Edible City Gardens

Turning Lawns and Balconies into Food Gardens

by BC Farms & Food  -  Permalink
December 2, 2015
Strawberries and lettuce interplanted with ornamentals in a patio container garden.

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

Edible gardens are changing the landscape of modern cities. A desire to save money on food and to eat local, fresh healthy produce is motivating people to grow food in urban spaces. The edible city gardening movement is transforming front and back yards, curbside medians and community spaces into active food growing areas. It is also spurring small businesses such as SPIN farmers—who “farm” in multiple backyards throughout a city—and edible garden landscapers who design, install and maintain urban food gardens.

Edible urban landscapes range from city farms and community pea patches to balcony and patio vegetable gardens. The real change is coming in city and suburban neighbourhoods where homeowners are making over backyards into productive food gardens, complete with raised beds and hoop houses for homegrown earth-to-table fare. Even the ubiquitous front yard green carpets of lawn are giving way to edible gardens that integrate food plants such as herbs, vegetables, blueberries and fruit trees with ornamental plantings.

A History of City Food Gardens

A vegetable garden grows on a city plot between two sidewalks

This vegetable garden was planted on open city land 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.

This balcony garden takes advantage of verticle 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.

Edible city 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, ripe tomatoes, zucchini and artichokes, or an Asian garden growing sweet potatoes, bok choi, mizuna, snow peas, Chinese cabbage, and even bitter melon.

Spurring Small Business

Many fresh food loving urbanites, however, not only lack open spaces typically associated with growing, but also the time to maintain a food garden. This is where a new crop of garden support businesses come in: edible garden landscapers.

“We want to help people eat healthy food and be able to grow for themselves,” said Derek Powell, an organic farmer and director of design and garden operations at Sprout House Gardens in Victoria. He and his partner, Tara Campbell, started their edible garden landscape business to help people grow food in commercial and residential spaces. This includes installing, maintaining food gardens throughout the city and educating people about how to grow food (video below).

Video: Edible Garden Landscapers

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

A rooftop vegetable garden in large metal containers.

An edible 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

2 Responses leave one →
  1. 2016 April 14
    Steve Larigakis permalink

    My father is no longer able to farm his back yard vegetable garden at his West 4th and Sasamat home, but is willing to donate the space to enterprising urban farmers interested in farming the space in exchange for a few vegetables. Is anyone doing this?

    • 2016 April 14
      BC Farms & Food permalink

      Looks like you’re talking about Vancouver…. Any SPIN gardeners out there?

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