Lisa Brennan did not consider herself a gardener, yet last year she found herself hanging potted plants from the ceiling of her video rental store, Four Star Video Heaven. Window shoppers who pass Four Star Video’s glass entrance face a terrarium of DVD cases, permaculture books and gardening supplies.
Brennan introduced Sprout, the green section of the store, to customers last April. Including gardening products inside any video rental shop is unexpected. However, Brennan’s advocacy for sustainable agriculture vis-à-vis Sprout fits within the store’s history of supporting community initiatives and events. A few years ago Brennan collaborated with Planned Parenthood and the Madison AIDS Network to raise awareness of sexual health by providing condoms to interested customers.
The inspiration for Sprout came from Brennan’s increasing awareness that problems such as global warming and pollution of the water supply stem from current agricultural practices.
“Large scale agriculture [and] genetic modification — this is very heavy input agriculture,” she said. “It seems so very, very unsustainable to me.”
With Sprout, Brennan hopes to promote “sustainable” agricultural practices, including growing produce on a small scale for local consumption using renewable and recycled materials and planting diverse strains of plants.The latter point is of particular concern to Brennan.
She says the current agricultural system is vulnerable to plant diseases because of widespread use of single strains of plants.
“If you look at the Irish Potato Famine, it was caused by a lack of genetic diversity,” Brennan said. “Everybody was growing the same variety of potato, and when a blight hit, it really took out everything. We’re really in a position where that could easily happen to us again because we grow so few varieties.”
Speaking to farm owners and members of the Madison Area Permaculture Guild gave Brennan ideas for solutions that she could incorporate into Four Star Video’s operations.
After the guild put Brennan in touch with local seed and compost vendors, Brennan began to stock Four Star Video with seeds and tools for indoor sprouting. She places emphasis on the do-it-yourself aspect of small-space gardening by providing examples she has created in the store.
“The planters that we have hanging on the front of the store, I made those out of rain gutters,” Brennan said. “We just strung them together with chains, drilled drain holes … and we grow greens in them during the season.
In addition to providing fresh food to eat, Brennan points out home gardening is inexpensive and efficient.
“There are really amazing amounts of stuff you can grow on these very small plots, and in some cases, contain [your] gardening on balconies,” she said. “It’s amazing how much how you can actually do once you figure out how to maximize your space.”
Brennan says Four Star Video customers have been very receptive to the addition.
“[Initially], there was a certain amount of bemusement,” she said. “It’s an unusual combination.” However, the store soon attracted a following.
Brennan said many Four Star Video customers find casual interest in Sprout, but a number of them come in just for the green aspect of the store.
Brennan also points out that plants brighten the space. The growth catches your eye — above the cash register dangles a canvas bag that strongly resembles a behind-the-door shoe hanger.
“It never fails to get comments when people come in,” Brennan said.
Brennan has several ideas planned for Sprout’s future. During the autumn harvest season, for instance, she wants to add food dehydrators to the store’s stock of pickling and canning supplies.
Amid the novelties and food preparation products, Brennan still wants the ecological importance of gardening to remain a focus of Sprout.
“I think we’ve gotten very disconnected in this way,” Brennan said, “and I think it’s very valuable exercise to get out there and reconnect to the way that food is grown.”
Sprout is located inside Four Star Video Heaven at 449 State St. The store is open daily between 10 a.m. and midnight. For more information about Sprout customers can call Four Star Video at (608) 255-1994.