Jessica Maxwell

Economic crises bring stress and sacrifice – often hitting hardest those who already have the least. They also open up an opportunity to challenge the capitalist approach and creatively work together to make more out of less. One way to save money, improve our quality of life and be more sustainable is through urban gardening.

Everyone seems to be talking about gardening again. Growing your own food is being promoted as a way to save money and live “greener.” But if your gardening involves buying plastic bags full of potting soil from big box stores, building raised beds from pressure treated lumber, ordering seeds from big corporations, and tending a small plot in your backyard, gardening can become just another example of the consumerist, individualistic ideals that are dragging our country down.

If we want to connect our gardening to social justice and community organizing, we might ask: “How can growing our own food promote a more just and sustainable community?”

Building Community
Gardening gets people outside – where you might see your neighbors and get to know who lives on your street. It doesn’t help if you’re in a fenced-in plot in the back yard. Consider gardening some part of your front yard – not only will it start conversations with passers-by, but may inspire others too. It also challenges the idea of “lawns.”

Even better – get involved in a community garden! Some community gardens are a collection of individual plots that share water and other resources. Others are planned, tended and harvested collectively. Community gardens can bring a positive presence of people into formerly vacant lots, transforming not just the soil, but also the neighborhood.

Healthier People, Healthier Planet
It doesn’t get any more local than your front yard or neighborhood. Growing some portion of your own food can save money, and we reduce the amount of food traveling thousands of miles to our tables. Growing food encourages us to appreciate the earth and see how its health is connected to our own.

In city neighborhoods, access to fresh organic food is often limited. People of color and poor people are most affected – forcing them to either travel long distances or go without. Community gardens can produce healthy vegetables affordably.

Growing Justice and Empowerment
Working with your neighbors on community projects often highlights problems in city policies. For example, Syracuse no longer has an adopt-a-lot program. In the past this program turned empty lots into productive community gardens. As more people become interested in starting gardens we can work together to create municipal policies that better meet our community’s needs.

In growing our own food we take pride in and control over a basic necessity. This can be a stepping stone for taking back control over other areas of our lives. It’s a model of a more just and sustainable way of meeting our needs.

Local Resources to Get Started
Syracuse Grows:
Edible Gardening CNY:
Cornell Cooperative Extension:, 315-424-9485 (Syracuse office)
CNY plantcycle:

Jessica grew up on a farm in Herkimer County and has been growing with the Bread and Roses Collective in Syracuse for the past 10 years. Bread and Roses will host a seed starting workshop on Saturday, April 4, 11 am-1 pm at 162 Cambridge St. Space is limited, so please call 315-422-4924 to let us know if you’re coming.