Our main challenge in the world of urban farming on our small Bay Area plot is always one of square footage. After several years of packing more and more edible plants into our yard (currently 32 different edibles, including 6 dwarf fruit trees, in about 700 square feet), I think we've reached the limit of how much we can cram into our garden. Luckily this spring, while lamenting that I had run out of space in our garden, I hit on a new idea.
Two houses down from us on the street corner is a lot with unfenced front and side yard space that hasn't been cultivated in the nine years we've lived here. Alongside the house, between the sidewalk and the street is a strip of land in full sun, 3 feet across by 55 feet long filled with knee-high weeds. I'd been walking and biking past this lot for years, often multiple times a day, but not until recently were my eyes opened to the gardening possibility there.
I approached the home owner to ask her permission to garden in the sidewalk plot. She didn't exactly say "yes" but she didn't say "no," either, even as she agreed that she doesn't own the property between the sidewalk and the street - the city does. I decided to go ahead with the planting, figuring I had nothing to lose, only much to be gained. I mentioned the idea to our neighbor Dell, a fellow gardener, and together we began excitedly scheming about what to plant come springtime. Sarah and Gabe, our neighbors to the back, were thrilled at the idea of beautifying the space that their house overlooks, and they offered to let us use their water if we all shared the expense.
At the beginning of April we had a work party to begin the formidable task of preparing and amending the soil which hadn't been worked in years and was a sandy strip full of weeds, rocks, and dog poop, Paul, the girls, and I headed to the corner with our tools and a couple of our chickens to help till up the soil. Dell and his wife Pat came. Sarah and a couple of her friends came. A neighbor from a nearby apartment whom we didn't know stopped and asked if he could help. One neighbor who hadn't been on speaking terms with another following a yelling match years ago came over and made peace by contributing tomato seedlings and the biggest, sturdiest, best trellises I have ever seen. One family brought over extra stepping stones to place between the plants. The work was physically challenging and we were exhausted by the end of the afternoon, even though perhaps only 1/4 of the area had been planted.
Over the next few weeks, Dell and his family finished the weeding, tilling, and amending, using compost from their bin and ours, as well as a few bags of horse manure I had. Peppers, basil, cucumbers, six tomato plants, scarlett runner beans, and several summer and winter squashes I had started from seed were slowly planted. Dell constructed a small raised bed and planted various leafy greens.
Spring ripened into summer, and as our joint-neighborhood garden grew vertically, spread horizontally, and began fruiting, it drew more and more interest from people who stroll by, joggers, dog-walkers, and parents with kids on various forms of wheels: strollers, scooters, trikes, and bikes. Almost every evening that I have been out watering or harvesting, someone going past has struck up a conversation with me about the garden. Neighbors from Poland, Japan, Mexico, China, the Philippines, and El Salvador have stopped to comment on the improvement the garden has made aesthetically to our little corner of the world. I sometimes took those opportunities to pass off some of the abundant zucchini harvest. Hah! I also took great pleasure in dropping off produce on the porches of neighbors whom I know particularly appreciated the fresh vegetables, including the homeowner whose property we are bordering.
The garden has brought tremendous camaraderie to the neighborhood in just it's first season. Even as we are still harvesting the over-abundance of tomatoes, I am already anticipating future plantings and future connections between neighbors nearby or farther flung.