Beyond Herb Boxes on the Roof
City rooftop herbs. I still can’t get the idea out of my head, even though—judging from what my co-op board said—my chance of getting a few planters on the roof are slim. I imagine NYC’s rooftops morphing in gardening hubs where residents catch up on building gossip.
While there’s little gardening on city rooftops, it’s a different story on the ground where community gardens are thriving. With the exception of Manhattan, there’s a fair amount of food production going on in all New York City boroughs, particularly in Brooklyn and the Bronx. As I wrote in an article for Earth Island Journal, there are more than 700 community gardens in New York City, which account for some 200 acres of land, according to the Green Guerillas, a non-profit support group for New York City community gardeners.
Some of these gardens are producing many bushels of food for soup kitchens, pantries and personal consumption. In 2004, 37 food-producing gardens – one equivalent in size to five city blocks – produced more than 30,000 pounds of fruits and vegetables.
That, to me, was startling. According to the Green Guerillas, New York has the most cultivated land of any U.S. city. Yet amazing as that it, it still trails what’s happening in the rest of the world, particularly in developing countries. Havana, for instance, grows 60 percent of its vegetables. Cuba today is held up as a model for urban agriculture, with more than 1 million registered patio gardens, all of them organic. The country became so out of necessity. At the end of the Cold War in December 1989, Cuba lost access to food imports, fertilizers and pesticides from the Soviet Union and had to fend for itself.
Why, though, are people farming in urban areas if they don’t need to? One theory is that as cities expand and we lose cropland to developers, unused lots of urban land become a precious commodity. We can’t afford not to put the land into production.
And now with rising food prices and a world food crisis on our hands, urban agriculture is likely to become more prevalent. We might well see city community gardens become more productive as they strive to meet the growing demands of soup kitchens and pantries.
Interestingly, as I wrote in Earth Island Journal, urban agriculture marks a return to early cities, where food production was part and parcel of daily life. But that’s for another post. I’ll post it soon.