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The most lasting change the hippies accomplished was in food.  Tofu, tempeh, sprouts, and smoothies.  Organic food and vegetarianism.  Food coops.  Even the revival of farmers' markets.  Foodie culture can be traced right back to those dirty, greasy hippies.  Ask Alice Waters.

In fact, you can trace a progression from civil rights through the antiwar movement into environmentalism straight through to urban gardens.  Add in feminism too, as many of the spark plugs for reclaiming vacant lots were and are women.  Boston Urban Gardeners, the Green Guerrillas in NYC, the Fruition Project in Santa Cruz, LA's South Central Community Garden and Tree People, all of these were early explorations in rebuilding community and ecology in urban environments.

The Sixties™ hippie energy went to ground, literally, in the mid-70s and grew flowers, vegetables, fruit.  Almost unnoticed, those seeds we planted then are now bearing a bumper crop.

"In These Times" has an overview of urban agriculture called "Farming the Urban Jungle" and Treehugger's article pointing to it includes links to 16 other urban agriculture resources.

According to the 2000 Census, 80 percent of the U.S. population lives in cities or suburbs. Food travels 25 percent farther that it did in 1980, and fruits and vegetables spend up to 14 days in transit.


The figure I keep on hearing is that, on average, the food on your plate has to travel 1500 miles to get close to the end of your fork.  In response, more and more people are beginning to grow more and more food closer to home.

For example, there's the Philly Orchard Project:

Philadelphia will become the "next great city" by rebuilding itself as an American refuge from expensive oil and gas...  There are billions of dollars to be made by becoming the first American metropolis to grow most of its own food.

Thousands of acres of urban orchards here will multiply their harvest value, by creating many categories of related jobs and thus reducing the costs of crimefighting, jail building and incarceration.

They are proposing to turn thousands of vacant lots and hundreds of empty factories into gardens and orchards.

Hat tip to

Philly's going to have to work hard to surpass Burlington, VT and their decades-old headstart:

The nonprofit Intervale Foundation... manages about 300 acres in the Intervale as an organic farm incubator. Would-be farmers get their starts using the Foundation’s land, equipment, and technical expertise. Once they become proficient, they buy their own farm land in Vermont and make way for the next generation of farmers-in-training. The graduates become part of a mutual support system, in which they share marketing, knowledge, and farm equipment.

The Intervale is now home to 14 farms, including four community-supported agriculture (CSA) operations that supply food to 1,000 subscribing families. All told, Intervale supplies about 6 percent of Burlington’s food supply—up from 0.1 percent when the Foundation started and well along towards the goal of 10 percent.

Hat tip to

Expanding the concept further, a group called Plant Architects is proposing that Toronto rethink parking lots as growing spaces with green walls of plants instead of bare chain link fences, adding trees, porous asphalt surfaces and drainage channels to control stormwater runoff, and street furniture for traffic calming.  They want to transform the 150 surface parking lots the city controls into pocket parks and new green spaces.

Hat tip to

Canada has an urban green thumb and a great resource to all asphalt gardeners in City Farmer, now in its 29th year and part of Canada's Office of Urban Agriculture.  Last I heard, the Suffolk County Cooperative Extension office in Boston I used to organize community gardens for back in the day disappeared sometime during the Reagan Adminstration.  [Reagan killed us.]

For those interested in digging into the history, City Bountiful: A Century of Community Gardening In America by Laura Lawson traces a movement that stretches back to the 1880s.  If all you know are the last few decades of community gardens or the Victory Gardens of WWII, this is probably a resource to learn much more.


On the other hand, "New York" has a report by Brooklynite Manny Howard who tried to grow all his food for the month of August in a farm he began in March in his own backyard.

In three weeks of eating nothing but Farm-fresh food, I lost 29 pounds, down from my pre-Farm weight of 234. Abs: That’s the upside of only two meals a day. The downside is the expense. Not counting my own labor, which was unending, I spent about $11,000 to produce what, all told, is barely enough to feed one grown man for a month. But I did learn something about food: Unless you really know what you’re doing, raising it is miserable, soul-crushing work. Eating food fresh from the farm, on the other hand, is delightful.

About once a year, I tell my farmer friends at the local farmers' market that they are the biggest gamblers in the world.  They risk their livelihood every year on the weather, their skills, and a couple of pounds of seed.  I believe farmers are heroes but gardeners have their rewards too.  I get mine when I tuck into a bowl of fresh raspberries grown on the canes I planted on my community garden plot.

Gardening is one of the most popular hobbies in the USA.  About 50% of the population grows something, if only a houseplant.  In harder economic times, this percentage always increases.  Growing your own is always a survival strategy.  We start from a good base, even though only a minuscule proportion of the population is now directly involved in agriculture.  As a boomer, I am only three generations separated from the farm and both my grandparents and parents gardened.  They taught me and I thank them with every fresh tomato and raspberry I eat.

Originally posted to gmoke on Fri Sep 14, 2007 at 08:35 PM PDT.


Can a city be a garden too?

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Comment Preferences

  •  Buy local, grow your own if you can..... (5+ / 0-)

    ...all for it. In San Diego County? Try Be Wise Ranch. Their stuff is organic and tastes great because it is so very fresh, because it's local.

    By the way, uh, "hippies". You know that was a Right Wing put down, really. Sort of adopted to a certain extent by those that were being characterized, but what you are really taking about is anti-corporate free-thinkers in the sixties.

    Death to "hippies" (or at least the phrase).

    "I am my brother's keeper. I am a Democrat." -- That's your slogan, Democrats.

    by Bensdad on Fri Sep 14, 2007 at 08:35:16 PM PDT

    •  Hippie Etymology (7+ / 0-)

      "Hippie" was a neologism coined by San Francisco columnist Herb Caen.  It was based on the term "hip," to know.  It referred to the post-Beat youth movement and was indeed used as a pejorative and marketing term during those long-gone days of the Sixties™.  

      It's probably futile to try to kill it now.  The Republican "straights" have been bashing us with the term for forty years now.  We might as well claim it back and use it for our own purposes, as in Dirty F*ck*ng Hippies of teh Interwebs.  Me, I am proudly a solar hippie.

      Solar is civil defense. Video of my small scale solar experiments at

      by gmoke on Fri Sep 14, 2007 at 08:48:39 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Here in Santa Monica (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      we have lot of farmer's markets, but I have to say I'm always shocked at how expensive they are.  They're really not cheaper at all, at least for most things.  The stuff is great, however, and I love going to them.  

      I do wish they were less expensive, but then again I wish everything around here was less expensive.  This place has gotten out of control as far as cost.  

      •  When I lived in Los Angeles (0+ / 0-)

        I grew some very nice tomatoes in a half barrel on my balcony.  

        Now I live in Wisconsin, and grow tomatoes by the bushel!  Wisconsin is a great place for gardening, but you've got a really nice climate for growing things in California.

        Universal Health Care - it's coming, but not soon enough!

        by DrFood on Sat Sep 15, 2007 at 09:02:31 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

    •  Free the hippie (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      RunawayRose, Bensdad, bablhous

      Hippy and proud! lol

    •  We called it being "counterculture" (0+ / 0-)

      Hippies was what was laid upon them.

      There were also the "back-to-landers" that were all about living off the land. Not to be confused with the "survivalists" who were right wingers with guns that were afraid of the government and thought the end of civilization was nigh, so everyone should be prepared to survive on their own.

      Interestingly enough, the older people that lived as small farmers often liked the back to landers, because they would ask all kinds of questions and really wanted to learn everything the older small farmers knew about gardening and farming without chemicals. Before the World Wars, everyone did that.

      "A common mistake people make when trying to design something completely foolproof is to underestimate the ingenuity of complete fools." Douglas Adams

      by splashy on Sun Sep 16, 2007 at 01:05:06 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  When we hit the wall ... (5+ / 0-)

    will we become like Cuba and transform our urban landscapes to be productive land for food production?

    Just how much "acreage" is legitimately available for urban gardening?

    •  More Than We Might Think (8+ / 0-)

      Depending upon the level of intensity we use and how we redesign our cities, there's an enormous amount of food that can be grown on small patches of land.  Paris in the 19th century used to produce most of its vegetables in market gardens within the city and surrounding suburbs, if my recollection of the history is correct.

      Think not only of vacant lots but also of roofs, windows, and porches.  Think about all the street trees as fruit or nut trees with grape vines and berry bushes  growing by every park fence.  Burlington VT is already providing 6% of its own food from the Intervale and shooting for 10%.  I would think that at least 25% would be possible, if not more, with a concerted effort.

      In MA, I know that the structure of agriculture has changed completely over the last thirty years because of the local ag and direct marketing movement.  There are more farmers and less land under cultivation.  Market gardens have become a significant portion of the ag community, smaller plots producing more food and more varieties of produce.

      What do you mean by "legitimately"?

      Solar is civil defense. Video of my small scale solar experiments at

      by gmoke on Fri Sep 14, 2007 at 09:11:16 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Before we moved to our farm, in order to grow (4+ / 0-)

      most of our food, we were living in a city townhouse with a postage stamp yard. We grew cherry tomatoes, herbs, pole beans and butternut squash. Knowing what we know now we could have grown a lot more. If, instead of disposers and curbside pick-up of grass clippings and fall leaves, etc. people composted their yard 'waste' and leaves, most suburbanites could grow and fertilize sustainably at least 10% of their veggies. Given more knowledge it could be much more, with little etra effort.

    •  The opportunity depends on where "here" is ... (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      RunawayRose, Lefty Mama

      ... exactly. As I essayed over at Docudharma (and may diary over here), Knustler in Long Emergency comes to substantially different outlooks for the Southwest, Inland West, Southeast, Northeast, and Pacific Northwest.

      And while I do not think it necessarily need be as grim as the picture he paints, it still remains the case that there will be substantial differences ... in part based on how far a given urban population is from the opportunity for a high output rainfed sustainable agriculture. and Energize America

      by BruceMcF on Sat Sep 15, 2007 at 10:09:16 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Intensive gardening (0+ / 0-)

      Using raised beds and other methods of "Intensive Gardening", a lot of food can be raised in a limited amount of space.  Mel Bartholomew's Square Foot Gardening is probably most well known, but his isn't the only way.

      Type "Intensive Gardening" into Google and you can spend the morning researching for something that sounds right for you.

      My best advice from personal experience is to start small and work your way up.  A few years ago, I would have been completely overwhelmed with the level of gardening I'm doing now.  Be prepared for disappointments mixed with the rewards (and the disappointments are simply ways of learning to do better).

  •  thanks for that. Very cool stuff (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    RunawayRose, ZappoDave


    As food gets more expensive (and its cost is rocketing upwards right now) it just makes sense to grow your own.  It's like with gasoline -- why pay "the man" if you don't have to.  Same reason I went biodiesel.  

  •  Great - great diary (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:


  •  All of this stuff is really important (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    for the future -- community gardens may yet save our skins...

    di innocent wi habah dout/ check tings out/ an maybe fine out/ but di fool.............cho! -- Linton Kwesi Johnson

    by Cassiodorus on Sat Sep 15, 2007 at 08:29:20 PM PDT

  •  Green cities (0+ / 0-)

    Why not green?  Most of the stuff coming out of the kitchen can be composted, as can most of the stuff in our postage stamp yards.  Recycle the rest.

    Farmers markets when you can; eat seasonal foods.  Whole Foods is great, but support the locals at every opportunity, and it doesn't require diesel or refrigerated factories to package and distribute. Yes, local/organic costs more but think of it as payment for not-polluting, or not cutting beaks off chickens.

    Finally, ADM and Cargill and all the feedlots and slaughterhouses don't get a penny of your dollar.  

    Why NOT green, or local?  Eat well.

  •  Rooftop Gardens (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    splashy, Lefty Mama

    I'm a big fan of city gardening.  I don't even have a yard, just a flat roof on top of my commercial building, yet I've filled my pantry with vegetables grown on my rooftop garden.  The tomato plants are taller than my girlfriend, and the eggplant is so productive it scares me.  Summer squash, green peppers, various spices... all this with less than a dozen potted plants.

    Next year we begin converting an old industrial warehouse into a sustainable living space including a 23 x 26 sq ft atrium / greenhouse built into what used to be the boiler room.  We expect we can grow more than half our food in the greenhouse and on part of the roof.  Keep in mind this is in the heart of metro Milwaukee.  We will also invest in passive and active solar, low energy LED lighting, and the best possible insulation.

    Treasure each day like it will be your last, but treat the earth like you will live forever. -me

    by protothad on Sat Sep 15, 2007 at 09:59:25 PM PDT

  •  lovely diary! (0+ / 0-)

    There's lots and lots of fruit trees in the city - but nobody seems to pick the fruit. It's great for rats, racoons, and possums...

    We did have a plum tree at our last house. It produced 26 grocery bags full of plums one season. Yowsah! We were too sick of plums to pick them the following year.

    In a democracy, everyone is a politician. ~ Ehren Watada

    by Lefty Mama on Sun Sep 16, 2007 at 01:35:49 AM PDT

  •  Good diary (0+ / 0-)

    I can't wait to have a nice garden some day. This inspired me to write another diary. More to follow...

  •  Home Garden (0+ / 0-)
    It is so fun and rewarding to grow some of your own food.  I live in a single-family home near downtown Orlando.  We grow our own tomatoes, peppers, cut flowers, spices, bananas, figs, oranges, and limes in our yard.  Our neighbor shares with us his grapefruit, pineapple, and avocadoes.  

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