Volunteer Mary MacVean on her experience at GrowGood: 

The first day of my summer internship at GrowGood, I worried I would get lost. It’s a small farm, 1.5 acres, but the land is fully used – an orchard, four areas for vegetables and herbs, a small spot for the chickens and a serene natives garden, as well as a hoop house, a shed and compost areas. And I live an urban life measured in square feet, not acres.

I know my way around now, a few weeks into the summer, and each time I walk from my car toward the table that acts as the hub for the farm workers I feel more in awe. It’s not unlike a baby you haven’t seen for a couple of weeks. You can’t quite grasp how much she’s grown.

To experienced growers the pace of change at this time of year may be routine, but for the uninitiated, it’s remarkable that the tomato plant I put into the ground from a four-inch pot needs to be staked to a fence so soon. Or the squash vines bearing only blossoms suddenly carry gorgeous, deep green zucchini.

Of course this is nothing unusual.

It is, however, one of the points of urban farming. In just a few generations, people have lost the everyday knowledge of how their broccoli gets into that shrink-wrapped package. Those of us who live in cities and buy our food in stores have to make an effort to know more, and reading labels is only a very small part of the story.

Anyone who comes to GrowGood – to work, as a volunteer, from the Salvation Army shelter or just to look around -- has the chance to see five kinds of squash on the vines, strawberries on low-to-the-ground plants (some tasted by creatures), Aztec spinach, amaranth, a swarm of “volunteer” tomatoes and so much more. The purslane grows where it wants to, which seems to be everywhere. There’s a grapefruit tree whose blossoms smell so sweet they remind me of the flavor and aroma factory that operated next to my elementary school. Rabbits, lizards, gophers, butterflies and bees act like it’s their world.

As lovely as that is, does it matter? As Corinne McAndrews, Farm Manager at GrowGood, asked during one lunchtime conversation, “Are we a necessity? Why are urban plots popping up all over?”

The Center for a Livable Future at Johns Hopkins University considered the questions in a recent report called “Vacant Lots to Vibrant Plots.” The researchers include nearly every sort of city growing imaginable, including school and community gardens.

They conclude yes, urban agriculture matters – though perhaps as only a part of the solution for inequitable access to healthful food and environmental degradation. Instead, they say, endeavors like GrowGood improve the connections among people and promote “agricultural literacy” and civic engagement.

As Corrine also said, “My relationship with plants saved me from cynicism.” Not bad for a little plot of land.

You can find the full report here: