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Community Gardens: How US Cities Are Putting Them To Work

Cities all over the United States are making use of their green spaces.

US cities are bridging the food scarcity gap, growing fresh produce, and educating residents about sustainability through community gardening. With tropical, dry, temperate), continental, and polar climate zones, every city experiences unique growth challenges. However, with a renewed dedication to sustainable practices and thriving technology such as hydroponics and aquaponics, it’s never been a better time to get involved with your local community garden.

Community garden organizations from coast to coast

From Maine to Hawaii, states are finding ways to encourage and incentivize residents to get involved in gardening. Here are just a few states with organizations that set locals up for success. 

Anchorage Community Gardens

Anchorage has five community gardens with a total of 248 plots. The gardens vary in size, and include public facilities such as trash cans and restrooms. Alaska presents gardening challenges such as severe wind, cold soil, and heavy rain, and Anchorage Community Gardens provides resources and guidelines to get started. Temperatures in Alaska are also rising due to climate change, causing regional changes in precipitation. Typically, vegetables like broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, chard, rutabagas, and turnips grow well in Alaska.

Friends of Portland Community Gardens

Portland is known for being progressive, with strong recycling and composting opportunities for residents. It’s no surprise that they have an equally ambitious community garden initiative, titled Friends of Portland. With a mild climate, residents can easily grow a range of plants from bananas and pomegranates to tomatoes and artichokes.

In addition to garden spaces, the organization supplies local food banks with produce, resulting in the contribution of 30,000+ pounds of fresh produce. It also sells Mason Bee houses and cocoons to raise funds to donate one to every community garden in the City of Portland. The effort is to help increase the amount of native pollinators in the area.

New York City Community Gardens

New York City has 550 community gardens, making it possible for residents to get involved in urban gardening and sustainability efforts. Gardens vary in size and span all boroughs from Queens to Brooklyn to Staten Island, ranging from rooftop gardens to community garden plots. With the seasons and ranging temperatures in NYC, gardeners can grow everything from veggies like tomatoes, bok choy, squash, and leeks to fruit trees native to the area like apples and plums. It’s even possible to grow grapes!

Paul Greenberg’s rooftop garden in NYC, grape vines.

The city also provides a range of programming from cooking and gardening workshops to immersive foraging tours. Residents can sign up for events such as yoga, art, and birding classes in gardens, as well as wellness days.

Honolulu’s Community Recreational Gardening Program

Honolulu’s community gardens are both functional and cultural, offering a space for Hawaiians to practice hula and Makahiki games. While the current community garden organization, in the opinions of some, needs an update, Honolulu has ten community gardens and 1,229 plots where residents can grow medicinal and native plants, thanks to the humid climate. Plants that residents have successfully grown include basil, collard greens, kale, mint, and spinach, as well as lilikoi (passion fruit), moringa (tree of life plant), and cassava (yuca).

Los Angeles Community Gardens

With 47 community gardens, The Los Angeles Community Garden Council (LACGC) provides residents with support and guidance through workshops. These programs are designed to educate residents with practical knowledge about cooking, gardening, and nutrition. Striving to create a “garden network” where community members can grow produce, the organization was awarded funding toward a Community Garden Stormwater Capture Investigation Project. As the climate of the Los Angeles area is technically similar to a Mediterranean one, plants such as figs, rosemary, and lemons. When planning out their gardens, residents should consider droughts, which the area is prone to. 

Denver Community Gardens

Denver has an expansive community garden system with 200 community and school-based gardens. The organization provides a virtual map that shows residents’ gardens with available space, making it easier than cities with overflow problems (too many residents, too few garden plots available). While the community gardens serve families and individuals all around Denver, the gardens at various schools help provide vital education to students while providing their cafeterias with fresh produce such as carrots, corn, lettuce, and other produce that grows easily in the dry climate. 

Bismark Community Gardens

In addition to providing Bismark with fresh produce, Bismarck Community Gardens works with Hunger Free Garden to fight hunger. Hunger Free Garden has a goal of growing and sharing at least 500,000 pounds of fresh produce a year with North Dakota-based soup kitchens, food pantries, and charitable community programs. With varying temperatures, the climate in North Dakota allows for the seasonal growing and harvesting of produce such as celery, eggplant, peppers, thyme, and oregano. 

New Mexico CommUnity Gardens

New Mexico CommUnity Gardens is dedicated to educating their community schools and recreation centers about fresh produce and nutrition. The organization encompasses projects and initiatives such as Project Feed the Hood and the Desert Oasis Teaching Garden at Albuquerque Academy, as well as the Rio Grande Community Farm. The community farm, dedicated to sustainable gardening, uses “combine indigenous, traditional, and progressive agricultural strategies” to help locals, especially underserved growers, with an opportunity to grow produce like green beans, pumpkins, sweet corn, sage, and melons (depending on the growing zone). The garden also has a 22-year-old pollinator garden to support the growth of flowering plants.

Austin Parks Foundation

The Austin Parks Foundation is dedicated to supporting their residents and respective community gardens, offering neighborhood grants ($500 – $5,000), community grants ($5,000 – $50,000), and impact grants, as well as park design services and volunteer work days. The organization also provides resources such as a GIS/Mapping Portal, a story map, and Static Data Maps to give insight into community garden planning. With this ample investment into their community garden system, locals can find success growing onions, potatoes, okra, and black-eyed peas in Austin’s humid subtropical climate.

Charleston Parks Conservancy

To date, the Charleston Parks Conservancy has donated 24,631 pounds of produce, thanks to its Grow it Forward Program and range of community gardens. The gardens in the rainy and humid South Carolina city include resources such as fruiting trees, rainwater catchments, rain gardens, and food waste composting sites, depending on the location. The Conservancy offers programming around the gardens, such as a “Hydrangea Happy Hour,” “Pollinator Caretaker Volunteer Training,” and bird walks, making it exciting for locals to get involved. Charleston Trees, another local initiative, is dedicated to establishing a thriving tree canopy to help locals reduce interior temperatures, promote outdoor activity, and absorb excess water.

Getting started with sustainability

Community gardens are a great way for people all over the United States to make better, more sustainable choices. From growing your own vegetables, fruit, and herbs to composting to recycling, there are a range of ways to lessen your carbon footprint. Ready to learn more about sustainability trends, best practices, and innovations? Subscribe to my free Surf and Turf newsletter on Ghost!