10 Things You Didn’t Know About Urban Growing

Guerilla gardening refers to a movement to reclaim or beautify public spaces with plants. Often this takes places in urban environments, and can range from dropping a few seed bombs to building a functioning farm on an abandoned lot. Rachel de Vitry, a Lancaster native currently working as Farm Manager for Neighborhood Foods Farm in West Philadelphia, shares some notes from her experience with urban guerilla growing here. Learn more at her market skillshare June 28 at 1pm.

  1. Food deserts=abandoned lots=growing spaces. Underserved communities are often food deserts but aren’t without resources, namely abandoned lots which can be reinvented as space for growing food and flowers.
  2. The city’s heat island effect means longer growing seasons. The spring frost date in Philadelphia is April 15, a full month before Lancaster County’s on May 15. Hooray for time to grow more crops, and more heat-loving crops!
  3. The #1 pest on our farm? Feral cats. No deer and only occasionally groundhogs or raccoons on the farm, but the cats love to sleep in greenhouses and under rowcover fabric, and dig in the nice loose dirt of beds we’ve just planted.
  4. There’s no break from insect pests. While there may not be another garden nearby to harbor pests, many common weeds are in the same plant family as vegetable crops and those weeds can harbor pests. Lambsquarters is a common weed in the goosefoot or beet family, and leaf miners will start munching on lambsquarters before moving onto our beets and chard.
  5. Limited space leads to super efficient growing. Last year Neighborhood Foods Farm grew 12,436 pounds of produce on 18,704 square feet, or .43 acre, of growing space.
  6. Gardens can’t happen without neighbors’ support. Neighbors help us identify lots that would make good garden or farm space, and keep an eye out when we’re not there. And once the garden is in place, you will be amazed at how many neighbors are accomplished gardeners and want to help out.
  7. Infrastructure is very accessible. Farm or garden sites often have fairly easy access to power and water. Using city water on the farm has the added benefit of removing the need to pay for water tests; the city tests regularly for contaminants so you don’t have to.
  8. Squatting on abandoned lots is actually ok. Philadelphia’s unofficial-official policy on empty lots is that it’s better to have a garden than a short dumping site or location for illegal activities. So no one will yell when you haul out the junk and put in some planters.
  9. Getting legal rights to your squatter’s garden can be extremely difficult. Getting a lease from the city can take years, and if the site goes up for sheriff’s sale it can be sold out from under you. Plus, one lot may be made up of several different parcels each with different owners and legal challenges.
  10. Urban growing makes hyperlocal eating possible. The majority of our markets and wholesale customers are within 5 miles of our farm site. We provide fresh produce to a neighborhood with limited access to healthy food, and provide chemical-free hyperlocal produce to inner city residents looking for a more sustainable lifestyle.
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