Urban Gardening

Those of us who live in larger cities value the diverse culture, the big-time arts and sports, the good job market, the easy travel access, and the many other lifestyle options city living provides. Among those aspects you don’t hear as often: the gardening. The fact is, you don’t have to live in Green Acres to raise a rich, plentiful, even income-generating (yes, you read that right) garden. Check out this video of the Dervaes family and their quest to live close to their 1/5 of an acre of land.

And this local news coverage of the family and their garden:

Now that’s motivation and ingenuity. Let’s just say their example is both humbling and inspiring to those of us who celebrate getting young berry bushes through the winter. Most of us can’t imagine what it would mean to grow even a fraction of our own food let alone enough to feed our families and the restaurant down the block. Four hundred food items! Now that’s veggie and fruit diversity!

While the Dervaes family is truly exceptional, urban gardens (popular for decades in Europe) are taking off in a number of American cities these days. Urban singles and families appreciate the simple enjoyment of the pastime as well as the budget-sparing fruits of their labors. City governments, on the other hand, value the “greening” and beautification of city lots as well as the increased social investment gardening residents make in their urban neighborhoods.

And the benefits don’t end there. A study published in this month’s Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior found that, among 766 surveyed adults in Flint, Michigan, those who participated in community gardens “consumed fruits and vegetables 1.4 more times per day than those who did not participate, and they were 3.5 times more likely to consume fruits and vegetables at least 5 times daily.”

Not only do urban gardens offer the chance and incentive for better dietary health, we’d argue they offer other health advantages as well, especially for young urban seedlings, who, as we shared last week, stand to benefit from the time outdoors.

For more information on the Dervaes family and their project, check out their website, Path to Freedom. You can find their online journal, Little Homestead in the City.

And send us your thoughts, experiences and tips for urban (or rural/suburban!) gardening.

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28 thoughts on “Urban Gardening”

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  1. I’ve just started my own little backyard garden. My husband had already planted some fruit trees (mango, avocado, orange, lemon, banana in our backyard, and peach and plum in the front – we’ve already gotten bananas, and have more almost ready), and so I dug up a couple small plots and planted some veggies and melons.

    I still feel like I have no idea what I’m doing, but I have beans and okra coming up and my tomato plants are doing well.

    My husband, who doesn’t like to eat his veggies, said he’d eat whatever I grew, so I saw it as a chance to improve his diet. Also, I thought my sons would be more inclined to eat veggies they’d help grow and pick, and which came fresh from our backyard. My 2 yo just wants to play in the dirt (and probably scattered some of the seeds around so they won’t grow), but my 4 yo is really excited and tells everyone he talks to about our garden!!!

    It does seem to be a great way to go “green,” organic, local and seasonal, and after a couple weeks of intermittent digging, I have to say the exercise I’m getting is beneficial too.

  2. Home gardens are such a better use of property and time than the perfect lawns and floral arrangements that mark almost everyone’s front and back yards.

    Imagine the benefits if families in the suburbs started digging up their front yards to plant zucchini and tomatoes and herbs ect. It might even mean LESS water and time expenditure seeing how some many yards are perfectly manicured. The fresh food provides for the family and occasionally the neighbors and such sharing provided for stronger sense of community. Such a garden would be a huge, visible statement for organics and other great ideas.

    Does anyone know of an example of this or experience doing it? I’m just a college kid with some ideas and no land, but i never intend to have property wasted on a lawn. What people would really need to do this is a website or guide on what to plant and how. What grows easiest, with the least expert care, and produces the most consistent results?

  3. Stephen,

    You took the words right out of my mouth. My wife and I have been talking about starting a small scale veggie garden and building up from there once we learn what we are doing. Neither of us has a green thumb, but are interested in learning how to do it. We need the resources your are talking about.

  4. I tried posting a few minutes ago, but I think there was a problem. Sorry if this ends up being a repeat!

    We’ve just started to get into the gardening scene. Here are a few resources we’ve found helpful, but we’re always looking for new recommendations too.

    http://www.gardeners.com (great supplies and expert tips)
    http://www.seedsavers.com (farm that collects and sells heirloom seeds from the Midwest and around the world)
    http://www.organicgardening.com (great magazine)

  5. Jen – thanks for the links!

    Stephen – I’m so with you on the waste that is a front lawn. I might feel differently if people actually used them, but more often than not they are just ornamental. I admit to being guilty as charged – we have a front lawn that we rarely use – but at the same time, we don’t water it or take too much time making it look perfect either. (No neighborhood association thank goodness – part of the reason we picked this house!)

    I’m not ready to turn the front lawn into a garden – yet. I am wanting to look into no-maintenance options for it though: taking out the grass completely and putting in something else that would not upset the neighbors, but wouldn’t require senseless watering, mowing, raking, etc.

    I know some people have their sprinklers set on timers to automatically water their lawns. Last year I was driving by a house, and I kid you not, the sprinkler was on to water the lawn WHILE IT WAS RAINING!!! I couldn’t believe it!

  6. I’m psyched for the urban garden movement! I’ve started my own indoor urban garden with aerogardens, hydroponics, and sprouting. I’m growing enough food indoors to supply my breakfast green smoothies, lunch salad, and sometimes dinner salads for me and my husband. What I can’t grow is being supplemented by a local organic coop I joined. This allows us to have more money available for grass fed meat. We live in a townhouse, and I never thought growing my own food would be possible. It is very rewarding and grounding. I love just walking over and picking my food. It saves tons of time and money.

  7. I’m with the other lawn-haters. I have a decent yard, but hate that it’s mostly lawn. We do almost nothing to keep it up aside from mowing every few weeks in the summer. We still haven’t mowed this year, all the other neighbors have several times already. The chemicals people dump on their lawns concern me, and the noise (from mowers, weed eaters, chippers, etc.) all summer long makes me crazy.

    I’ve been thinking about planting a garden, but feel a little overwhelmed at the idea sometimes. I guess I need to just get over it, find some instructions, and get to it. I’ve grown wary of the food supply, I’d love to eat food I know the life history of.

    1. Have you looked into square foot gardening? It’s pretty overwhelm free.

  8. When we had a front yard we did use it. Well, our 3 kids and the rest of the neighborhood did too! I wished we had a larger back yard so that we could turn part of it into a garden without cutting back on the room the kids needs to run and play.

    We are living in a duplex now (it Italy) and our landlords have a big garden in the back they haven’t planted yet, plus they have their own chickens and rabbits. Her sister lives next door and grows the corn that feeds the animals. They grow the alfalfa for the rabbits in the area next to the garden. I love getting fresh eggs, poultry (it’s more fit for the crock pot though, not a young bird lol), rabbit, and homemade spaghetti sauce. It is pretty amazing to me how much they are able to grow/provide for themselves (and us too!). I rarely see them go to the grocery store, and they throw away SO much less than we do! Granted, we are 5 and they are 2, but still! I hope to learn from them and eventually have some rural property back in TX we can do some of this type of stuff on ourselves, without intruding on the play space lol.

  9. Nancy S:
    Its cool to hear examples of neighborhood farming working so well.

    Please, please, please stop using “lol”. Please.

  10. Hey Hubbard,

    Please, please, please provide a comprehensive guide to what words are acceptable for other humans to use, in your view, so poor, silly Nancy doesn’t mess up again. Please.

  11. Great post, and comments too! It’s my first time to this site and I’m enjoying it.

    Couple things: first, we are one of those “bad” people with a lawn that my husband likes to keep beautiful, BUT, he does it with mostly organic applications. We have a great guy here in town who is very knowledgable about all this and he came out to tell us how we could keep it looking good without having to worry about all the chemicals our kids (and all the neighbor kids) were being poisoned with through their feet.

    Also, I’m starting a container garden soon and I’m so excited because I think my kids will eat more veggies that way, and I’ll save money at the farmers market. I often spend over $40 a week there, but we eat so good in the summer! I’d like to just put it in the ground, but we don’t have a good out of the way spot, and last time I tried that, critters ate everything, so it was a lot of work for nothing! There are probably great ways around this, but I’m SO ignorant about gardening, I’m just starting slow.

  12. An old post, I know, but I just wanted to throw a warning out there. A backyard garden is awesome, but I do have to point out that if you change your front yard into a garden (as we once tried), you may not see many of the ‘fruits of your labor’. Somebody kept stealing the produce out of our front yard.

    Especially annoying since we would have shared if they just asked. :/

  13. For those of you thinking about planting in the front yard, why not use that area for some fruit trees and herbs? Things like basil, rosemary, blueberries, strawberries, asparagus, etc. would all be great in a front yard setting.

  14. First off – a not so nice fact – that the Devraes family has somehow cajoled the trademark office into letting them trademark the exceptionally common and already well used phrase “urban homestead” and they have started to go after anyone else using that phrase – even a book author that used the phrase 2 years BEFORE they received their highly-questionable trademark –

    nice urban homesteading or not – this is totally uncool (they are going after non-profits using the phrase as well)

    Secondly- we have a small organic greenhouse and have some very good articles on re-mineralizintg your soil and growing in containers – come by and check it our (click on Ravi)

    thanks mark for promo-ing such a neolithic habit,… 😉