What can land mean to an urban dweller renting an apartment? I live in Southeast Portland, Oregon, where people enthusiastically rip out their lawns in order to plant gardens and the local elementary school instructs neighborhood kids in environmental education. Sunnyside Environmental School is one of the reasons I was drawn to my neighborhood—my roommate and I, hopeful transplants from Seattle, were checking out different parts of town last summer when a woman picking fava beans and broccoli from the school's gardens earnestly offered us some of the harvest.

As a renter, my relationship with the earth is more tenuous. The two small planter areas in front of my building teem with weeds and hugely overgrown rosebushes that hang precariously over the parking lot below. When we moved in last year, ripe red tomatoes and peppers dangled in one of the planters and then rotted on their vines—the resident gardener must have moved out. I'd planted flower seeds which had arrived embedded in a friend's homemade wedding invitation, but didn't trust the sandy soil or my own intentions to stay in the apartment to plant my own tomatoes. Some of the flower seeds germinated and budded before they were pulled up by maintenance men mistaking them for weeds. They cleared the whole planter, improbably leaving the rosebush untamed. Next year, I think, I'll plant a garden in a raised bed so it can't be mistaken for weeds—my borrowed land surely better than no land at all.

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Hi Michelle! The living Russian avatar Anastasia has spawned a whole "back to the land" movement globally. Specifically, she says that if you give the seeds something of yourself -- your sweat, your saliva -- the plants will chemically produce what you body needs to be healthy. So when you plant your garden, even on borrowed land, it is profoundly capable of bringing you health. Enjoy!! Carol

I just finished reading Farm City where the author grows a whole farm on a vacant lot in downtown Oakland, even raising pigs! I'm pretty sure I won't go that far, but I like the idea of growing healthy food.

Michelle World Pulse Technology Associate

Planting a garden is a bliss. It gives one immense pleasure to watch plants grow. I recently read somewhere that people who grow plants are likely to waste less food. I guess that is a great plus among other things.

Best of luck for your garden.


That's interesting. I think people tend to discount how much our relationship with nature affects our lives. A recent study I read found that people who were shown images of natural scenes reported valuing connectedness and community and working toward the betterment of society much more than people who were shown urban scenes, and they were more generous in sharing a monetary prize (http://www.rochester.edu/news/show.php?id=3450). Also, urban areas with a lot of trees and gardens tend to have lower crime rates than treeless areas.

Michelle World Pulse Technology Associate

Hi Michelle! I also live in SE Portland but was lucky enough to rent an apartment with 3 raised beds in the backyard (and a committed renter who has been working the garden beds for years). At first, she wanted to split up the small parcels so each person would be responsible for their piece because she had been let down so many times by "community" projects. But she changed her mind, much to my joy! This summer, three of us have worked through decisions about what to plant and have shared watering responsibilities. In turn, I continue to learn about gardening from these two more experienced gardeners and am still rather shocked by my ignorance of basic food production. Don't give up on your efforts to grow some of your own food! It will come and it often comes in little steps that we can manage - even in the urban/renter landscape! Best wishes, Marlies


I would love to check out your garden, it sounds amazing! The area available at my building is pretty pathetic, but I'll see what I can do. After a couple years of reading different accounts of experiments with local food, I'm finally ready to start. I just finished Farm City: The Education of an Urban Farmer, by Novella Carpenter, who is very honest about her successes and often hilarious follies growing a farm on a vacant lot in downtown Oakland. Happy gardening!


Michelle World Pulse Technology Associate

Michelle, I understand completely as I moved from New York so I could be somewhere where I felt the grass under my feet again and could see the clouds without having to strain my neck looking for it between the buildings. My apartment building has a small garden at the entrance with some rose bushes along the perimeter. To see them whenever I step out of my building reminds me of the reason I moved here.... to connect once more with the abundance of this earth.

michelle, i loved reading your post b/c i can relate to it so well. as a former SE portland resident, i rented and was never able to connect deeply enough to any yard. i was just starting to have a connection with my last house when we moved after four complete cycles of the seasons. community gardens are the answer for many people in urban settings or who rent or who do not have the space. however, there is often a long wait and if you move too far away from your plot, it's not really feasible to continue.

sunnyside is a shining star in the galaxy of schools. the grounds are beautiful and it gives me great satisfaction knowing children are learning how to care for plants. one of the things i am most passionate about and enjoy doing the most is food gardening with young people. i believe we need to create more programs that give youth access to growing food and create more opportunities for them to reconnect with their food. portland has many stellar programs that can be used as examples for other locations. i encourage you to soak in the plant-friendly vibes and take them with you wherever you land next!

I remember reading somewhere that there are 1300 Portlanders waiting for a community garden plot. But there are also groups that install gardens in backyards for people and I could get involved with them.

I remember being amazed as a kid when the sunflower seeds I brought home from school grew taller than my father. I wish I had the opportunity to really learn about plants like the kids at Sunnyside!

Thanks for the well wishes,

Michelle World Pulse Technology Associate