language arts or science or math. And got really hooked. And then my county didn’t have a master gardener program. We were partnering with Santa Barbara County. And I went, wait a minute. Ventura County has huge demand. So I worked with, spearheaded, actually, with a group of my colleagues, an effort. And we started a Master Gardener program in Ventura County. And I was the Master Gardener adviser for four years. And then simultaneously in addition to sort of being a practitioner and a garden educator, I’m a historian. And my research sort of collided with what I was actually doing with my hands every day. And I started learning about this rich history of sort of school/home/community gardening in America. But not only in America. All around the world. And then I started doing research about the history of sort of women in this sort of effort. And really got into it. And ended up writing a book about it.
KATY: Yeah. So hopefully everyone out there is feeling like, “Ok, I want to grow something.” Or at least nodding their heads. And so we asked you to prepare three action items, actions that we can take now to get them going with gardening in some way. Getting them in the garden in some way.
ROSE: Well my first item is to get started. And that can be a small action. And I am inspired by the victory garden models of World War 1 and World War 2. Not the war part at all, but the gardening part. Gardens were front and center. Everywhere. And so the first action I’d like people to do is to start gardening and to make the garden visible. If you live in an area where you can garden year-round, garden in your front yard. I had, for a long time, a raised bed at the top of my driveway. Start a garden in your school. Start a garden on your median strip. For me making it visible is not only a way to increase interactions with people about gardening and spark conversations, but it also is a demonstration of your commitment to garden.
KATY: What was the motivation in the World War 1 and World War 2 programs to display your garden? Was it simply just to show that you were doing your part.
ROSE: Yes, it was absolutely. It was to show that you were committed. That you were doing your part. And sort of an acknowledgment of the collective nature of the effort, which was really important.
ROSE: I agree. That’s a wonderful way to do it. And the knowledge and the expertise that’s resident in community gardens is really helpful for people who might just be starting out gardening.
KATY: And a fun fact here. I live in a retirement community. And it’s considered a low mobility area just because of the demographic. But we have low mobility community gardens. Meaning the whole garden has been scaled up so that you can do it comfortably without needing to bend too much or if they’re all wheelchair friendly. So if you are thinking about creating a community garden, remember you can diversify the shape of your community gardens to meet the needs of more people who might want to be coming out there.
ROSE: So my next tip is if you live in a part of the country where outdoor gardening is more challenging during winter months, I actually have two tips within this one tip. One tip is to try container gardening inside. And maybe with herbs and greens and if you’re gardening with kids, you can make a windowsill garden. And that’s really easy to do. You get a recycled Ziploc bag. Put a bit of moistened soil with maybe some carrot seeds, and then tape it to a sunny window. And that’s a really easy thing that you can do. The other thing that for people who are really ambitious, is to pick up a copy of one of Eliot Coleman’s books about sort of extending your growing season. And the sort of gardening strategies and how-tos about how to maybe grow three seasons out of the year, even in climates that are colder.
KATY: I like that. We are fortunate to live in this weird microclimate that’s got a really long growing season. But there’s a couple limitations that I hear people protesting is: one is lack of space. So I think that your tip pertains not even to winter challenges but space challenges, right? I can do all the same things that you just said if space is an issue.
ROSE: Absolutely. Container gardens are absolutely wonderful. And I always have a couple of container gardens going on even though I don’t have terrible space constraints. And I think that space is a big issue. But you can make a container garden with materials that you probably already have around your home or that you can get at a thrift store or pretty inexpensively. But they’re also the containers or gardens are becoming much more high tech and I’m always amazed when I go on to a gardening website to see the sort of vertical tools that have been developed for people to grow vertically and it’s really amazing to me what sort of containers are available now to sort of facilitate and help you adapt to small spaces.
KATY: Those are great tips. I was just thinking too. I have a pretty big container garden even though I have lots of space. I use some of my land space. But I just like containers. I can only get tomatoes to grow in this region because I built a small greenhouse made out of trash in the front of my house. And I find that it’s easier for me to tend to things where I’m passing them already to get to other places. So my container garden is between me and where my washer and dryer is and between I and my car is. And so it’s in a high traffic area and I just end up weeding small bits of time, watering small bits of time. So don’t be daunted if you live in an urban setting or don’t have lots of space. It’s still possible.
ROSE: It is. And in fact, one of the best methods that I’ve used consistently over the last years is the square foot gardening model, which is also a great model to use with kids or if you’re in a classroom setting. Where everyone gets a square foot. But one of the things that I’ve always done with container gardens to is that the scale of it might be that for a child that’s learning about responsibility, they can be in charge of a container garden. And that’s also a really rewarding exercise for them.
My second tip is just, I think there are two hurdles to overcome when it comes to gardening. There’s overcoming a lack of knowledge or experience but for many people, of course, I’m not a gardener again and I’m like in a body world, people will say that they can’t bend, their hands don’t grip very well, their knees hurt. So the idea of gardening, which it is, it’s a physical activity, feels out of reach. It’s another hurdle to overcome. So I would say to learn some great gardening form. Learn how to lift and carry well. Learn how to bend well. Learn a few hand stretches, how to play with your tools and your tool grip so that your time in the garden is not only nourishing you in the sense of the green space and the food that might come forth from it, but also your body is being moved well while you’re doing it. I wrote a couple articles on this and I will put them into the show notes including a kind of general how to bend well using more of your hips and less of your spine and knees. I will link to that so you can go practice it later.
ROSE: I’m gonna come back to something that you said which is a really critical point which is that a challenge for people who want to garden who maybe haven’t gardened before is information. And there’s a lot of information out there but sometimes it’s hard to find. And I really want to encourage people who are interested in gardening, wherever they live, to visit their extension master gardener website. There is an extension master gardener program in every state and it’s even gone international now. And this was a program, it starts out at the USDA, it’s managed by the Land Grant University in every state. And it sort of rose up as a result of the environmental movement. It actually started in Washington State in 1972 and just caught on fire across the United States. And you will find the best gardening information for your region, your climate, your considerations and it’s science-based. It’s really really wonderful. The websites are packed full of information. And then the master gardener programs also do helplines. They do events in communities at nurseries, at farmers markets to provide information and absolutely wonderful program. And then the tip within that tip is that if you have kids and you want to garden with kids, I really encourage you to run over to the Junior Master Gardener website. And the junior master gardener program is one of my dear friends at Texas A&M University. It’s an international program. And they have got books and tips and all sorts of things for gardening with kids. An absolutely wonderful website.
And it’s just find a mentor. It doesn’t have to be anyone who is a master or you don’t only have to have a master gardener. I have found for me – so I would say I probably mentor a movement for many of you listening, but when it comes to all the other things that I want to do, I need someone who is already doing it better than me, more than me. And it doesn’t have to be the person that’s doing it the best, it just needs to be someone who has some experience or some tidbit that I can physically participate in. So when I say find a mentor, I usually mean that as a little bit different that find an expert. Because a mentor is usually someone who you can move shoulder to shoulder with because sometimes when a person is doing a thing that they’ve figured out how to do and then they write about it, they’re leaving out steps that they might not even realize they’re doing. So I’ve just found through great neighbors. I have a neighbor and I swear she’s a master gardener. She says she’s not. She says she’s just learned through trial and error. But she’ll always come over and she’s maybe 5 years older than me but she kind of talks with a wisdom of a person of 107. I’ve found a bunch of winter squash plants that were already on the half dead but I got them for almost no money at our local farm store. So I was like, I’m gonna throw these in the ground. And she walks by and she’s like, “Oh, squash hate wet feet.” And I was like, it was just a little line of wisdom. And squash hate wet feet is way easier for my brain to grasp a hold of than to try to memorize all the things that plants need. So there’s something to this just casual interaction. I mean it’s not a parable by any means, but there’s … they’re like memes. They’re almost like memes. So I have found that learning for me has definitely been a hybrid of reading the books and the texts and then having someone else filter five simple lines. And then if you have a community of people that each have their own version of “squash hate wet feet” then pretty soon I have this kind of strange reference system in my own head about what to water and what not to water. So find a mentor or seven who are all doing something slightly different in your area and see what happens.
ROSE: I think that is absolutely great. I learn more from other gardeners. It’s amazing. And people come from different regions and different cultural traditions and people will also start giving you seeds, which is wonderful.
KATY: And just talking. If you are friends or you build friendships with various people where I might not have to remember my chart of what to plant. I have two friends who are gardening and they’ll be like, “Hey did you get your garlic in the ground.” And I’m like, “Oh right, garlic, it’s got to be there in November. I totally forgot.” But they did it. And so it’s just these casual lifestyle reminders that fit into the flow of life. And so, just like I have recently friended a fisherman who is going to start taking me out, friend some gardeners and just see what happens. Well, Rose, I really appreciate you coming on. Is there anything else? Any other bits of wisdom or memes you would like to share with us before you go?
ROSE: Well you know if you’re library has a copy of my book, please go grab it. It’s really an interesting book. It’s got a lot – it’s not purely history. It’s also got my kind of seven political planks about gardening and the food system in there. And another thing, too, that is in there that I think is pretty relevant right now, is I have a whole section on poster art and those wonderful, incredible food posters of World War 1 and World War 2 and propaganda. The propaganda that was used to promote gardening in World War 1 and World War 2 was positive for the most part. But it’s really interesting to learn more about those posters. Probably you’ve seen those posters online and to learn more about the history of those posters, like the food commandments poster, is really fascinating.
KATY: You know this book is such a great book if you homeschool especially. I mean it’s great for anyone but if you are thinking about trying to do a food unit on the history of food. There’s so much nutrition and that’s fine. But this is a whole different perspective. It’s to really understand the food system and how we got to where we are today but there’s this poster: Food: 1) Buy it with thought, 2) Cook it with care, 3) use less wheat and meat, 4) buy local foods, 5) serve just enough, 6) use what is left. And it just ends or concludes with “don’t waste it.” And this is from 1919. And when we talk about what we’re spending money on as far as trying to get education across and figure out what’s the best parameters, these simple guidelines have been around for so long and I don’t know if we necessarily need to produce more guidelines or we just need to start heeding the ones that we have. And I think that that change, that personal change in behavior is so much more challenging than a call for just, “well do we really need to buy it with thought? Let’s just do more research on what thoughtful buying does.” I feel like we’re in that loop of just wanting something that maybe is never coming that really mandates that we make certain or better choices for food system and for all. So anyway, I highly recommend it. You can find more about Rose Hayden-Smith at UCFoodObserver.com or on Facebook and Twitter. @UCFoodobserver. And you can find Rose’s book: Sowing the Seeds of Victory: American Gardening Programs During World War 1 at your local library. And if it’s a keeper for you buy a copy from Mcfarland who is the publisher. I love buying from the publisher. Or of course, you can probably find it on Amazon.
KATY: Thanks for being a guest!
ROSE: Thanks so much for having me. I look forward to talking again. And happy gardening.
KATY: Making things is a lot like gardening in some ways. There’s a lot of preparation and trial and error. A lot of hard work. And if you’re lucky, a bountiful harvest. This season on Move Your DNA we’ve been meeting the minds behind the companies that support this podcast. These are all companies that have been making products I’ve used for years. All of these companies in the dynamic collective take ideas and turn them into products. Something that I’m just always astounded by. And I’m not talking about books. Like building a document is one thing. Making something. Making a real functional thing is just a skill set that I’m interested in getting to know more about.
So we’re gonna talk with Terral Fox today. He is a wellness entrepreneur and creative problem solver. And he is the founder and CEO of Unshoes Minimal Footwear. Terral, welcome to Move Your DNA.
TERRAL: Thank you very much, Katy. Glad to be here.
KATY: Yeah. I feel like we’ve talked a while in emails and texts because I was passing through your neck of the woods years ago. We were trying to meet up. You were sick or maybe I was sick or one of our kids was sick. I don’t remember what it was but…
TERRAL: Something like that.
KATY: I’ve been wearing your shoes for years and it’s been so fun to kind of be privileged enough to see the back end of the shoes. Everyone sees the front end on the website and they buy the shoes and they put them on but it’s nice to get to work with shoemakers and furniture makers when they’re trying to figure out how do we help people move more. So I am just fortunate to get to see a lof that process. And I want to share that process with our listeners. And I think this series – this kind of series within a series – has also turned into… it’s not guidance counseling, as far as career goes, but I think that as kids and teenagers we think “oh we’re gonna go study something. And then we’re gonna go get a job with that thing that we studied.” Like there’s no wiggle room for changing who you are in the process or what you do in the process. And one theme that’s been constant through these maker interviews is not one person, whether it was furniture or footwear, said: “I’ve had a lifelong passion for designing footwear.” Or, “I went to study footwear design and thus this is what I do.” Everyone has this great kind of origin story. And you studied graphic design.
TERRAL: Yeah. Yeah, that’s right.
KATY: How did you come to design and then how did you come to shoes.
TERRAL: Well, the one main thing that I learned while studying graphic design was problem-solving techniques. And so I feel like that really has contributed to my life a lot. So I don’t regret what I went into at all. But I studied graphic design. I got a good job right out of college. And I live in a small town so there’s only so many opportunities for that kind of work. And I had worked at a couple different places and I just didn’t really feel like it was the best fit for me. I thought about going off on my own and doing freelance work. And that would require moving my family to a large city and we were struggling with do we want to stay here, do we want to live kind of in the country. And what do I do, what do I do for a living. And that’s kind of right around the time that I just started tinkering around with making sandals. And I originally was just going to make them for myself because I was looking for a lightweight sandal that I could go backpacking with. I knew nothing about the concept of minimalist shoes until I started researching lightweight shoes. And then I discovered Vibram 5 fingers and everything just clicked and made so much sense to me. And I thought, yeah, I need this. But I still want sandals. So I’m still gonna make my own. And it was my wife’s idea to take it and turn it into a business. And so, and that really that allowed me the freedom of living where I wanted to live. And so I thought, you know what? How many people get an opportunity to run a shoe business. Even if it fails, what a great education. And then it would allow me the freedom to live where I wanted to live, to do what I wanted to do rather than trying to sacrifice who I am to pursue what it is that I studied. So at that point, it made so much sense to just take off and do what I wanted to do.
KATY: So you get to do what you want to do which is always nice. But you decided to mass produce footwear for people so there must have been something about lightweight sandals … whatever problem you were trying to solve within yourself as far as why you needed lightweight sandals when you were backpacking whether it just felt better or you just craved this feeling. How did this work become important to you – making footwear?
TERRAL: I think when it really became important to me was when I actually learned about the benefits of minimal footwear and when I learned about how our feet really work. I’ve always been the type of person that I wear sandals more than shoes. I go barefoot when I can. And I couldn’t always explain it but it felt right to me. And so when I was able to put information with feelings that I already had inside, I just felt that this is important. This is what people need.
KATY: What have you learned about your customers? What do they want? What are they looking for?
TERRAL: The customers have shifted over the years. When I first started doing this I literally knew nothing about business, nothing about marketing, really nothing about anything.
KATY: Your logo is really great though. Did you do your own logo?
TERRAL: I did. Thank you. I knew how to make a logo.
KATY: There you go.
TERRAL: So yeah, I just started doing it and the book Born to Run had just come out and lots of people were running barefoot and so that was my customer base right at that moment. But that was never really who we marketed to. My goal in making UnShoes was to make a minimalist sandal that looked more normal. At the time there were only two other companies offering minimalist sandals and they were very very primitive, which I had nothing against but I wanted to have something that was a little bit more sporty looking. something that looked a little more modern. So I started figuring out how to integrate these thin minimal soles with climbing webbing. And now that’s pretty normal. It’s in most minimalist sandals and there’s’ nothing extraordinary about that. But that’s what made us stand out just enough to propel us into a different audience which were people that were really wanting to change their lifestyle in a healthier way.
KATY: Yeah, I’m nodding because that is so true. I think we share some origin story in the fact that barefoot running – I mean I’m not going to say widespread phenomenon because it’s still pretty niche, but it’s a thing now that people understand. And it was, you know, it really started with running. But there was hardly anyone making footwear. And then now we’ve got way more companies and I wonder, if you have more companies vying for this kind of niche market but at the same time as it went from running or athleticism to lifestyle, and almost everyone has got more than one pair of shoes for their lifestyle. Maybe one pair of running shoes but multiple pairs of shoes for their lifestyle, it’s really great that we have so many companies. Because I wear a lot of minimal footwear and have for 10 years and every shoe style fits differently. We can say that all feet are anatomically the same at that the bulk of their features distribution wise are similar across the board but feet are so individual. Lengths of toes, and state of training, that I really appreciate having so many options.
TERRAL: And from a maker point of view, I’m glad there are a lot of other companies too because we can’t make everything for everyone.
TERRAL: So I’m grateful for that.
KATY: Yeah. It allows you to kind of do what you do really well. And then at the same point, I can see – I imagine if you start a shoe company that makes sandals or if you start a sandal company, eventually you become a footwear company because people love you and they love your brand and they’re like, “Great. What else you got besides sandals?” So, what else you got? That’s my question for you.
TERRAL: Yeah, that’s exactly what happened. Because for one thing we were busy in the summer and then winter would come around and we were like, “All right. Let’s do something.” And then a lot of people would ask us for some other kind of solution. They’d say, “I can’t wear my old shoes anymore. I want you guys to make something warmer.” So we kind of thought, what’s the next step between sandals and regular minimalist shoes and we thought, moccasins. So we started off making moccasins. We have a whole line of those. And then we’ve recently started making a shoe called Terra Vida which is a canvas slip-on shoe. It’s extremely light. I almost hesitate to call it a shoe because it’s so minimal.
KATY: A foot covering?
TERRAL: A foot covering, yeah. The nice thing about that one is that it looks pretty normal. So what people like about that is it looks kind of like a Tom’s shoe style but it’s extremely minimal. Also, we have our new Wildflower series which is both sandals and close-toed shoes. Right now we just have the two models but we will be adding more eventually as we move forward with those. I realize I should clarify what the Wildflower series is.
KATY: Yeah. Tell us what that is.
TERRAL: The Wildflower series is a line of shoes designed for women to look at little bit nicer. I don’t want to say formal, but more formal than for example our Wachova feather sandals. So we’re using metallic leathers and stuff like that. So they’re really designed to allow women to kind of look nicer, to feel nicer when they go out on a date or something like that but not feel like they have to cram their feet into their old high heels or something like that. So we want people to be healthy no matter what activity they’re doing.
KATY: Yeah. I started this project and then I immediately abandoned it because I thought I don’t think I have the bandwidth to do this project but it was to access, if we compartmentalized or named the category of shoes. I get a lot of people going, “I’ve tried your shoe list but I need it for this …” This situation which is … work. There’s so many categories of footwear and it is so hard because none of those categories is across the board. So what is professional for one person would not cut it for another person’s version of professional. And then there’s dress, and there’s dress casual and on and on. And that’s when I jumped ship. I’m out. But it seems to be that a big complaint from my readers was we kind of found that there was two holes. We found that there was a lack of children’s minimal shoes that were, I’ll say school appropriate but what I really meant was schools don’t often allow open-toed sandals. So it was not appropriate – not the right word – it’s like that met certain school requirements. That was a big hole a few years ago. It’s been since somewhat filled in although I think some of the companies that are doing it are outside of the US and then other people are going I’m trying to buy within North America because they’re coming from overseas. And then the other one was, what do you call it? The dress shoes? It’s date night shoe? I don’t know.
KATY: So for me, I wear Unshoes 100% of the time and feel perfectly comfortable with it. I have no problem wearing a minimal sandal as part of my date night. So subjective.
KATY: But I know what you mean. When you’re feeling the need to adorn, there’s not a lot of options out there if you’re looking for, I don’t know, styles are so individual and what we crave to dress ourselves up with – it just helps the more options there are. So that’s Wildflower, yes?
TERRAL: Yes. That’s Wildflower.
KATY: What other things do you see farther down the line?
TERRAL: So we have some other projects that we have thought about creating and we’ve kind of worked on here and there. We really try to listen to customer feedback so some of the things – you already mentioned the kid’s shoes – that is one of them. We currently make sandals for kids but we don’t have any closed toe options so we are considering maybe creating something for that. The challenge with kids shoes is that having a smaller thing doesn’t necessarily make it cheaper. In fact with shoes it’s actually more expensive. Because it’s more difficult to make.
KATY: Yeah. We talked about that last time. The expectation of less material and just the fact that we’re not used to… kids go through shoes more quickly because they grow more rapidly and it’s harder to see the investment if you’re looking at it … if you’re looking up the value per shoe versus per minute of development, the investment doesn’t seem to be there. But if you look at it the other way then the investment might be never more important that it is, right? In that first – I mean our skeletons are really shaping all the way through 16-18, maybe, depending. So children’s shoes and what else?
TERRAL: And our goal with the children’s shoes really is to come up with a design that is simple – as simple as possible for us to make so that we can offer it at a price point where people can afford it but we can still, you know, feed our families at the end of the day too.
KATY: How do you do that? Are you trying out different models? You say it like that’s what we have to do and everyone nods. It’s like right, they’re doing that. What does that look like? Does that look like you trying a bunch of materials? Styles? Wearing them? What does figuring that outlook like?
TERRAL: Yeah, well that’s something I’ve learned a lot about is efficiency and how to do this without breaking the bank because it can get expensive really fast. So the first thing I look at is, ok, how are we actually putting this together. What’s the overall pattern? How many seams do we have to sew? How much glue do we have to use? How many people do we have to employ to be able to put this thing together? And then we start thinking how many of these things are just expected and how many are actually necessary. So there’s value added and nonvalue added. And we’ve studied lean manufacturing Toyota. We’ve tried to just cut out anything that’s not value adding, any waste. Making things as efficient as possible. So with designing a shoe, we’re really trying to keep it as simple as possible. So to start up we make mockups so that’s sometimes paper. My kids are often walking around with paper wrapped around their feet. Or tape. Or socks that have been taped up. Anyways – so just kind of moves from there. We try materials. We try a lot of different things. So it can take some time.
KATY: Wow. I have never once looked at my footwear and counted seams but I guess you’re right. The more amount of separate pieces, all of those things, are what a manufacturer is having to consider.
TERRAL: Yeah. And there’s what can we automate and what uses a human brain. So anything that you can automate is faster but it’s not always as reliable. So.
KATY: All right. So children’s shoes. Anything else in the pipe?
TERRAL: Yeah. Another thing that people have asked us for is a women’s, I say women’s because most of the people that have asked have been women, it’s really who our audience is. A boot for fall/winter weather. So that’s, you know, that’s when you look at what we originally came from, sandals, it’s a big leap. There’s a lot of different things that go into that so it’s something we’ve been working on for a while but we haven’t really gone very far if that makes sense.
KATY: So if you’re UnShoes, what’s the theme across all your shoes. So you’ve always done sandals for the most part and then added. So is the theme just minimalism throughout or is there some other identifier of your product that’s in your mission statement that’s also embodied in your shoes?
TERRAL: That’s a good question. The one thing that’s a unifier is that we take an ancient design concept, something that has been around for a very long time. Something that’s been proven. Something that’s usually pretty simple in design to start out. We started out with huaraches, you know, the basic sandals. And then we take it and we say ok, how can we make this a little bit more modern? How can we apply it to something that looks a little bit more up to date without losing the simplicity of the design? And in some cases how can we add simplicity or I guess simplicity isn’t added it’s taken away. Complexity is taken away. Right?
KATY: Right. Minimalism or maximalism. Which is it?
TERRAL: So that’s the one thing that we’ve done all across the board. Moccasins: here’s the basic primitive mocassin. How can we make it look more like a shoe without turning it into a shoe? So every product that we have has that as the root of it. And then the other thing in our mission statement is that everything we do we are trying to create footwear that it doesn’t do something for your foot, it allows your foot to do its thing. So we’re trying to get out of the way as much as possible.
KATY: Well, similarly boots, casual boots. Casual adults boots are kind of that other plea. And I have shoe lists, footwear lists on my website. And every winter I come back to last year’s winter list. And it’s like why winter list? Because people are looking for boots. And the adult minimal boot choices are abysmal. They barely exist. And if they do exist, they tend to not return the next year because I think a lot of times footwear companies are having to meet a design need. Right? Because then you need to buy all the different colors or all the shapes and do-dads. And so yes, please. Let me know when that boot is available and I will share it with all of our readers because they’re the ones who are asking and they’re asking me. And I’m like, “I don’t know. I write books about feet. I don’t know anything about making shoes.” So you do. So you’ve heard the people.
TERRAL: All right. Great. Excellent. So that’s good to hear. And if any of your listeners want to connect with us, send us messages, we would love to hear their feedback. That’s really everything we do is based on customer feedback. One thing about with boots is that there are, even within boots, there’s a lot of variation of what’s expected and what people want. Like you were talking about with fancier footwear. One thing we probably will not do is like fully waterproof winter boots.
TERRAL: That’s a little outside of our realm at this point in time. So they would be more like casual, warm weather, you’re not going to step in 6 inches of slushy snow or something. Just putting that out there.
KATY: Yeah. But at the same time, people in many places of the world for thousands and thousands of years have put their self-made footwear in those conditions. And so, for me, I live in the Pacific Northwest. We have snow. This is not Montana. This is not Wisconsin.
TERRAL: Wisconsin. Yeah.
KATY: Or Nova Scotia – places where people are shaking their fists at me right now with me talking about my “winter” with air quotes around it. And I fully get that but at the same time, I don’t feel the need for Wisconsin improved weather gear in my rain and snow. I have adapted with being less comfortable by pairing wool socks, sometimes a couple of pairs with my nonwater resistant but I can still put beeswax on them. I can seal them in myself. So I end up getting wet. But I end up being warm wet. And so I’m ok being wet because I’m not after being perfectly comfortable. I’m after doing what footwear has always done for many many years which is give us an added boost of protection. Not to make us impermeable, or impervious to nature. Like it’s raining. It’s wet. And I’m gonna let some of that wet in my feet and I have a fire and I will take care of it later. And it’s like the safety guidelines of myself and plus moving around a lot keeps you warm. And so I can hear what you’re making which is not rain boots. Like that’s not what you’re making.
TERRAL: Yes. Exactly.
KATY: Well, I can say again, if you want to take some of my feedback and tape up your kids’ calves appropriately with the boots is, there is a wide variance in calf shape. So I’m just here to just throw that out there to you or anyone else considering making boots. And that seems to be the biggest limiting factor. Human timeline is pretty long but even if we went like shod humans, boots and wrapping things around our feet and shanks which is a way a biomechanist would define the lower leg, the shin, the shank area. So how can we take that kind of ancestral practice and make it so that everyone’s calves can fit within boots? There’s something to a design. You’re the graphic designer. So there’d be some type of fold and buckle that would really allow it to change shape because that is the biggest thing. When you get into boots you’re not only dealing with the variance in foot shape – and I know you know about that.
KATY: I know you know about the variance in foot shape because I’ve seen – how many templates do you have for foot shape?
TERRAL: So we have 6 templates that we use for our custom foot shapes. And we’ve kind of gone away from that a little bit. Where we have you go on the website and just buy our standard size. And that actually fits most people well enough. But for those who do want custom sizes, there’s still that opportunity.
KATY: There’s that with calf shape. So I don’t know how there would be something in stretch or something with stringing and creative folding. So just putting it out there. Because I receive a lot of boot shape feedback even though I myself am nor a boot make or a shoemaker. It comes my way. So I’m just handing it over to you as a bootmaker.
KATY: And it has landed, everyone who has emailed me. It has landed.
TERRAL: I will take that information and use it. It’s actually great feedback.
KATY: You will use it. I don’t think it’s something that everyone thinks about all the time. Right? I’m pre-thinking it for you. Or rather many other people are have pre-experienced it and we’re preloading your design pipe. Ok. Is there anything else you want to tell our listeners.
TERRAL: No I think that’s it. We are working towards these new designs. They might take some time. I don’t want people to think that they’re gonna come out next month. Because it is a time-consuming process.
TERRAL: But yeah. Another thing that I might add in too is with our Wildflower series, for those who may have followed us for the last 5 years or so, we actually launched our Wildflower series once before and we did a Kickstarter campaign and that was successful but we weren’t ready to do that. It was a big failure and we learned a lot from it. So we didn’t have suppliers in place. Some of the materials that we were using ended up failing. A lot of the sandals ended up failing. We lost money on that project, despite the fact that the campaign was successful. It actually almost put us under – it was close to tipping the boat over. But we made it through and so we have taken what we have learned from that experience and now we have re-launched the Wildflower series with all that in mind and we’re moving forward with confidence. So we’re happy to do that.
KATY: Well, to err is human, yeah?
KATY: And we all know what forgiving is.
TERRAL: Having a business has really taught me what failure is and that it is an opportunity. It’s not something to beat yourself up over, so, that has been a wonderful opportunity for me to learn.
KATY: Well parenting pretty much did that for me. I didn’t even have to have a footwear company to learn that. Terral Fox is the founder of UnShoes. You can find out more about them at UnShoesUSA.com. And also you can follow them on Instagram. You guys have a fun Instagram account.
TERRAL: Thank you.
KATY: It’s Unshoes underscore…is it Unshoes underscore footwear? Is that right?
TERRAL: Yes, that’s correct.
KATY: Ok, great. And we will link to everything in the show notes. Thanks for coming on Terral.
TERRAL: Thank you very much.
That is it for Move Your DNA this time. Hey audio lovers! Did you know that you can find three, that’s right three of my books on Audible.com and ITunes. I have recorded Move Your DNA, Whole Body Barefoot, and Movement Matters. And if you are interested in today’s topic, I highly recommend Movement Matters. It’ll be on point for the stuff that we covered here today. Each audiobook comes with a downloadable pdf, so if you’re worried about buying an exercise instruction book and having to learn the exercises via me speaking, it’s not really like that. You’ll have me talking through all the audio theory and explaining kind of why these exercises and how they work. But you can print out a visual guide to follow the exercises. Every one of my audiobooks has several moments of bloopers at the end – Katy Bowman style. More Katy Bowman than you can handle. Or maybe it’s just the right amount of Katy Bowman, I’m not sure. It’s a good amount anyhow. On behalf of everyone at Move Your DNA and Nutritious Movement, thank you for listening. Until next time friends – go get your hands dirty!
VOICEOVER: This has been Move Your DNA with Katy Bowman, a podcast about movement. Hopefully you find the general information in this podcast informative and helpful, but it is not intended to replace medical advice and should not be used as such.