Budding Success

Brown Thumb Mama makes her mark in the garden

By Dan Vierria
August 2022

Brown Thumb Mama is a mother of two, garden writer and corporate world escapee who wields her superpowers from a suburban Sacramento home.

With her Brown Thumb Mama website (brownthumbmama.com), weekly newsletter, social media sites, videos and TV appearances, Pam Farley recently exceeded a website milestone—more than 1 million annual readers.

The next bite of the tomato is her first gardening book. “The First Time Gardener: Container Food Gardening” will be released next spring by Cool Springs Press.

“It was a big project and I’ll be excited to see it in print,” Farley says.

The Brown Thumb Mama weekly newsletter targets people who want to learn but know little about sustainable lifestyles. Her newsletter offers tips on gardening, kitchen chores and natural living. Topics include nutrition, the environment, saving money and eliminating “hidden toxins” in homes.

“But what does everybody ask me about?” she asks. “Gardening!”

Trial and error have been her gardening tutors. She’s not shy about discussing failures. The Brown Thumb Mama brand defines Farley’s experiences.

“My garden is not always successful,” she says. “The year my russet potatoes were the size of golf balls comes to mind. Folks that can’t grow anything say they have a ‘black thumb’ and those who are great at gardening have a ‘green thumb.’ I’m somewhere in the middle, always learning new things about gardening.”

Brown Thumb Mama was created in 2009, but Farley gave it full attention in 2015 following a career change. After 20 years, she “ditched the cubicle” to focus on her creative side and family.

Leaving a steady paycheck and benefits wasn’t easy. Her husband, Gene, who owns Comics & Collectibles on Fruitridge Road, was supportive. The two children helped in the garden, although she jokes her teenager now seems more interested in eating than gardening.

“While I learned a lot about how businesses are run and made lifelong friends, I felt the need to contribute to the world in a more direct, tangible way,” she says. “It is not nearly as exhausting as my corporate job, and I don’t have to meet with people before a meeting to go over what we were going to talk about in the meeting.”

Farley’s style is down-to-earth. Her how-to topics are easy to digest. For instance, “How to grow zucchini in containers.” Or “Grow gallons of strawberries.” Her kitchen tips take it to the next level with topics such as “How to dry and use lemon peel” and “How to freeze bell peppers.”

Farley’s yard is compact and mostly swimming pool in the back, where no soil is unplanted. Raised beds and containers stretch along the fence line. Indoors she has zinnias germinating in the kitchen and sandwich bags of seeds stowed here and there.

Farley’s garden is far from immaculate. She describes it as a level below “Instagram perfect.” Weeds are easy to spot. Her front yard artichokes appear trampled by a crash of rhinos. Her brown thumb and busy mom lifestyle resonate with a growing audience.

“I’m out there to show anybody can grow a garden, even if you only have a tiny spot on the windowsill, even if you’ve never grown anything before,” she says. “Even if you are on a tiny lot in the city, like me.”

Inflationary food prices favor Farley’s frugal tips and green guidance.

“One $2.50 pack of zucchini seeds can produce 15 plants and each of those plants could produce 10 pounds of zucchini over a season,” she says. “Right now, zucchini is $1.49 a pound at the grocery store. Pretty easy to see big savings there.”

Farley says most grocery store vegetables and fruits come from farms and warehouses hundreds, even thousands of miles away.

“When you grow your own food, you are helping, in a small way, to reduce shipping pollution. No plastic packaging is required for homegrown foods, which also reduces waste. Plus, when you share with friends and neighbors, you are building community.”

Brown thumbs up!

Dan Vierria is a University of California Cooperative Extension Master Gardener for Sacramento County. He can be reached at masterg29@gmail.com. For answers to gardening questions, contact the UCCE Master Gardeners at (916) 876-5338, email mgsacramento@ucanr.edu or visit sacmg.ucanr.edu. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram: @insidesacramento.

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