Food Gardening is on the Rise

More and more publications are reporting on the changing tide towards growing our own food, most especially in urban areas. This is something I can sense with my own eyes and ears as more and more community gardens crop up in every city I visit, and as more and more emails flood my inbox with questions about growing tomatoes, or starting a food garden for the first time.

A few years back I was invited to be on a TV program discussing recent stats proclaiming that gardening with plants is dead and it’s all about hardscaping (patios, bricks, etc) from here on out. The show invited two additional “experts”, a suburban landscaper and a suburban garden center manager, both of whom insisted that their clients wanted to pave over the garden and put in expensive sculptures. They assured the audience that NOBODY wants to garden with actual living plants anymore. But I insisted that they were wrong and that there was a grassroots movement going on that would surprise them all, one that centered around local events, plant trading, buying from farmer’s markets and other sources that could not be tracked by garden industry sales figures. I suggested that perhaps their numbers were skewed because they were based on a specific demographic — one with a certain income, and of a certain age, living in certain areas, and meeting all of their gardening needs via giant suburban garden stores.

And sure enough we are seeing proof positive that gardening with plants wasn’t dead in the least, it was just quietly shifting gears and growing in places where no one would have expected it. And what’s really encouraging is that we are now starting to see shifting stats from the seed sellers themselves. Last year a Toronto Star article reported that vegetable seed sales had outstripped, “…those of flowers for the first time since the 1950s.” And this article claims that seed sellers are seeing a dramatic rise in food gardening, with seed orders so overwhelming some are having a hard time keeping up.

The following quote from a West Coast Seeds sales representative gave me goosebumps:

    “We typically sell to people who own their own home, but this is different. These are young people who are very interested in food gardening. I think they get it.”

Something new is happening in cities in the “rich and modern” western world, something that I am sure no one could have predicted: people aren’t just growing their own food, they are selling it back to their communities too. I live right down the street from a small urban farm where residents of a local mental health facility are growing food organically on the property and selling the fruit of their labor out on the street once weekly during the summer months. An article was published in yesterday’s New York Times about urban farmers in Brooklyn who are growing crops in empty lots and waste spaces and selling them at local markets. The article goes on to mention the growing rise in food gardens in cities across the U.S.

What’s amazing is that everything is coming together right now in a way that is making all of this possible. People are excited about growing their own food, our cultural climate has shifted placing emphasis on food quality and ethical growing practices which means there is a growing market of consumers who want to buy locally grown food, and cities are starting to support these endeavors, seeing the benefits that gardens, especially food-growing gardens can bring. All of this is very encouraging and exciting making me feel just a little bit more optimistic that we aren’t all racing towards the apocalypse. I’m squee-ing on the inside just a little bit right now.

Gayla Trail
Gayla is a writer, photographer, and former graphic designer with a background in the Fine Arts, cultural criticism, and ecology. She is the author, photographer, and designer of best-selling books on gardening, cooking, and preserving.

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38 thoughts on “Food Gardening is on the Rise

  1. I read that article yesterday and got all shivery with excitement. Several Philadelphia-area organizations are in on the effort to get high quality food into underserved neighborhoods. I like the Food Trust, which has implemented a city-wide farmer’s market program. But the one that gets me really excited is the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society’s City Harvest Program. It’s a partnership with the Philadelphia Prison System that uses volunteers and space in community gardens to grow produce that gets distributed to food cupboards throughout the city. It’s all really exciting!
    On the business side, I confess I would love to run an urban farm. But I have to get a garden plot first.

  2. I really wish there was more of that attitude here in Jacksonville, Florida. I still cannot find any real farmers markets or community gardens.

  3. Absolutely, it’s interesting how going backwards in time – to grow your own food lifestyle is now the NEW way of life. I just got my CSA delivery yesterday and inside the box, there was a letter quoting how during a farm visit, a kid was aspiring to becoming a farmer some day. V. cool.

  4. How exciting is that? My husband and I just bought our home this year and this is our first garden. I never knew that growing my own food could be so much fun and can only hope that everyone starts doing this so that they can enjoy the same satisfaction!

  5. I’m in the midst of starting what I like to call my potager, but what is really two small spots against the house I rent where I plan to plant all kinds of edibles.

    The reason I decided to plant food was having moved to the city from a farm I missed how fresh garden produce tasted.

    Anyways, I think the locavore culture is introducing more people to those fresh tastes … and they just can’t go back to the bland grocery products.

  6. I really enjoyed this post and enjoy scanning the site from time to time. My memories from my childhood are full of great food and times spent with my grandparents in the garden. I have always grown a few veggies in pots on the porch, but after owning our house for a few years we finally got down and dirty and make a 10x20ft garden in our back yard and it is jam packed with fruit and veggies. I am so excited for this years harvest! For me this process and transition allows me to remember my childhood and my grandparents.At 24 i know that gardening is something i can do for myself(good for the soul) and something i can share and pass on to my children…and so forth…
    We love to go to the saturday farmers market and believe that buying local is not only the way to get the best produce, but a great way to support the local economy.

  7. Woo-hoo! Something I got all jazzed about was this article about CSAs and farmers accepting food stamps! I’m in the process of going through the hoops needed to get them at our farm too :)

    Another shift I predict in the future? Seed saving. I think as the major seed companies have less and less seeds to choose from (mainly ode to the fact that monsanto owns them all), we’re going to see a grassroots movement of people avoiding seed companies and saving seeds custom bred for their own environment.

    side note-I would love to talk saffron crocuses. This is my first time growing them. They went in in the fall (late, I’ll admit) and didn’t bloom, but there are happy green tops, so I’m hoping for the best this fall. :) Have you gotten them to bloom?

  8. My coworker reports there was a bit on NPR this morning on this very thing, too. I haven’t had a chance to go looking for it yet, but you could probably find the clip on their website.

  9. That is what I am doing. I work at my place and at another established herb farm, which has expanded to farmer’s market veggies.

    I cannot imagine that BS about Hard Scaping. You know that stuff is expensive, because there are some spots I would like to hardscape. I can barely afford stepping stones for my beds.

    So those decorators need to step away from the crack pipe. You cant eat decorative brick. And in some places, hard scaping increases the ambient summer temps significantly, because it captures and radiates solar heat. In places like Texas and Oklahoma that would not be pleasant.

    Its just like the button says:
    The Revolution will be Cultivated!

    Now you need one that says: “Garden Ho[e]s Unite!”

  10. We are also seeing veggie seeds offered from smaller Canadian companies now at the local garden centres too. It struck me the other day when I was at one that there were far more racks of seeds. My other find — worm-casting fertiliser produced by a company in Medicine Hat, AB

  11. just read two books about this very thing, both quite awesome-
    Animal, Vegetable, Miracle (Kingsolver)
    Four-Season Harvest (Coleman)

  12. Yes!!! It is a great movement! Last night, while walking back home from the library, I noticed what looked like a garden behind the building in an wide, open area that I have never noticed before. Thinking it must be the garden of the Mennonite church, I went back into the library only to find out that it is the beginning of a community garden for our neighborhood. Started one year ago and funded by its workers, it is AMAZING that even in my neighborhood, not the best one in the world, we have people who have banded together to do this. Fantastic!

  13. This makes me so happy. I feel like my generation is starting to reject the wasteful, buy-everything-pre-made attitudes of our parents and realizing that we’re not only capable of creating a level of independence for ourselves, but that if we don’t hold onto the ability to do so, we’re in real danger of losing these skills completely.

  14. Sisterbluebird, I love your quote “we can’t eat decrotive brick.”

    As someone who works for a community garden program, this blog post makes me so excited! More and more people are starting to get it. I had a friend recently send me a message that in her town, which is small, reliant on summer tourism and experiencing the effects of poverty, the first csa has started, and all the shares are sold out already! What is so amazing about the local foods movement, is that we’re all a part of it, as people who grow, buy and eat food.

  15. It is very exciting to hear that gardening is on the rise. Since buying my first home a year ago and planting my first ever garden, I have become the prophet of home gardening. I even offer to come build the raised beds (needed in some parts of central Florida with sandy soil) for people. Just last week we began harvesting from our garden fro the first time. Who new that a few cucumbers an a tamato would bring such joy.

  16. this gave me goosebumps…this morning I read Vandana Shiva’s essay “Stolen Harvest” about the corporate attempts to control the global food supply. Reading this post, and envisioning little ten gallon buckets of tomato plants scattered throughout cities and towns everywhere, is giving me hope!

  17. I am so happy to hear that others are doing this too. I have just started a community garden in Columbus, Ohio. Our plan is to sell whatever we can’t eat at a local farmers market. Whatever doesn’t sell/we can’t eat we are giving to our local women’s shelter.

    I was amazed at how easy it actually was to start a community garden. It’s great exercise and strength building. You work together and get out.

    Thanks for the site!

  18. Gayla, this turning tide is such a victory for people like you, who have devoted so much energy to bringing vegetable gardening to a new generation, at a very critical time. The energy of this ‘new urban home farming’ movement is palpable and so inspiring – and we are all the better for it, whether we buy more organic food, shop at local farmer’s markets, or grow our own.

    Thanks, Gayla, for being a flag bearer; for leading the charge. You rock HARD!

  19. I read an article were they are dubbing this trend as the ‘Zero Mile Diet’. I think it great that people want to grow their own food however I hope that people also realize the importance of learning how to preserve the food they grow. For those who are really serious about becoming more self suficiant, educating themselves about preservantion techniques is a good idea because it will leasen the dependence people have on grocers in the winter time, expesially those who live in climates with shorter growing seasons.

  20. Shalaine: I am seeing a lot of people move in this direction. Learning how to cook and preserve the food we grow is a natural extension of this process.

  21. This is awesome, and I wish more of it would catch on in my (very suburban) area.

    Down the street from me there’s a McMansion where there was, for whatever reason, a nice, terraced-flat bit of bare soil (I think they took out a garage). I saw it and immediately thought, “Ooh, garden!” They apparently saw it and thought “cover its shame with grass!”

    Lawn is the hobgoblin of little suburban minds…

  22. Another thing that I think will become a huge factor are the rising gas prices. It’s effecting the everyday person here in the US, even those completely tuned out to politics and the organic food movement. Food is going to cost more across the board with shipping costs increasing.

    With our economy slowing down as well, I think more everyday people will start turning back to supplementing their grocery bills with homegrown food.

    And lastly, with farmer’s markets growing, I see people slowly realizing they can supplement some of those costs as well from their backyard. For example, free-range chicken eggs are now $6 bucks a dozen at our downtown market. But my monthly urban chicken-keeping cost is probably close to that and I get about 60 eggs a month this time of year.

  23. Renee, I agree. I’ve heard several people mention they are starting their own garden to bring down their rising cost of food. There are lots of similarities to Victory Gardens from two generations ago.

  24. I went to an event over the weekend at Hundredfold Farm ( and listened to a speaker talk about food security, as in: do you know where your food comes from and how it’s grown. He talked quite a bit about how the young people, the post college crowd is heavily getting into veggie gardening, especially the females. And he said that since that’s what the females are interested in, the males are flocking there, too. :)

    I listened to three speakers at the event, and each one of them had this to say: in the next 5 years, energy prices, oil/gas, and food prices are all going to be getting prohibitivly high, and we’d better start *individually* doing something about it now, for ourselves. Because no one is going to do it for us (by which they all meant government).

  25. I’ve definitely been seeing more community gardens popping up around the Los Angeles area. It’s wonderful to see. I’ve noticed many neighbors and my kid’s friends families growing edibles,
    (even though there is an abundance of farmer’s markets).

    There are even folks making a living planting and maintaining vegetables gardens for those that want one and have some disposable income but can’t for whatever reason do it for themselves.

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