Meet the Urban Gardeners Taking Advantage of Spare Spaces [Video]

Once upon a time, everyone had gardens. The soil was fertile and healthy, weeds and bugs were free to roam, and all sorts of heirloom varieties were grown. There was plenty of acreage for every family, and your neighbors were way down the road, not 10 feet away.

Nowadays, with most of us living in suburbs and cities littered with high-rise buildings, finding those lush, green fields to grow a garden on is more expensive, and certainly more difficult to find. But for many urban gardeners, when there’s a will, there’s a way.

National Geographic on YouTube

Every neighborhood has space for a community garden, it’s just a matter of getting creative and turning unused space into a thriving, healthy plot of land.

Meredith Sheperd, urban garden designer and founder of Love and Carrots is taking little scraps of lawn near roads and side yards, and working to transform them into edible gardens for community members.

National Geographic on YouTube

She says that there is a whole generation of people who never had the opportunity to experience what it’s like to grow their own food, and she hopes to change that. Teaching kids how to grow their own food closes the gap between seeing a plant on the vine and seeing that same plant on their plate.

Marlana Kain is growing a rooftop garden and says that her gardening is about as urban as it gets. It’s noisy, busy, but is also a peaceful, secret respite from the hustle and bustle of the city.

National Geographic on YouTube

She says going to the roof and looking at all the little sprouting plants and growth gives her joy that is unexplainable.

No matter how much land, rooftop, or yard space you may have, everyone has the chance to grow their own food. It’s just a matter of trial and error and seeing the beauty and potential in commonly overlooked places.

Written by Leigha Staffenhagen

Leigha Staffenhagen is our managing editor. When she isn’t writing and editing for Insteading, she’s reading, going to Mariners games, practicing yoga, tap dancing, weeding in her grandma's garden beds, and attempting to grow her own apartment garden.


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  1. Kane, I have to reiterate there is no such thing as FERTILE soil. Nature doesn’t allow that to happen. Sort of a CONDOM to prevent any chance of over population and disturbing, destroying a NATURAL ecosystem. The chemistry (never call them nutrients) plants have to have to do photosynthesis is caught up in the live plants.

    When a leaf is abscised it falls to the surface of the soil. First thing that happens is decomposition. Decomposers are an entirely separate group whose ONLY purpose is to decompose and their ONLY fuel source is NITROGEN. By the time the decomposers are done, there is little to none of Nitrogen. Little to none of P and K…little to none of the other dozen or so micro chemicals that are also critical for plant growth.

    Anything we humans touch is ARTIFICIAL. That means WE are necessary to supply the ingredients, the chemistry, water, light and drainage for our gardens.

    Once the decomposers are done and the once alive, now dead and now decomposed organic material ON THE SURFACE feeds the macro and micro soil organisms. They swim up and eat the decomposed organic matter and then swim back down into the top soil portion of any soil. The portion with air and water. 4 – 6″ maximum. These soil organisms poop out the decomposed organic matter they have to have for FOOD, fuel and create GREAT T I L T H! They do not deliver chemistry to the plants. They ensure air, drainage and capturing/holding some water and some chemistry. Plants HAVE to have a knowledgeable gardener in charge. One that knows a balanced fertilizer is necessary for success with even a small monocrop,


    Teaching people the absolute basics of gardening is the BEST WAY to help others survive, Kane. Never wandering into these new ‘fads’; Food Forests, Permaculture (oxymorons both), then there is NO FERTILIZER, NO TILL AND NO WATER? Ugh. Insanity. How about this new gig about burying food scraps, raw organic matter beneath the plants in the garden?? Alcohol…sounds oh so good but organic matter belongs in the compost pile.

    Nature does not like population explosions. Just the few plants in an ecosystem are being served first with whatever chemistry is allowed them within their ecosystem.

    We have NOT RUINED OUR SOILS. Another lame hypothesis all the wannabee gardeners are glomping onto!

    Again, no soil comes with the chemistry necessary to grow enough NEW plants to make A LOT of food for the human. Just not happening.

    Take the rainforests in the Amazon, for instance. The soil most certainly will look dark and feel friable and smell wonderful. LISTEN UP. There is little to NO chemistry in that soil to support NEW PLANTS.

    Poor farmers who have to create ABNORMAL amounts of harvest have to use fertilizer…I disagree that they use any herbicide, but they need to make money to be able to produce food for the next year and pay their bills!

    Farmers are starting to incorporate green cover crops (for tilth not fertility) to feed soil organisms that make soil ‘alive and thriving again’…No till is flat out asinine just like No fertilizer!! But farmers know what it takes to create a BIG HARVEST and they will continue to do that as long as there are crowds of people demanding food.

    Soil is simply tiny boulders of different sizes. THAT IS IT. Tilth is an entirely different thing. The ONLY way to improve any soil is by dumping DECOMPOSED ORGANIC MATTER right on the surface of the soil. All soils are completely made yummy just by dumping decomposed organic matter right on top of the soil, not tilled into the soil. No burying waste or kitchen scraps in the garden proper!! Anaerobic decomposition is NOT at all good for the soil organisms, nor the plants!! Please don’t spread this ‘rumor’ our soils have been destroyed, ruined, stripped. Because that is a bald lie.

    • Hi Sharon,

      Thanks for your comment. I agree with some of it, and disagree with a few things as well, but I don’t think anything in our article or the video was focused on urban soils?

      The focus was really about a group of people going out of their way to find space to grow food in an urban community, which we find inspiring!

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