June 1, 2016

Get Your Garden On: How To Grow Food In The City

You may have heard that gardening is a great way to de-stress and get grounded, with the added benefit of extra-fresh produce on the table. (In fact, England’s National Health Service recently recommended that doctors prescribe gardening to patients.)

Maybe you’re concerned by the perils of the global industrial food system and packaged foods made of ingredients you can’t pronounce. Or perhaps you’re just looking to dig into the dirt and spend some quality time with Mother Nature herself. Whatever the reason to get your garden on, the local food movement is blowing up, so rest assured that there are a ton of ways to get down and dirty in your city.

Not sure if it’s worth the effort? Get to your nearest urban garden ASAP and taste a vine-ripened heirloom tomato or a just-harvested carrot. Forget marketing campaigns—the taste of fresh produce alone will make you a convert.

Your next step is to reflect on the level of involvement you want: is gardening going to be your main boo, or are you looking for a more casual boo-on-the-side?

And hey, no shame either way. The plants will thank you for any amount of time you put in, and you’ll reap the rewards for your health, your wallet, and your taste buds.


Plant the seed for a future in gardening by assisting at a community plot.Plant the seed for a future in gardening by assisting at a community plot.

If you want to try your hand and reap the rewards, but you’re not ready to take the plunge with a garden of your own:

  • Work Share CSA: One of the coolest new additions to the local food movement are work share CSAs, like One Woman Farm in Pennsylvania. You put in time on the farm in exchange for a discounted box of weekly produce. This is a great option for folks who are eager to learn and earn your keep.

For those looking to give back:

  • Nonprofit farms and gardens: There are tons of nonprofit farms popping up everywhere (like this great San Jose farm, coordinated by yours truly), and many of them rely on volunteers like you to grow food for the community. Plus, some let you take produce in exchange for your work! Win-win.
  • Build gardens for schools: What better way to give back than to build a garden for the next generation? School gardens can provide an incredible living classroom that encourages natural curiosity while also exposing kids at an early age to healthy food options and environmental stewardship. See if there’s an organization in your city building school gardens, like Captain Planet in Atlanta.
  • Build gardens for folks in need: And there’s even an option for those looking to give back without getting their hands dirty: organizations like Planting Justice in the Bay Area build gardens for folks who can afford them at prices that subsidize gardens for folks who can’t afford them.

Urban farms like San Jose’s Garden to Table recruit volunteers and full-time staff for one-time and ongoing duties.Urban farms like San Jose’s Garden to Table recruit volunteers and full-time staff for one-time and ongoing duties.


For the homebodies:

  • Yard Farming: For those with a little more space, there are services popping up all over the U.S. that will set you up with a garden or mini farm in your own backyard! With some services, you keep all the produce that you grow, and with others, you’ll keep as much as you’d like, while the rest goes toward a community CSA with neighboring gardeners.

Selling local produce at farmers markets helps urban gardens connect to their neighbors.Selling local produce at farmers markets helps urban gardens connect to their neighbors.

For those who are not afraid of commitment and who want their own little slice of heaven:

  • Community gardening: These are gardens where anyone in the community can sign up for a plot. Most community gardens have a small annual fee, which often goes toward common space maintenance. But free-riders be warned: though it is a community garden, and the common spaces are typically taken care of by all members, you are the only one who will take care of your own plot. Here’s how to find one in your city.

For those who want to be the best at everything and become Jedi Garden Masters:

  • Scholarly gardening: An often overlooked option, local schools and universities are home to some of the most beautiful (and well-researched) garden and farm programs in the country.

For those ready to take the big plunge and become a food hero:

  • Become a farmer (for real): Young people, farming needs you! Start your own farm/growing operation and reverse the trend of dwindling farmers in the US. Though many farmers agree that farming is no cakewalk, it can be extremely rewarding, and the view from the office ain’t so bad either.

Who knew there was so much gardening going in your city? (Okay, I did.) This may be more options than you bargained for, but no need for decision overload: just pick one and dig in. You’ll be smitten before you can say “local organic artisan pickles.”