Somerville Promotes Urban Agriculture with City Hall Garden

People have been using what little space they have to grow food in Somerville for decades, but the city’s recent urban agriculture push has shed new light on the practice. The steps of City Hall are currently flanked by two container gardens growing everything from lettuce and Swiss chard to tomatoes and eggplants, from edible and non-edible flowers to herbs and even pumpkins!

“There’s a great amount of energy around food and growing things,” said Luisa Oliveira, senior planner for landscape design in the Mayor’s Office of Strategic Planning and Community Development, which sponsors the garden. “People expect to see decorative things, not food. It’s generated a lot of conversation. People are really into it.”

The garden outside City Hall is part of Somerville’s urban agriculture initiative to encourage people and businesses to grow food in their lawns, on their decks and even on roofs. The City Hall garden was mostly donated by McCue Garden Center and is planted in repurposed bulb crates lined with sturdy cardboard, providing a great example of how to garden in the city where you may have little space and few resources.

The City Hall garden is only about 16 square feet, but it’s producing a bounty of food. Oliveira plans to keep a log of how much food the garden produces and what the cost would to be buy the food rather than grow it.

City Hall employees, some seasoned gardeners and some novices, tend the garden in teams, doing whatever needs to get done to keep the plants healthy and producing. This means keeping the garden watered, pruned and even battling pests, like cabbage worms, which have plagued some of the leafy plants.

One benefit of tending the garden is adding things from it to lunch, like spinach and lettuce for salads, and sharing the harvest with other City Hall employees.

“People will add something to their lunch,” Oliveira said. “Or we bring it to different departments. It’s brought a nice, social aspect that’s educational and about food.”

While this reporter was visiting the garden, someone stopped by to pick a bit of lemon balm to share with someone in a different department within City Hall.

To get the community more involved, Oliveira has started a blog about the garden and a Facebook group that allows other local gardeners to connect with each other. She plans to do more interviews with local urban agriculture experts to create a resource for gardeners to consult when they come across problems, like pests eating their plants, or to aid new gardeners in starting their own plot.

In addition to the City Hall garden, Somerville has teamed with with Groundwork Somerville and Green City Growers to plant an urban farm on South Street.

“It’s a way to make parts of city that aren’t as nice productive,” Oliveira said. “This is just another aspect of Shape Up Somerville and being healthy. The mayor is concerned with fitness and health and urban agriculture as a movement to promote that and encourage people to grow their own gardens.”

So far the response from the community has been overwhelmingly positive, with many people coming out to support the urban agriculture initiative and joining the city’s Facebook group Somerville Loves Urban Gardening.

“You can’t beat picking your own!” Oliveira said.

Read more about the city’s urban agriculture initiative.

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