When I graduated from college in 1971, I moved to Vermont to explore a simpler lifestyle. A few days after I arrived, a friend told me I had to plant a garden. City boy that I was, I thought he meant flowers. No, he meant vegetables—organic vegetables. And so my gardening life began.
Several years later, I returned to the city. My family and I have lived in Jamaica Plain for 30 years, and we plant a vegetable garden every year. In the summer, all the vegetables my family eats—lettuce, beans, peppers, tomatoes, zucchini, beets, chard, cucumbers, pumpkins and much more—are products of the soil we till.
Now I echo my friend’s words by crying out to my fellow city-dwellers: Plant a garden!
Why? Because there’s nothing better for people’s health than organically grown vegetables. Because by growing your own you eat the freshest possible, and reduce the “carbon footprint” left when food is shipped from who-knows-where. Because in these trying economic times, it’s reassuring for people to know they can put food on the table several months a year—and longer, with canning and freezing—for minimal expense. The Boston Natural Areas Network (BNAN) reported on Oct. 20 that the average community garden plot produced $431 worth of food. And because the act of gardening itself—the connection to nature’s life cycles, and the pleasure of nurturing growing things—is simply so rewarding.
How? We have about 150 community gardens in Boston, with more than 19 in JP. My family plants in one of them. But we need to create many, many more. Large swaths of parkland in residential areas throughout the city—Franklin Park and the Southwest Corridor Park in my area come to mind—can become shared urban farmsteads, with minimal outlay. Workplaces with some green space around them or even a flat roof can set a portion aside for employees to garden. And, of course, home front- or backyard gardens are the simplest option.
Schools should be included as central to this urban farming vision. “Food” can become a theme for each grade, with growing vegetables at its core. Classes can start seedlings in the classroom, plant them in the school’s own community garden, tend and harvest them, and cook up tasty recipes together. Parents would be strongly encouraged to participate, especially during the summer—bonding with other families while gardening together. The curriculum possibilities are unlimited.
As a city boy who was introduced to the joys of gardening many years ago, I hope we find ways to make urban farming an integral part of life in Boston. Several organizations like BNAN, EarthWorks and The Food Project—are already working hard to make that happen. Let’s urge our civic leaders to cultivate their ties to these and other green pioneers, giving every Boston household a chance to “grow their own.”
The author is an attorney who gardens at the South Street Community Garden on the campus of William A. Hinton State Laboratory Institute.