Tag Archives: community garden

Can Tiny Gardens Feed the World?

Note: This is the second time I’m taking advantage of my status as a student in Marylhurst University’s Food Systems and Society master’s program to use some of my writing from last quarter.

I am fascinated by the obsession some of my cohort members have with local community gardens. It seems that many of them actually feel that community gardens might save the world. Have they not seen community gardens? Do they not recognize the theft that occurs? Do they not realize their seasonal limitations? Their limitations of scale?

Community gardens are wonderful things; don’t get me wrong. They provide a place for people who live in “un-landed” domiciles (i.e. apartments or homes on small lots) to be able to experience the joy of working a plot of earth and raising a bit of food. And they create mini-communities of gardeners.

Rebecca persevered and enjoyed many salads!

Beautiful plot grown by my friend Rebecca

But by “a bit of food,” I mean a bit. My friend Rebecca has a plot in the P-Patch in Seattle’s Belltown neighborhood (which has appeared in this blog before). We went to see it when I was visiting. I noted the 3-foot-by-6-foot raised bed and thought, “Oh dear, what a tiny area to work with.” And then I realized she only had half of it.

Granted, at the time I was coming from managing a garden that was 100 feet across. But even that was not enough. There is no way I could have grown enough food to sustain my family of two off of that plot. It was something I did for pleasure. And it’s a good thing I enjoy gardening, for it basically commandeered my every weekend from May to September, and certainly didn’t save me any money if I factored in my time.

I don’t think people understand what is involved in growing food. Community gardens are more of a community-building activity than an arrow in the quiver of food security. Additionally, they are usually places of privilege—the P-Patch of which my friend Rebecca is a member has a waiting list, which means anyone who would like to garden there must have a fairly stable life, phone number, address, etc. As Allen notes, “[Community] is defined differently by different people as mediated by income, wealth, property ownership, occupation, gender, ethnicity, age, and many other personal characteristics” (Allen, 2004, p. 179).

So, how can we feed everyone without destroying the environment with toxic chemicals and excessive petroleum-based fertilizers, and exploiting thousands of farm workers? I propose a tiered system of personal (backyard chickens, tomatoes in buckets), local (CSAs and small farms supporting local markets), regional (grow food where it grows best in a sustainable manner), and global (disaster relief, staples, global trade of responsibly grown specialty items) food-growing efforts.

Feeding the world can be done; but it will take more than a few beautiful backyard garden plots.


Allen, P. (2004). Together at the table: Sustainability and sustenance in the American agrifood system. University Park, PA: The Pennsylvania State University Press.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

How Many Seeds Make a Plant?

My friend Rebecca was thrilled when she joined the Unpaving Paradise P-Patch, a brand new collective garden in Seattle. She had never done such a thing before, and couldn’t wait to grow her own food. Rebecca and her cohort worked up the beds from scratch, distributing 120 cubic yards of compost. They built a shed. That’s a lot of hard work.

Rebecca preparing her bed in the P-Patch

Finally, it was time to plant seeds in her new plot! She called me for advice.

“Why don’t you tell me what you’ve done so far?” I started. She said she had read a lot about gardening, and learned that since it was still early spring she should only plant cold-hardy things like peas, lettuce, spinach and beets.

Good. I asked about quantity. She described the hill of peas; the square of spinach; the four rows of lettuce …

“Wait a minute,” I interrupted. “How much lettuce did you plant?”

Four rows.

“I hope you like lettuce!” I laughed. I tried not to sound like I was laughing at her. Mike and I did a similar thing in one of our first gardens, when we planted twenty-eight tomato starts.

“I do like lettuce,” she said (she is a vegetarian, true). “… How much lettuce is that?”

“How many seeds do you think you planted?” I asked. If you’re not familiar with lettuce seeds, they are about as big as the dot a pencil makes on paper. Depending on the length of the rows, unless she used a microscope and tweezers, I would guess she put a couple hundred in the ground.

“Well, I don’t know!” She sounded a titch exasperated. “How many seeds make a plant?”

I’m not a fan of texting-based initialisms, but “ROFL” is appropriate here. Such a fantastic example of how removed urban people can be from nature! Even someone interested in nature! I was laughing so hard I couldn’t ask the volley of follow-up questions running through my head: Did she think the seeds mated? Did they rub against each other, like a Boy Scout trying to start some twigs on fire, until a plant burst forth from the friction?

Rebecca, being a patient person, waited quietly as I collected myself. I explained how germination works and how she would want to thin the plants out as they grew so that they didn’t stunt each other competing for nutrients. “And you can eat the trimmed-out seedlings!” I added, endeavoring to prove I was on her side.

Please don’t let this story scare you into not asking me a question! Get Your Pitchfork On!
is chock-full of dumb things I did and asked. That is learning: asking about things you don’t understand. I promise not to laugh–or, at least not as hard as I did on the phone with Rebecca.

Rebecca persevered and enjoyed many salads!

Tagged , , , , , ,