If you thought gardens were for growing flowers and that farms were for the countryside, check out what these urban gardeners and farmers are up to for an eye-opening surprise. From rooftops to schoolhouses to front lawns, these cutting-edge urbanites are opening up a whole world of amazing possibilities for how we can grow food in cities for healthier people and more sustainable landscapes.
New York, NY
Born out of a desire to cultivate nutritious, tasty, and sustainable food in the midst of a bustling city, Brooklyn Grange is greening New York from above. This business operates the world’s largest rooftop soil farms, located on two roofs in New York City. To say these farms are productive is an understatement— they grow over 50,000 lbs of organic produce per year! Not to mention, the rooftop farm naturally insulates the building so that less energy is needed for heating and cooling.
In order to build the rooftop farms, the Brooklyn Grange crew had to lift hundreds of 3,000 lb sacks of soil by crane up seven stories to the roof. But it was well worth it: they’ve now sold over 500,000 lbs of vegetables to restaurants, CSA members, and directly to individual New Yorkers at weekly farmstands.
As if this place wasn’t cool enough, Brooklyn Grange isn’t stopping at vegetables— it is also home to egg-laying hens and is launching a commercial apiary (i.e. beehives!).
Green Bronx Machine
Educator Stephen Ritz and his students started the Green Bronx Machine in their 100 year-old schoolhouse in the South Bronx. The Green Bronx Machine incorporates urban agriculture with schooling in order to empower students to higher academic performance and lead healthier lives.
The schoolhouse is located in the middle of the poorest congressional district in the U.S., which used to be a bleak food desert. Ritz resolved to change the things he couldn’t accept and started building green roofs, green walls, and vertical gardens. Ritz and his students have transformed city streets and abandoned space underneath metro lines into what Ritz proudly describes as “an absolute garden and urban oasis.” In the process of transforming the physical landscape of the South Bronx, Ritz has helped his students be a part of a green economy and community.
Want to hear the story straight from Ritz and his students? Check out this TedTalk on the Green Bronx Machine.
Los Angeles, CA
South Central Farm
Did you know that from 1994-2006, LA used to have the largest urban garden in the country? The garden, located at 41st & Alameda in South Central LA, was a whopping 14 acres of green space in the middle of South Central’s concrete jungle. The city originally gave the garden to its largely Chicanx community as a concession in response to the 1992 LA Riots, and the farmers grew everything from potatoes to papayas. However, in 2004, the garden was slated for demolition. Sadly, after a hard-fought legal and political battle in which the farmers miraculously raised over $16 million in only 60 days to save the land, the garden got bulldozed and has remained a vacant dirt lot ever since. However, the South Central Farmers say they “won by losing” because they were able to move on and purchase a farm in Buttonwillow, CA to form a farmer-owned cooperative. Today the farmers are their own business-owners and they supply low-income people of color in South Central with certified organic produce as well as run a city-wide CSA box program.
Be sure to check out the co-op’s CSA box and tasty snack options on their online order form here. (Helpful hint: the beet and kale chips are both on sale right now!)
To learn more about the battle to save the original farm at 41st & Alameda, you can watch the Academy Award-nominated documentary “The Garden.”
LA Green Grounds
Imagine for a moment that all of the lawns in LA are food forests instead… that’s the vision that LA Green Grounds is working to make a reality, one front lawn at a time. Ron Finley, a guerrilla gardener in South Central LA, founded LA Green Grounds in response to the lack of fresh, healthy food available in his neighborhood. Finley observed that while South Central lacked grocery stores and fresh food, there was an abundance of unused vacant lots and under-utilized front lawns. It made sense to him to put the unused space to good use by using it to grow food. LA Green Grounds really brings food production to the local level by helping people transform their front lawns into food forests. While this is something that everyone can (and should!) do, the organization’s work is especially important for residents of low-income neighborhoods that may otherwise not have easy access to a fresh head of lettuce or an organic apple.
Definitely check out Finley’s revolutionary TedTalk on his work— it’ll get you fired up for sure.
Find Your Green Thumb
Looking to try your hand at gardening but limited on space and time? Try growing some herbs on a balcony or by a window. You don’t need any fancy supplies, just a container, some soil, a few seeds, and a bit of water (we’re in a drought, after all!).
Want to up the ante even more? Drop by the UCLA Student Garden run by the Dig Gardening Club. It’s a small, friendly affair and everyone is welcome, no gardening experience necessary. Dig-ins happen 12:30-2pm on Sundays and there’s nearly always something fresh and tasty to harvest! Also be sure to bring along your food scraps to contribute to the garden’s compost bin. The garden is in the Sunset Canyon Recreation Center, next to the challenge course.
You can also lend a hand at one of the LA Green Grounds community dig-ins, affectionately called garden parties. You’ll help build a lasting resource, get some hands-on experience with master gardeners, and meet other urban growers who are down for the cause! Dig-ins typically last from 9:30am-3:30pm. Here’s the link to sign-up and receive more information.