The benefits of growing your own food in terms of health, economics and improved community relations have begun to stick. Farmers markets continue to pop up across the country at incredible rates, community supported agriculture (CSA) programs are ever more numerous with ever-longer waiting lists, and the idea of city farming is no longer just an idea. People are itching with spring fever, excited about putting seeds in the ground and starting a garden plot of their own.
In many cities, this had led to a whole new form of land use competition, as people who don't own land of their own struggle to find a garden plot. The increased level of participation in city farming has filled many urban community garden plots, with long waiting lists to boot. Michael Levenson, executive director of City Farmer in Vancouver, says, "The more multi-family homes in the city, the more people want to get out and get their hands in the ground. It's getting back to nature and it's hot in terms of demand."
In fact, the growing struggle for gardening space in Vancouver is one of North America's toughest real estate battles. In a region where land already comes at a pretty high price, the declared dedication of the city council to promote city farming as a sustainable means of providing more access to local, healthy foods for more neighborhoods has set the stage for a land use battle royale. The city has even set a goal to increase the number of community garden spaces by three every year, but the numbers continue to fall short of the steadily rising demand. Luckily, there are several innovations to create more gardening space that Vancouver has adopted, so as not to let mere land development issues stop their valiant local foods cause. Below is a list of ideas, taken out of Vancouver's experience, that urbanites everywhere can adapt to their own situation if they should find themselves wait-listed by their neighborhood community garden.
Utilize ALL Unused Land Space
The City Farmer organization converted abandoned railroad tracks into gardening strips, creating a place for several families to grow small, narrow gardens across the city. Know of any abandoned buildings or parking lots? It's a bit of labor, but the resulting greenery and garden space is worth the conversion effort. Get out there and start your own community garden where that asphalt currently sits!
Most cities have incredible garden acreage potential on the roofs of buildings. Especially in the downtown heart of large urban areas, green roofs can also help reduce the effects of urban heat islands. Even setting out some herbs and veggies in containers will get you started on youh path to full city-farmerdom.
City Farmer's database, called Sharing Backyards, makes it easier for people who are looking for space to put in a garden to find people with extra space to share. Especially in areas rife with suburban sprawl, connecting an apartment dweller with a homeowner currently tending a grass-covered lawn has great potential to increase the number of city farmers.
Gardening With No Space
Who says you really need that traditional garden plot to get growing? Check out our other City Farming blog posts, where small-space gardening guru Mike Lieberman and the experienced Green Roof Growers squadron share their successes with gardening on balconies, rooftops and even fire escapes. If you have a few pots and a window, you can make your city farm a reality.
Jennifer Kongs is the Managing Editor at MOTHER EARTH NEWS magazine. When she’s not working at the magazine, she’s likely working in her garden, on the local running trails or in her kitchen instead. You can find Jennifer on Twitter or Google+.