In the spring of 2016, a lawn sign popped up in the front yard of a home at Gravers Lane and Ardleigh Street. The sign advertised Backyard Eats.
In the spring of 2016, a lawn sign popped up in the front yard of a home at Gravers Lane and Ardleigh Street in Chestnut Hill. The sign advertised Backyard Eats, a new company that would design, plant, harvest and maintain a backyard garden for any area homeowners who wanted their family to have a steady source of the freshest vegetables and fruits.
“We got a good response,” said Chris Mattingly, who had placed the sign in his front yard. “My first customer came from a classified ad in the Local, and Instagram posts helped also, but so did the lawn sign. It was very encouraging. My passion has always been for gardening.”
Today, in parts of Northwest Philadelphia and the adjacent suburbs, plant beds designed with the know-how of an engineer and the heart of a gardener were created by Mattingly, a Maryland native with a degree in civil engineering and soil foundation science from the University of Maryland. Mattingly moved to Chestnut Hill in 2012 with his wife, Allison, when she accepted a medical internship in Philadelphia.
“It is great to live in a community of people who want to share the magic of homegrown food,” Chris Mattingly said.
Gardening has become one of the most popular hobbies in America, according to a report by biggergarden.com. About 55 percent of American households engage in gardening activities and 67 percent of those that garden are growing or planning to grow edible plants, including vegetables (52%), herbs (33%) and fruits (31%), a national study by gardenpals.com reports.
More than 18 million Americans began gardening during the pandemic, the report said.
“The COVID pandemic definitely made things tough. It was hard sourcing the plants we needed,” Mattingly said. “On the other hand, there was an increase in the interest of homegrown foods since so many people were now home all the time. And I am glad to say that this inspiration has stuck.”
Before founding Backyard Eats, Mattingly worked in landfill design and maintenance, but that work did not align with his environmentalist values, and backyard gardens clearly do.
In the fall of 2015, Mattingly completed the Philadelphia County Master Gardener Program through the Penn State Agricultural Extension. For the volunteer portion of his class, he built garden beds for the Jenks School in Chestnut Hill.
“The experience with Jenks has been really good,” he said. “I don’t see why that couldn’t be replicated in other markets.”
Backyard Eats begins its process of designing vegetable gardens with a free initial consultation with the client. During the meeting, Mattingly or a staff member determines which plants the client wants to grow and conducts a sun exposure analysis, which lets everyone know when and where the sun shines.
Mattingly then begins the design and installation of the garden. Besides building the beds and trellises and planting the produce, Backyard Eats also installs an automated irrigation system, which means the garden doesn’t need to be watered by hand.
Once the garden is installed, a member of Mattingly's 10-person staff stops by either weekly, bi-weekly or monthly to check on the garden, weed and keep up with pruning and seeding. There is a QR code system that customers can use to pull up information on the plants. The customer has the option of harvesting their own plants, but most let Backyards Eats do everything.
Backyard Eats’ four-person management team includes Mattingly, operations manager and sales manager Mike Bennett, office manager Donna Bennett (Mike’s mom) and production manager Sage Forté.
Alicia Hall, a long-time customer from Chestnut Hill, valued the company’s expertise. “I am so happy I had the services of Backyard Eats,” Hall said. “We enjoyed fresh garden veggies all season long. It was the best yield from my garden in years.”
Lucy Curtis contributed to this article. For more information, visit backyard-eats.com. Len Lear can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.