Saturday, July 12, 2008 | Wearing an Atlanta Braves baseball hat and carrying a large potted plant, Leslie Goldman, also known as the “Enchanted Gardener,” fancies himself a planter of dreams. A former journalism student and a freelance photographer by profession, he has spent the last 15 years traveling around telling people why they should grow their own food — or at least one plant — and buy locally grown, organic food. He’s convinced that if people feel more connected to what they eat, problems ranging from obesity and childhood sugar highs to hotly-contested immigration issues could be solved.

Goldman gave up his aspirations of becoming a mainstream reporter 40 years ago when he was diagnosed with a form of chronic arthritis. Looking for an alternative to prescription drugs, he came to California and lived on a health ranch in Escondido. He left the ranch several years later when his health was on the mend, but he has hung his hat in San Diego ever since.

The potted plant he totes is actually an organic — and edible, he points out — beet that he carries to promote his latest campaign encouraging everyone to own at least one plant. The motto of the campaign, called “Keep the Beet,” is “one pot, one plant and I’m a gardener.”

We caught up with the Enchanted Gardener and his beet, named Keep the Beet Media Star, on his way to the Farmers’ Market in Hillcrest.

Tell me about the “Enchanted Gardener.”

It’s the persona I’ve created. I use to get very emotional early in my life when I would find forms that said, “what do you do?” you know, for a living, or even, “who are you?” But I just had my 60th birthday and I’m pretty clear about who I am right now, and who I am is the persona I’ve created, “The Enchanted Gardener.” I basically plant dreams for the super right people. I hold the highest aspirations for a beautiful world. In my persona as your enchanted gardener, I consider my employer Mother Earth.

Tell me about the beet you carry.

I travel with plants. I never go anywhere without plants and right now one of my seeds I’m planting is “Keep the Beet.” “Keep the Beet” is an opportunity for me to encourage the people that I meet to reestablish their connection with growing food. I’d like them to regain the understanding that we can grow some of our food. You see, “Keep the Beet” is a locally grown, organic beet. The idea that I was inspired with is that you take one person plus one pot and I’m a gardener. All I’m asking is each person to get one locally grown organic beet — or the best they can get — put in a pot of the best soil they can get and grow that beet.

Why is it so important to grow a beet?

Because we’re living in a world right now that has lost its relationship with growing things. I have a very close relationship with the organic farmers in San Diego. I notice that a number of the farmers who have been feeding me for many years are under duress right now … and they have had to cut back the amount of food that they’re growing. At the end of the day, consumers are not aware how important it is to support the local farmers.

Why is it important to support them?

Basically, I would say I’m very concerned with homeland security. I’m very concerned with earth-based homeland security. My idea to solve immigration problems is to make sure people’s needs are met. If our neighbors south of the border had the food that they really need to feed themselves in a healthy manner, that would make a difference. I’d rather see the people of Mexico thriving in their own home. As far as homeland security, more and more we are outsourcing our production of food. From my looking at this, what sense does it make to be building uncomfortable relationships with your neighbors, such as Mexico, and at the same time be asking them to grow our food? OK? I mean, that to me doesn’t make much sense.

Tell me more about why people should have at least one plant.

We need a moment of awakening. I am very sincere in honoring the value of science. But on the other hand, science needs to, and kids in the schools need to, have a foundation in nature. We can’t continue to create a generation of children who know more about Apple computers and uploading information and data into computers than they do about the fundamentals of how science works. When I water this plant, it reminds me to drink water. My plant has to be out in the sunshine. That reminds me, that as a human being, for my health, I have to go out in the sunshine. By encouraging each person to grow one plant, they can become connected again. We have a tendency now to become more and more fragmented.

What’s your take on biotechnology? Are there conflicts between the organic movement and technology?

I am welcoming a dialogue with my family in the biotech movement because science is a beautiful terrain … but we can’t lose sight of the overall picture. Being that we all live on the same planet, we have to be in dialogue. We need to sit down and look at the problems long-range and look at what we’re creating. Why solve problems through science or biotech that can be solved naturally. I mean, I understand that researchers get money from doing constant research, but we have to look long-term at the creations we do and what effect they’re going to have long-term. There’s no reason for anybody who has a brain to succeed in science to not come up with marvelous inventions, but I think we need an ethics behind that.

What kind of creations are you talking about?

There are major concerns about what happens when people change the nature of creation to create new things. We may have the ability, but do we have the wisdom? I mean, look, there’s certain creations I’d love to see. I mean, maybe, and I’m just playing, it would be not so bad to have a clone, you know? For people who are lonely, maybe a girlfriend or something. Or we could have extra body parts lying around when we needed them. You know what I mean? No, I’m just playing, but, there is a big contention that natural foods and biotech can’t coexist. When you put [technology] in the hands of people who don’t understand life or have the ethics in the first place … or are mainly are concerned with profit, then you can start hurting people. I would support biotech inventions within medicine and things like stem cells and prolonging life. But I would not support it in food. The solution isn’t in genetically engineered food. Don’t try to create new foods through science. There’s a natural way to do it. Build up the soil.

What’s your lifestyle like?

I live in a natural environment called the Enchanted Gardener Intentional near SDSU. I live with other people, other adults. … I don’t live with people who necessarily agree with me and I eat with people who are eating all over the map — from food orgasms to desserts to sweets to everything. In other words, I enjoy a challenge. I’m not into preaching to the choir. I am basically a whole, pure natural eater. I like farm fresh, local, organic. I’m not a vegetarian. I’m eating more and more vegetarian according to what my body needs, but I feel some people basically need higher protein foods. But I do think the more we become educated about who we are, then the lower we can live on the food chain.

Do you have any final thoughts?

Of course. Local is becoming a catch phrase and a trend, but that’s fine. Everyone should grow something of their own or buy from a local grower. … I’d like to see everybody support the farmers markets. Go out of their way and go with neighbors. Anyone who goes is going to feel the power of local. You have people in social interaction. You find people conversing. You find people having fun. It’s a village. It is absolutely a village. And you know, we have to get the children back off the computer and get down some basics, and that’s tied in with food. Kids can’t just be exposed to sugar and getting whacked out. Now, Keep the Beet Media Star, if you ask her, she has far more radical ideas than I do.

— Interview by DARRYN BENNETT

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