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Urban Farming Takes Root in Surprising Ways

by Lisa Stiffler

There's a move afoot to spread urban farming and its healthful benefits to folks without their own plots for planting.

Will Allen is gaining national attention for Growing Power, a Milwaukee program that's growing food in the city for 10,000 urbanites (including schools and low-cost market baskets delivered to neighborhood drop off points); trains want-to-be growers in the ways of intensive farming on small plots; turns organic waste into rich soil; and employs local residents, including some from public-housing project.

His inspiring efforts were profiled in a great piece in Sunday's New York Times Magazine. For Allen, it's about more than helping the environment by supporting organic, local foods. For him, it's also a matter of equality. Low-income city 'hoods tend to have limited access to good grocery stores and are dominated by fast-food restaurants and convenience stores, creating what Allen calls a "food desert."

As Allen told the NYT:

“It’s a form of redlining. We’ve got to change the system so everyone has safe, equitable access to healthy food.”

In Seattle, a gardening twist on is expanding the reach of the urban-farming movement.

Urban Garden Share links homeowners with land available for planting with folks eager to grow food but lacking a place to do it. The site explains:

Condo and apartment dwellers are faced with containers or p-patches as
their only prospects for vibrant gardens. Homeowners can be overwhelmed
by yet-another-garden-project. Together, we make a great team.

Recent requests to partner include:

"Give lame grass-covered yard a purpose!"

"Large plot on north Beacon Hill, easy to get to, next to bike path, near buses

"Friendly garden space in South Seattle"

Another option for urban farming is the city's Department of Neighborhoods P-Patch Program, which aims to "serve all
citizens of Seattle with an emphasis on low-income and immigrant populations
and youth." The p-patchers provide 7 to 10 tons of produce to food banks each year. 

Additionally, the Seattle Market Gardens program provides veggie baskets to low-income neighborhoods. The produce comes from two community supported agriculture (CSA) plots farmed by Seattle residents.

Portland has a really impressive-sounding program called GROWING GARDENS. A description from their site:

We organize hundreds of volunteers to build organic, raised
bed vegetable gardens in backyards, front yards, side yards and even on
balconies.  We support low income households for three years with
seeds, plants, classes, mentors and more.  Our Youth Grow after school
garden clubs grow the next generation of veggie eaters and growers!

This article originally appeared on

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This is great; thanks for the link to urban garden share! A friend of mine used the community section of craigslist to accomplish the same thing*, but it's nice to see a site devoted to connecting folks with an interest in urban gardening.

*ROW Garden on Capitol Hill

Posted by: keith on 15 Jul 09

Urban greening initiatives are so important! If only it became mandatory for every big city in our nation to create one urban farm project each year...a small step, but we'd be on the right track!

There's a smaller one I know in NYC that's just starting off. It's run by an amazing mother and eco-hero Tanya Fields. Read more about it here:

Posted by: eleanor on 16 Jul 09

Sharing Backyards ( is another program designed to help homeowners with land available for planting find folks eager to grow food but lacking a place to do it.

The organization is active in Washington D.C., Portland, and several other cities around the US and Canada.

Posted by: Esmeralda on 28 Jul 09

Folks might also be interested in checking out a free yard sharing community. You can set up yard shares, neighborhood produce exchanges or join our seed share!

Posted by: Liz M on 9 Aug 09

Recently the CNN news published some pictures of the urban garden boys. They are all retired old men. It seems that they are enjoying their life in the urban farm. Most of them wear the all-over and old clothes. The shelter beside the garden is a shanty and the furniture in it is old style and has long history.
But I have to say that I really appreciate this kind of life and I am looking forward this kind of life. Living in that urban farm, the days could be lazy and relax. I just imagine that I could live in that way. And every morning I could be waked up by the birdcalls. Then I could breathe the fresh air which only the farm has and mixed the earth fragrance with flower or grass fragrance. After working in the farm, I could have a rich breakfast and enjoy the lazy morning in the swing. Maybe I could do some handcraft, such as knotting or carpentry.
In the afternoon, the sunlight is bright so I have to hide under the pergola and have my afternoon tea there. Actually I know nothing about the farm work. But I really like the atmosphere in the farm. Everything there could be easy and lazy. The entertainment there is the dancing in the club. The dancing could be in old style, no rubber wristbands, no shaking things or any laser light. Maybe when I have enough money I would move to the countryside in Texas and enjoy the cowboy life there.
Anyway, I think the garden boys whom CNN published are very clever, they know the essence of life. When I am retired and if I could find the companies who love the farm life as strongly as I do, I would like to open up some wasteland into my own farmland. The report said those garden boys have their farm beside the air port. And may be next time I could have one beside the railway or just outside the city.

Posted by: cjniya on 18 Sep 09

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