During the 2020 lockdown, I manifested my first Little Free Garden. A Pittsburgh-based urban garden advocate had just told me about her work helping alchemize front yards into food. I mentioned to a dog walker that I’d been wanting to plant vegetables in my front yard since my elderly neighbor complained about her fear of getting sick from grocery store runs. A few hours later, the dog-walker unloaded some scrap wood from his truck, macgyvered it into a raised bed, and wished me luck.
Drawing from indigenous farming principles, where food can be grown at home and can serve the community, Little Free Gardens are like Little Free Libraries, but for produce. The trend gained momentum in Moorhead, Minnesota after an explosion of streetside free gardens. The concept is simple: construct a raised bed near a public sidewalk and plant food that’s free for the taking.
Before planting my first Little Free Garden, I never had much luck growing food. But when I mentioned I was growing food for them too, all my neighbors came by to help. A friend taught my sons how to build another raised bed, neighbors provided seeds or veggie starts and took turns watering when I was out of town. My kids and partner planted five fruit trees. Neighbors I’d never spoken to asked why I would plant food that, gulp, someone would take. I explained that I wanted my neighbors to share in the bounty of fresh organic food and that this was my gift to them.
Mat Roman, co-president of California Farm and Garden added that Little Free Gardens help minimize food waste because people will only take what they plan to eat. But he also acknowledged that some folks don’t dig the garden aesthetic, don’t want random people in their front yards, or don’t have space for beds.
As for what to plant, Roman adds, “It's always a good idea to plant things you like.” Think about high-yield crops like broccoli. “And you can't go wrong with citrus trees in San Diego. It's a low start-up cost, low ongoing maintenance costs, and once they start producing you're almost guaranteed to have more fruit than you know what to do with.”
Currently, there are 6 registered Little Free Gardens in San Diego, but likely there are dozens more. In fact, when I went to City Farmers Nursery to purchase my veggie starts, I met a young woman also starting a Little Free Garden outside her apartment. Later that week, she drove by my garden, offered a thumbs up, and said she’d be back in the fall to help harvest all the goodies.