In 2008 I began to experiment with food production. I started by planting seeds indoors, in the privacy of my apartment, as I lacked confidence that whole edible plants would emerge from such little seeds and wanted to avoid any public embarrassment. But plants did indeed emerge and before long my window sills were covered in vegetables.
Bolstered by this success, I decided to take things to the next level and move outdoors. I began searching for a site for the garden and was struck by how much suitable land was available, even in an urban setting. I settled on a spot directly behind my apartment where the sun beat down relentlessly and endeavored to convert some of that energy to food.
I tilled up the spot, removed the grass, and established borders around a 264 sq ft plot. About this time I discovered “Square Foot Gardening,” a garden design philosophy that espoused using every square inch of available space, thereby maximizing yield while minimizing work. It made perfect sense to me and I became consumed with the notion of growing food as densely as possible. This also meant that the plot I’d dug up was about 12 times as large as I personally needed, so I decided to make it a community garden.
I divided the site into twenty-four 8 sq. ft. plots. The goal of the design was to provide small, low-maintenance plots to the residents (many of whom were first-time gardeners) in which to practice intensive growing techniques. The garden was designed so that every inch of soil could be reached from the wood-plank walkways, meaning that no one should ever need to set foot in the growing beds.
A friend and I built a compost bin right next to the garden to supply fertilizer. We made it entirely from discarded wood pallets in less than two hours. Before long the bin was being used by dozens of residents, providing nourishing compost for the garden and diverting much food waste from the landfill.
The garden made extensive use of reclaimed materials and by the time it was finished, had cost me less than $100 to build. Over the next few years, more than a dozen different tenants tried their hand at growing food and were surprised at their success.
The experiment left me convinced that:
— there are many places in the city where food can be grown.
— very small plots give city-dwellers the opportunity to garden without becoming overwhelmed.
— many people will begin composting if only they are given a convenient way to do it.
— apartment complexes make especially good places for community gardens
It also left me convinced that, in addition to more community gardens, every city needed at least one urban farm.