The Idea File: City Hall Vegetable Gardens

At Idealist, we believe the world is full of good ideas that don’t spread quickly enough. The Idea File is a new feature where we’ll give quick glimpses of ideas that seem fun, powerful, and potentially replicable — plus some things you might want to consider if you decide to take on a similar project. If you have an idea that addresses a pressing community need, and you think others should know about it, leave a comment below and we’ll take a look.

The idea:

Michelle Obama’s not the first First Lady to plant a vegetable garden at the White House, but her recent efforts have garnered a lot of attention for gardens in public places. Vegetable gardens in front of the City Halls of Portland, Oregon and Baltimore, Maryland have provided sustenance to homeless residents, learning opportunities for community members, and inspiration to other health- and environment-conscious cities.

Why we’re adding it to the Idea File:

The Baltimore garden provided 1500 pounds of fresh, healthy food to a local hot meals program in its first season. Additionally, passers-by have the opportunity to learn about produce they might never have heard about. Portland Mayor Sam Adams says a major purpose of the City Hall garden is to inspire Portland residents to grow their own food — spreading health and wellness, not to mention economic self-sufficiency in trying times. Additionally, a trend towards eating local foods can reduce energy use and have other positive environmental effects.

How you can replicate it:

If you’re interested in organizing for a public vegetable garden in your area, first research to see if there’s already a movement. For example, New Yorkers can sign a petition to get Mayor Bloomberg to allow a vegetable garden in front of City Hall. If you can’t find an existing project, it’s up to you to start one! You can create an organization on Idealist to find other people in your area with the same passion.


Of course, no project can be replicated exactly the same way in every community. Writing this post got us wondering: who plants these gardens? Who gets to decide what to do with the produce, and what methods of fertilizing, pest prevention, irrigation, etc., are going to be used? And what happens if the original proponents lose their energy and the place fills with weeds — is the city responsible for plowing it all under and planting grass and geraniums?

In your area, it might make more sense to join or start a community garden in a yard, an abandoned lot, or the space between your sidewalk and the street.