Recycled, a 6-minute documentary film, follows a homeless poet through his day in the Echo Park neighborhood of Los Angeles. The cinematography is as inspiring as what he has been able to do with an empty piece of dirt in the median of a neighborhood street. (Shown with subtitles.)
Even if you don’t have a yard, patio, or even a sunny windowsill, there are still plenty of ways to get out there and garden.
According to the American Community Garden Association, a community garden is very simply “any piece of land gardened by a group of people.” But it’s more that just that. Community gardening builds connections, provides educational and mentoring opportunities for new and experienced gardeners alike, improves the standard of living for those who garden there by providing healthier food as well as exercise in tending the plants that provide it, and helps individuals and communities become more self-reliant.
There are community gardens in neighborhoods throughout the country and the world. Most charge a nominal annual fee to cover operating expenses. To find a community garden in your area check the garden finder on the American Community Garden Association’s home page. You can also check out your town’s government pages or your local park and rec department.
Don’t have a community garden in your neighborhood? Start your own.
If you’re an urban farmer without a place to plant, consider sharing space in a neighbor’s yard, or even creating a small farming business across multiple yards. According to Hyperlocavore.com, a yard sharing community site, yard sharing is:
“…an arrangement between people to share skills and gardening resources; space, time, strength, tools or skills, in order to grow food as locally as possible, to make neighborhoods resilient, kids healthy and food much cheaper! The group can be friends, family, neighbors, members of a faith community (or any combination!)”
Perhaps you have a neighbor who doesn’t have time to garden but would love fresh vegetables. Or a great aunt who can’t garden herself anymore but misses watching fresh fruit ripening on a vine. Yardsharing doesn’t just give landless gardeners a place to practice their art, it builds community, teaches the values of working together, of sharing, and, if successful, can raise the standard of living by improving the quality and availability of food for an entire neighborhood or group.
If you are willing to garden for the joy and experience instead of for crops, consider volunteering your time to a local educational or other charitable organization. Botanical gardens, public gardens, and educational farms can be found throughout the country and many are suffering in this economic down-turn. Here are just a few that could use your help:
- Fair Food Matters (Kalamazoo, MI)
- Full Circle Farm (Sunnyvale, CA)
- Hidden Villa (Los Altos, CA)
- Urban Sprouts (San Francisco, CA)
Try searching Volunteer Match for opportunities in your area. You might also consider helping out your local senior center or school gardens. If you don’t find one in your community, consider helping them start one.
In some cases, you just have to garden where you can. For guerrilla gardeners, that means roadsides, sidewalk tree surrounds, street dividers, and abandoned lots. If you’re looking to add a few wildflowers to an empty field, that’s easy enough, but if your goal is vegetable gardening you’ll want to keep a few important things in mind:
- Soil condition: If the land isn’t yours you have no way of knowing what’s been dumped there. Test the soil thoroughly before you plant anything you may want to eat.
- Maintenance: It’s one thing to put up an overnight garden and another to make sure it gets watered and fertilized enough to thrive.
- Vandalism and theft: There are those who may not share your love of gardening and decide to voice their dissent by pulling up your work by the roots. Still others may appreciate it too much and decide they want the plants or produce for their own yards. (For one sad cautionary tale visit YouGrowGirl.com.)
- Legal ramifications: Technically, gardening someone else’s land is against the law. If the land you choose is a neglected median, chances are the owners will look the other way, but that may not always be the case. The best defense is to know what you’re going to say should someone stop you (non-confrontational is usually the best policy) and know when to walk away.
If you’re up to the task, guerrilla gardening can give great rewards not only in produce but in community-building and neighborhood beautification. Involve other locals to improve your success rate and share the fun. Get more tips and find like-minded gardeners at Guerrilla Gardening.org.