Best Cities for Urban Gardening

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by on August 25, 2013

Got a green thumb? If you live in a big city and your residence doesn’t afford space for a personal garden, there are other options for you to display your gardening prowess. Urban gardens are agricultural and horticultural areas set within city spaces, often in unused or vacant lots. Community members are able to plant, water and harvest, and they can create small oases amidst the concrete.

To discover which are the best cities for urban gardening, we asked the following questions:

  1. Are there community gardens?  We included the number of community garden plots per 10,000 residents in our analysis.
  2. Does the city prioritize green space?  We assessed the city’s capital spending on parks and recreation per resident.
  3. Is it sunny?  We looked at the average percentage of sunshine per year.

Best Cities for Urban Gardening

1. Washington, D.C.

Washington D.C. is an urban gardener’s dream, offering 27 community garden plots for every 10,000 residents. This past June, the Neighborhood Farm Initiative, an organization devoted to increasing awareness of urban gardening and farming, was awarded a grant from the DC Humanities Council to take down an oral history of urban gardening in the city. The George Washington University has a GroW community garden that gives university students, faculty and staff the chance to learn about sustainability and food cultivation in urban areas. Produce grown in the garden is donated to Miriam’s Kitchen, a local soup kitchen.

 2. Las Vegas, Nevada

Las Vegas isn’t quite as urban as Washington, D.C., but its desert setting makes it equally appropriate for alternative gardening techniques. The city’s first urban farm, Vegas Roots Community Garden, was created in 2010 in downtown Las Vegas by the community organization Together We Can. The garden helps Las Vegas residents develop a sustainable local food source. The University of Nevada, Las Vegas makes sustainability a part of campus life by maintaining xeriscape gardens around the school.

 3. Phoenix, Arizona

Phoenix urban gardeners beautify their neighborhoods and provide valuable resources to community residents. Valley Permaculture Alliance is a Phoenix non-profit with the goal of educating people about the benefits of sustainable desert living. They offer classes, technical assistance, demonstrations, and tours of sustainable homes. The University of Arizona’s Cooperative Extension in Maricopa County provides classes on urban gardening to the Phoenix homeless to help them improve their nutrition and learn valuable skills.

 4. Seattle, Washington

Seattle actively promotes community gardening to city residents. The city has a program called P-Patch, which officially maintains and develops community gardens. Seattle Tilth is an organization focused on promoting local agriculture and farming. They have a variety of educational programs for aspiring urban gardeners and farmers. The University of Washington’s Center for Urban Horticulture is a part of the university’s botanic gardens and offers 16 acres of green space, with a variety of plant life interspersed throughout campus walkways. The Soest Herbaceous Display Garden helps local gardeners determine what plant life is best suited to Seattle urban growing conditions.

 5. Sacramento, California

Sacramento’s Department of Parks and Recreation manages community gardens in several different areas of the city. The Sacramento Area Community Garden Coalition is a grassroots group dedicated to maintaining and increasing awareness of community and school gardens. Soil Born Farms is an urban agriculture and education project that seeks to bring community members together, increase local food production and provide food resources for the entire community.

 6. Fresno, California

The Fresno Community Garden Coalition, a project run by the Fresno Metro Ministry and supported by the City of Fresno, has developed and maintained several community gardens in the city. Their goal is to improve every community member’s ability grow their own food and ensure that they have enough to eat everyday. A 2012 status report showed the Fresno community gardens had helped make fruits and vegetable more affordable, and provided a valuable source for exercise and stress relief.

 7. Tucson, Arizona

Tucson is a major green city and encourages residents to take part in community gardens. Community Gardens of Tucson is an all-volunteer non-profit that manages the city’s community gardens and helps educate community members on urban food cultivation and sustainability. Earlier this year, the Marshall Foundation established a garden in Geronimo Plaza to supply local small businesses with fresh produce. The garden will be maintained in part by students from the University of Arizona’s Students for Sustainability.

 8. Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Milwaukee has a variety of urban agriculture programs. Will Allen, founder of Growing Power, helped pioneer aquaponics and has developed several urban farms in Milwaukee. Growing Power provides training, demonstrations and technical assistance to Milwaukee communities to develop safe and affordable food resources. Sweet Water Organics is an urban fish and vegetable farm inspired by Allen, and they support local communities and businesses. Milwaukee Urban Gardens is a part of Groundwork Milwaukee, and they work to help maintain and grow community gardens.

 9. El Paso, Texas

El Paso’s Department of Parks and Recreation manages the Vista Del Valle Community Garden and invites residents to visit the garden, attend educational programs and sign up for their own plot. The department encourages community members, schools and other organizations to apply to start their own gardens. Community gardens have also been established by the El Paso Master Gardeners, a program in the Texas A&M Agrilife Extension Service. They built a community demonstration garden at Ascarate Park, eventually creating an educational program for community youth called Fit to Grow.

10. Denver, Colorado

Denver Urban Gardens, a local organization, maintains over 120 community gardens in the “Mile High City”. The group oversees the process of securing land, building gardens, designating leadership and helping to educate community members. They also manage a community farm and several training programs. Denver University’s DU Environmental Team established the Bridge Community Garden in 2009, a garden for neighbors and community members to work alongside university staff and students. Urban Roots, a gardening store, also provides training and assistance in creating your own personal urban garden.

Rank City Community garden plots per 10,000 residents Capital spending on parks and rec per resident Annual % average possible sunshine Overall urban gardening score
1 WASHINGTON, D.C. 27 $398 56% 78.0
2 LAS VEGAS, NV 1.3 $234 85% 55.8
3 PHOENIX, AZ 0 $100 85% 42.3
4 SEATTLE, WA 18 $255 43% 39.0
5 SACRAMENTO, CA 5.7 $133 78% 38.8
6 FRESNO, CA 3.5 $63 79% 37.0
7 TUCSON, AZ 0.3 $94 85% 36.1
8 MILWAUKEE, WI 13.8 $90 54% 35.8
9 EL PASO, TX 1.5 $34 84% 34.4
10 DENVER, CO 0 $146 69% 34.2

Data was obtained from the Trust for Public Land and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association

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  • Katie Rehwaldt

    Thanks! I would like to add that DC boasts the annual Rooting DC Urban Gardening Forum. Held every year in February, Rooting DC is in its 7th year offering this FREE day long program to hundreds of residents (850 in 2013!) with dozens of workshops, cooking demos and presentations.