Inside the Green Zone

Backyard farms, sidewalk crops, and other ideas for urban growth.

Facts matter: Sign up for the free Mother Jones Daily newsletter. Support our nonprofit reporting. Subscribe to our print magazine.


in the 1960s, landscape architect Karl Linn transformed vacant lots in cities across the nation into “neighborhood commons”—early prototypes of the community garden. Contemporary food activists are defining urban agriculture more broadly, looking for ways to harvest fruits and veggies almost anywhere a seed will take root, from tiny backyards to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

 

Finders Keepers “There is a ton of wild produce out there,” says 27-year-old Iso Rabins, founder of ForageSF, a San Francisco-based csa (community supported agriculture) startup whose members will be able to barter whatever they find growing in the city, from blackberries in parks to fennel in empty lots. In a similar vein, Fallen Fruit, a Los Angeles collective, produces maps of fruit trees whose branches overhang streets and sidewalks—”public fruit” ripe for the picking. Cofounder David Burns urges fellow urban gatherers not to get sticky fingers. “This is about making relationships,” he says, “not just grocery shopping.”

Going Hyperlocal Unable to find an affordable spot to start an organic farm in Oregon, Donna Smith launched Your Backyard Farmer and now tills 47 plots in Portland. Clients pay her $1,575 a year to plant and tend home gardens that yield enough organic produce for three. Meanwhile, in Oakland and San Francisco, Forage Oakland and MyFarm help their members share their backyard harvests with one another. MyFarm’s Chris Burley envisions a food chain where produce travels just “20 feet from farm to fork.”

 

Government Plots Last year, Daniel Simon, cofounder of the White House Organic Farm Project, drove cross-country in a school bus with a rooftop garden to promote sowing crops outside the Oval Office. President Obama has yet to say if he’ll take a cue from Eleanor Roosevelt, who planted a victory garden during World War II, inspiring a home gardening revival that once grew 40 percent of the country’s veggies. But the idea of civic gardening has grown on San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom. Last summer, he put a quarter-acre garden in front of City Hall and has since planted a strawberry patch atop a bus shelter. And the city of Seattle’s P-Patch program annually harvests more than seven tons of produce for food banks. Its 2,500 plots have inspired others in unlikely places—like the raised bed that bank employees planted next to their drive-through window.

THE TRUTH...

is the first thing despots go after. An unwavering commitment to it is probably what draws you to Mother Jones' journalism. And as we're seeing in the US and the world around, authoritarians seek to poison the discourse and the way we relate to each other because they can't stand people coming together around a shared sense of the truth—it's a huge threat to them.

Which is also a pretty great way to describe Mother Jones' mission: People coming together around the truth to hold power accountable.

And right now, we need to raise about $400,000 from our online readers over the next two months to hit our annual goal and make good on that mission. Read more about the information war we find ourselves in and how people-powered, independent reporting can and must rise to the challenge—and please support our team's truth-telling journalism with a donation if you can right now.

payment methods

THE TRUTH...

is the first thing despots go after. An unwavering commitment to it is probably what draws you to Mother Jones' journalism. And as we're seeing in the US and the world around, authoritarians seek to poison the discourse and the way we relate to each other because they can't stand people coming together around a shared sense of the truth—it's a huge threat to them.

Which is also a pretty great way to describe Mother Jones' mission: People coming together around the truth to hold power accountable.

And right now, we need to raise about $400,000 from our online readers over the next two months to hit our annual goal and make good on that mission. Read more about the information war we find ourselves in and how people-powered, independent reporting can and must rise to the challenge—and please support our team's truth-telling journalism with a donation if you can right now.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate