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Vacant Lot Transformed into a Garden by San Diego Firemen ... in 1917

I've been waiting for an appropriate hook to post this awesome photo—"Vacant Lot Transformed Into a Garden by San Diego Firemen"—for awhile now, so what the heck. It was sent to me by my urban gardening, schoolyard gardening, anywhere/everywhere gardening-obsessed friend Daniel Bowman Simon, who a couple short years ago toured the country in a "Topsy Turvy" bus (once owned and driven by Ben, of Ben & Jerry's) with a garden on the roof. It was part of the Who Farm campaign to lobby presidential candidates to plant an organic garden at the White House (which worked!); Simon is now organizing like crazy to have the same done at City Hall in New York City. This new project is called Peoples Garden NYC, and I encourage any New Yorkers—by geography or spirit—to check out the campaign and sign the petition.

We tend to think of urban agriculture as this new City 2.0 evolution of the urban space, but—as this photo Simon dug up makes pretty clear—we've got quite a bit to learn by looking at the work of our more resourceful ancestors. It seems most common these days for prospective urban farmers to have to battle the city authorities to plant seeds in a vacant lot. In 1917 San Diego, the city workers themselves were doing it.


As for the photo itself, he dug it out of an age-old issue of The American City from 1917.

The whole article is embedded below, but I particularly enjoyed this bit:

There has been agitation this season concerning the vacant city lots, and efforts have been made [throughout] the country to make such patches of land bring in returns in the way of crops, thus relieving the situation incident to the high cost of living. A group of firemen at one of the San Diego stations secured permission to cultivate a lot across the street from their building, which had been left vacant by the removal of an old stable. The soil proved very rich and the fire-fighters soon had the lot in shape for various crops, some twenty different vegetables being grown at one time, including carrots, turnips, lettuce, peas, onions, radishes, etc.

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