Growing A Sustainable City

The city that gardens together grows sustainably together.  Gardening is perhaps the greatest tool for building sustainability that we can all share


Gardens can improve water quality, air quality, access to food, and personal health.  Cities that actively nurture the gardening and urban farming efforts of their citizens reap the benefits of healthy communities.  The nurturing of

sustainable cities

starts with the roots of the community.  Wherever there is a strong activist gardener population, you will find wonderful green ideas and initiatives sprouting up all over!

Rain gardens capture and filter rainwater run-off, community gardens and urban farms grow healthy food for people, locally grown food requires less trucking which keeps our air cleaner, fruit trees on the boulevard provide habitat for migrating birds and meeting places for neighbors.  A city full of healthy gardens is a sustainable city full of happy people.  Each city in Minnesota has it’s own unique approach to sustainability.  In this volume of the Seed, we’ll have a look at two cities in the metro area to see some great examples of how local governments work with residents to incorporate all kinds of great gardening into their sustainability plans in order to grow happy, healthy cities.  


Homegrown food, local food, or food security, however you want to look at it, Minneapolitans' taste in food is rapidly



According to Gayle Prest, the city’s official Sustainability Director,

“Gardening is an integral part of the long term sustainability plan for Minneapolis”

With more then 100 community gardens and 33 farmers markets, this city is obviously hungry for healthy change.  Leading the charge for this change is an official city organization called

Homegrown Minneapolis

  which is dedicated to nothing less then building a healthy, local food system for all Minneapolis residents. 

Homegrown has recently been hard at work on an

Urban Agriculture Policy Plan

that will guide city land use decisions related to urban food production and distribution. The plan will help identify where and how land should be used to grow and distribute food through community and commercial gardens and urban farms.  In short, this new ag-plan will help Minneapolis scale up to the next logical step in urban food production.  By defining and allowing for urban farms, and market gardens, and by amending the zoning code to better accommodate urban agriculture this innovative plan will allow Minneapolis residents to have more control over their food choices, and more access to healthy homegrown food.

The time to support the Urban Ag Plan is now, call your

city council person


-Update: Your Support Helped Get This Passed!-

“The key to all of this is to start with deep rich organic soil made from our own compost”

Gayle reminds me as we talk about the city’s goal for having curbside residential compostable waste pick up by 2014.  This point is especially powerful as it shows yet another great way to improve our environment and our gardening habits at the same time.  When we compost we reduce the amount of garbage going to burners and landfills and we improve our garden soil, that’s the kind of sustainable solution we can all grow from. 


Oakley Biesanz, Naturalist for the City of Maplewood, explained to me some of the gardening strategies that are helping to grow a sustainable future for residents there. 

Maplewood is a statewide leader

in controlling water quality through

rain gardening


  With over 620 city installed rain gardens now thriving in residents yards, 60 more growing on city owned land and many more to come Maplewood is proving that rain gardens are an effective and beautiful way to keep waterways clean and healthy.  With the city’s support and promotion rain gardening has become the  standard for dealing with storm water run-off in Maplewood.

At the

Nature Center

where Oakley works, the mission is to enhance resident’s awareness and understanding of land, water and wildlife resources; to empower the community to become stewards of the environment. This mission is clearly evident in the Demonstration Gardens, which include rainwater gardens, woodland wildflower and prairie butterfly gardens and a small section of no-mow grass.

For lawn enthusiasts, Maplewood has developed the

Mow-Hi Pledge

This pledge to cut the grass no shorter then 3 inches and leave all the clippings on the lawn will help residents reduce fertilizer and watering costs and environmental impacts.  Of course it doesn’t hurt that there’s a grand prize drawing for folks who are willing to take the pledge. 

Community gardens

are sprouting up in Maplewood this spring as part of a multi-city effort to improve access to food growing space.  Working with the Maplwood-North St. Paul Parks and Rec. department, School District 622 and a local church, the two cities will now be able to offer over 650 community garden plots available to the public this spring.

In the long run, sustainability is just a common sense approach to life, and gardening is the simplest approach to sustainability that we have available. 

Whether you’re filtering rain water run off through rain gardens in order to keep the ground water, rivers, and lakes clean or keeping nutrients in your neighborhood by composting in your back yard, or maybe even growing your own food and medicine at home or with neighbors in a community garden, these are all among the most Earth friendly, community building habits humans can all share.  

It takes a village to raise a garden and no one should be left out of the process.  From youth to elders, from city council members to dirt gardeners, we all have a stake in helping to grow a sustainable city right where we live and we all need to work hard and connect with our community if we are going to see success.

Gardeners, take the opportunity this spring to think globally, garden locally and start to grow a sustainable city!