City Food Gardens

Turning Lawns and Balconies into Food Gardens

by BC Farms & Food  -  Permalink
August 16, 2022

Food gardens are changing the landscape of modern cities. Urban gardeners are reinventing balconies, rooftops, and community spaces as places to grow fresh food.

Community gardens like this one at Oswald Park in Victoria offer a place to grow food in the city.

The edible city gardening movement is transforming front and back yards, curbside medians, school grounds and parking lots into active food growing areas. Spurred by a desire to save money on food and to eat fresh produce, gardeners are digging in wherever they can. Municipalities are carving out spaces for community plots.  Schools are planting student gardens to teach young people about the value of growing food and ways to mitigate climate change.

Edible urban landscapes range from community pea patches and city farms to balcony and patio vegetable gardens. The real change is coming in city and suburban neighbourhoods as homeowners make over backyards into productive food gardens, complete with raised beds and hoop houses. Even front yard lawns are giving way to food forests, native plant meadows, and gardens that integrate edible plants like herbs, vegetables, and berries with ornamentals.

An urban patio garden with planters containing edibles and ornamentals. City Food Gardens.

Strawberries and lettuce are interplanted with ornamental plants in this edible patio garden.

City Food Gardens – Finding Ways to Adapt

City gardeners face three unique challenges:

• Small spaces, with little room for growing food
• Transient living situations (how to take your garden with you when you move)
• Lack of land ownership

Beyond planting a seed, urban cultivators need to find practical, adaptable ways to grow food. This means vertical gardening (e.g. growing upwards on a narrow balcony), window-box food gardens, or planting on porches. It means finding tools and containers portable enough to adapt to spaces that lack sun or are exposed to wind. It also means creating a garden that will pack up for a move to a new home if necessary. Popular garden tools for urban gardening include fabric grow bags with handles that fold up at the end of the season, collapsible mini-greenhouses, and self-watering devices for pots.

A History of City Food Gardens

A vegetable garden grows on a city plot between two sidewalks

This vegetable garden was planted on an open city median between two sidewalks.

Small-scale agriculture has always been a part of cities, not only to provide food, but also as a way to manage urban pollutants. In sophisticated 19th century Paris, for example, which depended on horse-powered transportation, the city moved the vast amounts of horse manure that accumulated daily to areas just outside the urban envelope, where “French intensive” gardeners used it to grow the city’s vegetables.

Urban vegetable plots also made a major appearance during World War II as “victory gardens,” producing an estimated 57,000 metric tons of fresh fruit and vegetables in Canada and a third of all U.S. produce, and demonstrating the sheer power of urban growing.

Modern Edible Gardening

A balcony container garden with beans and tomatoes. City Food Gardens.

This balcony garden takes advantage of vertical space for tomatoes.

The new edible gardening movement not only empowers people to grow their own food, but creates unique growing areas to meet specific space needs: vegetable and herb container gardens for patios and balconies; rooftop gardens over restaurants to supply chefs; espaliered fruit trees and trellised vertical vegetable gardens along narrow walkways; or raised beds and greenhouses replacing lawns in urban yards.

City food gardens also provide a solution for how to obtain hard-to-come-by fresh ethnic foods. Gardens can be customized for a particular cuisine, such as an Italian garden with parsley, sweet peppers, Romano beans, heirloom tomatoes, zucchini, and artichokes, or a Chinese garden growing snow peas, bok choy, Chinese cabbage, chayote squash, and bitter melon.

Benefits of City Food Gardens

Urban gardening has much to offer city dwellers, and it’s not just about food. People find that when they have their own garden, it reconnects them to nature, the origins of their food, and moves them closer to the hands-on traditions—picking vine-ripe tomatoes, snapping open fresh pea pods, tasting fresh-picked strawberries— that make eating such a pleasure.

A rooftop garden with large metal containers planted with vegetables and herbs. City Food Gardens

A rooftop container garden, growing vegetables and herbs



More on urban gardening:

10 Tips for Year-Round Vegetable Gardens10 Tips for Year-Round Vegetable Gardens

Plant a Bee Attracting Garden Plant a Bee Attracting Garden: Urban Gardeners Can Help Provide Habitat for Bees

Growing a Patio Lemon Tree in WinterGrowing a Patio Lemon Tree in Winter

School Gardens: Preparing Kids for Climate ChangeSchool Gardens: Preparing Kids for Climate Change

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