Urban gardening: the future of food

Urban horticulture or urban gardening is a practice of growing crops and other plants in urban setting. Gardens in the cities are becoming more and more popular as more city dwellers find themselves yearning for some connection with nature or simply wanting to be able to grow safe and cheap food. Although many people still think of gardens as possible only in rural environments, there are many ways to garden in the city, including both indoor and outdoor gardening, community and guerrilla gardening.

Image by The Apartment Garden

Many plants, starting with herbs, for example, basil and oregano, as well as small peppers and low yield tomatoes, can grow inside if there is enough sunlight and water is provided. In an apartment with a balcony gardening can be carried out in big containers filled with soil: a wide range of plants can be grown this way, including the crops with big yields, for example, tomatoes, zucchini and others. If a residence has a patch of land, raised beds are good for growing a lot of different vegetables and ornamental plants at the same time. Such a small garden can serve a variety of other functions in addition to providing food, for example, be a gene bank; this is beautifully described in ‘The Atlantic’ article by Sandra Steingraber.

Urban garden. Image by Lindsey Clarke

In many cities community gardening is another option for people who want to grow things but do not have enough space to do that at their homes. City council provides land which is then divided into patches, which can be rented or sometimes even accessed for free. Often such community gardens are established in some of the worst, most vulnerable and problematic neighborhoods, and this results not only in beautification of the neighborhood but also contributes to safer environment: people spend time working in the garden instead of loitering, plus co-working allows relationships to develop and strengthens the community by providing activities to its members (a nice example of this is shown as part of the Dirt! The Movie). Community garden may be a place of local gatherings; it provides people with fresh and local produce and also becomes a habitat for small mammals, birds and insects. Although the interest in community gardens is growing substantially, often cities are slow in responding to the demand of more garden spaces and thus people have to spend a long time wait-listed before getting an allotment.

Guerilla gardening. Image by Anton Rengers

Seed bombs. Image by Kevan Davis

Some people who don’t have time or opportunity to take up traditional gardening but still want to contribute to the appearance of their local environment, can participate in guerrilla gardening movement, which promotes reclaiming patches of unused public land by planting food and ornamental plants. Guerrillagardening.org is the primary source on the movement, also providing extensive information and useful tips how to carry out guerrilla planting at your local area as well as multiple examples of guerrilla gardening from all around the world.

But what about the reasons for urban gardens? Why people living in the cities need gardens? First of all, growth of organic, local, slow food movements as well as increasing knowledge about the food we eat encourages people to seek alternatives, which are healthier to both ourselves and the environment. Some shop at farmers’ markets or buy produce directly from organic farms, while others find growing your own food to be the best way to ensure that it is pesticide-free, non-GMO, organic, local, seasonal and fresh. Secondly, working in the garden is a great way to relax, spend time outdoors, experience natural world even if only on a small scale.

School garden. Image by OAEC.org

Finally, gardening can be a great educational tool. School gardens are becoming more and more popular, both in developed and poorer countries. Often in both cases these gardens provide nutrition benefits to children as well as teach them about the importance of plants, the ecosystem services they and other organisms provide; moreover, children learn how to work in teams and be responsible for something alive. These skills and knowledge will undoubtedly be beneficial in their lives. This essay by Michael K. Stone is an encouraging and inspiring story about how school garden in Cleveland Elementary in Oakland, CA has contributed to many changes both at school and in the community.

Without a doubt importance and extent of urban gardening will only be increasing in the future as more and more people move to the cities. Also there are many underdeveloped and unexploited spaces in each city that could be adapted to host community gardens. With improving knowledge more people will turn to one or another form of gardening in the city, while teaching about gardening benefits from early age on will only encourage this process.

Featured image by Randy Harris for The New York Times

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