Urban gardening doesn’t have to be a cramped, soot-stained chore! These green revolutionaries prove that you can transform rooftops, enliven schoolyards, even create a “food forest,” with just a little space, a lot of effort, and the creativity of an engaged community.
Get inspired to get involved — or to create your own green oasis in the city!
To celebrate our Book of the Month, Jeanne Nolan’s From the Ground Up: A Food Grower’s Education in Life, Love, and the Movement That’s Changing the Nation, we’ve gathered six inspiring urban gardening projects that demonstrate the best of the sustainable food movement.
The Edible Gardens
Jeanne Nolan began her partnership with Chicago’s Green City Market in 2005, under whose auspices she designed, installed and maintains the Edible Gardens, a 5,000-square-foot vegetable garden for children at the Lincoln Park Zoo. With 25,000 visitors annually, the Edible Gardens is Green City Market’s primary educational outreach program. The mission of the Edible Gardens is to give Chicago’s children a hands-on education in where food comes from, and ensure that families have the knowledge, experience and inspiration to be part of a sustainable food system.
MacArthur Genius Award-Winner and bestselling author Will Allen founded Growing Power in 1993 in Milwaukee with a vision of “inspiring communities to build sustainable food systems that are equitable and ecologically sound, creating a just world, one food-secure community at a time.” With Alice Waters, Oprah Winfrey and Bill Clinton singing his praises, Allen continues to innovate in the world of urban gardening. The latest: free gardens for daycare centers. Changing the world, one gardener at a time.
Founded in 2010, Brooklyn Grange has quickly grown to be a leader in the rooftop farming and intensive green roofing business in the U.S. They operate the world’s largest rooftop soil farms, located on two roofs in New York City, and grow over 40,000 pounds of organically cultivated produce per year. “There are a number of parallels with regular agriculture,” says president and head farmer Ben Flanner, “What we don’t have are deer or foxes or rodents.”
Edible Schoolyard is Alice Waters’ project to get gardening into school curricula. Alice Waters was once quoted in a newspaper interview saying that her local schoolyard in Berkeley, Calif., looked like no one cared about the school. The principal reached out to her to see if they could work together to change that. Seventeen years later, ESY Berkeley is lush with more than 100 varieties of seasonal vegetables, herbs, vines, berries, flowers and fruit trees. The organization has served over 7,000 students, who often return to say that what they remember most about middle school is the time they spent in the Edible Schoolyard.
Beacon Food Forest
A Food Forest is a gardening technique or land management system that mimics a woodland ecosystem but substitutes in edible trees, shrubs, perennials and annuals. Seattle’s Beacon Food Forest is one of the most successful in the country. Working with the city of Seattle and a $100,000 grant from the Department of Neighborhoods, the Beacon Food Forest community is working to “design, plant and grow an edible urban forest garden that inspires our community to gather together, grow our own food and rehabilitate our local ecosystem.”
Home of of the Red, White & BLUEberry, Veterans Farm in Jacksonville, Fla., has a two-fold mission: to help disabled combat veterans reintegrate back into society through the use of horticulture therapy and to help fill a growing gap in U.S. farming (statistics point to the average American farmer being between 57 and 60 years old with two farmers retiring for every one entering the field). The program is partnering with organizations like Farmers Veterans Coalition to assist disabled veterans in obtaining the resources to start their own farms or to work with larger farming organizations. And the psychological benefits of the program are documented, a real gift to our veterans.