San Francisco's Western Addition neighborhood is sprouting a new community garden in the abandoned side yard of a local church. Cities around the world are joining the movement to create farms and gardens in dense, urban areas, as the benefits range from building community and providing educational opportunities to supporting biodiversity, growing healthy, local food, and creating green spaces that increase quality of life. With more than half the globe's population now living in cities, making space for nature is more important than ever.
Even though urban gardens offer many benefits, competition for space in cities is intense. Enterprising San Francisco neighborhood activist Amy Farah Weiss, who heads up community organization Neighbors Developing Divisadero (NDDIVIS), saw the abandoned side yard at the local New Liberation Community Church as a potential opportunity. Weiss soon discovered that in the early 1990s, the site had actually already been an urban garden, grown with the help of a community challenge grant and the San Francisco League of Urban Gardeners (SLUG). When SLUG disbanded in the early 2000s, church members were unable to keep the garden going. For more than a decade, the former urban garden on Divisadero Street returned to a state of nature–raised beds were blanketed in pine needles and began to rot, and passersby threw trash over the chain-link fence.
When the New Liberation Church considered starting the garden back up recently, they discovered that materials and labor could cost up to $20,000, so Weiss and NNDIVIS collaborated with church leadership to get the garden started again for a little more than $2,000. NDDIVIS works to activate San Francisco’s Divisadero neighborhood in a sustainable way with involvement from neighbors. With donations and volunteer time from the New Liberation Church, the University of San Francisco, Saint Cyprian’s Episcopal Church, and other local community gardens, the garden is blooming again.
This former fenced-off, abandoned lot fronting the sidewalk is now blooming with new life, from fennel blossoms and multicolored succulents, to edible kale and mint seedlings. The garden is a prime example of how urban gardens serve to connect the city, whether by gathering free compost from San Francisco’s city composting program or providing pollination for local bees with its flowers and decorative succulents. The garden also received donated plants from the former Hayes Valley Farm, which was a large interim teaching farm on the former Highway 101 site on Octavia Boulevard, and has recently been uprooted to make room for a new $42 million mixed use housing development.
Today, the garden has morphed from a dull, brown lot to a bright, vibrant space growing peas, lettuce, rhubarb, kale, chard, and broccoli. The New Liberation garden currently gives away food to neighbors and hosts community meals, and is looking forward to providing educational opportunities, community learning space, and other ways to give back to the neighborhood.