News / urban gardening

Why a Garden is Better than a Phone

“Pick up your spade, put down your device. We must cultivate our garden.”

When Voltaire wrote that famous concluding line to Candide, he could never have foreseen the degree to which humans two-and-a-half centuries later would fail to heed his advice. Instead of consistently re-tilling our belief system, planting questions about the nature of truth, and field-testing gambles on what does and does not succeed in the real world, we have turned to a set of algorithms that pretends to do the hard work of inquiry for us. In all, Americans spend more than four hours a day on their devices — the equivalent of a full waking year out of every dozen we stand upon the Earth.

How to break this spell?

Might I suggest taking Voltaire at his word and cultivating an actual garden? Every November, when my Ground Zero Garden goes into its winter slumber, I suffer. Every spring when that garden comes back to life, I flower. This dynamic, I’ve come to see, is directly related to whether or not I’ve been in my garden or on a device. Now as the Northeastern chill finally starts to come off the grape and raspberry vines and the peas push up toward the light, I feel that good part of me coming back to life. So at this transitional moment between screen and green it’s worth jotting down why my life is better in the garden:

A phone interrupts.

A garden connects.

A garden poses real questions.

A phone gives fake answers.

You can’t eat your phone.

A garden surprises you.

A phone confirms what you already know.

A phone fiddles with your fingers.

A garden demands your hands.

A phone makes the world flat.

A garden adds dimensions.

A garden brings you in daily contact with life and death, blooming and rotting, success and failure.

A phone dupes you into thinking you’re great and that you will live forever.

A garden makes you share your harvest.

A phone hoards your mind.

When a garden goes wrong it requires your close attention to go right again.

A phone breaks when you drop it and you have no idea how to fix it.

Gardens make you to look at the light.

Phones keep you sitting in the dark.

Getting started with gardening

Gardening is a hobby for people of all ages — and a great way to make more sustainable choices. Growing your own vegetables, fruit, and herbs not only helps to lessen your carbon footprint but also provides fresh and nutritious produce. Even growing flowers has benefits, from therapeutic to environmental. Ready to learn more about sustainability trends, best practices, and innovations? Subscribe to my free Surf and Turf newsletter on Ghost!

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!


Urban Gardening: Getting Started in NYC

It can be intimidating to get started with urban gardening. But the truth is, there are more green spaces in cities than you might think.

In New York City alone, there are around 550 community gardens. Depending on where you live, you can possibly get access to a community garden plot of your very own or come up with your own in-house option. You just have to get creative! Urban farming is blowing up, and from rooftop gardens to community gardens to opportunities to grow fresh produce inside your apartment, there are plenty of options for aspiring green thumbs.

Paul’s rooftop garden in Battery Park, Manhattan.

What is urban gardening?

Urban gardening (also referred to as urban agriculture) is the practice of growing plants and produce in an urban area. Urban gardening can vary from potted plants in your living room to raised beds in a designated community garden. Overall, it’s a great way to decrease your carbon footprint and be friendlier to the planet.

What are some benefits related to urban gardening?

With urban gardening, communities can access fresh, local food just by growing their own plants. For some communities, urban gardening can make a huge impact on food security and nutrition. Even as an individual, having your own herbs and vegetables can make a huge difference in your day-to-day (not to mention your grocery bill!)

An image from Paul’s rooftop garden.

Urban Gardening: Getting Started

  1. Find a community garden.

There’s no guarantee for space, but you can use GrowNYC or NYC Parks to find a community garden near you. Even if there isn’t a plot available right now, a lot of gardens have a waiting list, making it possible to at least be considered in the future.

  1. Study up on what types of greens you can grow.

Choosing the types of produce, herbs, and greens you grow (are you a flower person or a veggie person?) depends on the space you have available, your personal goals for gardening, as well as your experience level. If you’re going to be growing plants outside, you’ll also need to make sure your plants can weather (pun intended) growing in New York City. Despite your best efforts, you’re probably not going to get a grapefruit tree going.

For newbies or even experienced gardeners looking to pick up new skills, the New York Botanical Garden and NYC Parks both offer workshops and classes. You can get plenty of knowledge on what grows in New York successfully, and learn from people who have successfully planted and harvested produce before.

  1. Find the right containers to grow.

Community gardens will likely have restrictions on how much you can have, which will help inform you what size beds or containers you need. For apartments, it’ll depend on whether you can have a window garden, or decide to invest in something like a hydroponics system to have indoors. There are also mini herb and spice gardens if you’re working with a really small space!

You’ll also consider what you’re growing and how much soil and sunlight it’ll need to properly grow.

  1. Learn the seasonality of your plants.

What you decide to plant will have a recommended season for planting – which you should absolutely follow. This will help give you a forecast of how long you will have before your containers need to be set up and ready to go in your garden space.

  1. Go on a foraging tour.

While optional, a foraging tour can be a great way to get to know what’s growing around the city. Foragers are extremely knowledgeable about what’s native to the area, what you can find in your local parks, and as a gardener, what you should look out for.

  1. See what other urban gardeners are doing.

There’s a community of urban gardeners on TikTok and Instagram constantly showing off their stuff – join them! You can follow a variety of accounts that post about growing in the city, including:

Even if you’re a beginner, there’s a lot to be learned from these types of accounts.

Learn more about sustainability

When it comes to sustainability, there are a lot of ways to get started. Growing your own produce, spices, and herbs is just a piece of the puzzle. Ready to learn more about sustainability trends, best practices, and innovations? Subscribe to my free Surf and Turf newsletter on Ghost!