Urban Green

Even the smallest of balconies can host a few plants and add some much needed greenery to the urban jungle.

Even the smallest of balconies can host a few plants and add some much needed greenery to the urban jungle.

By Sion Lee

I have always had an affinity for all things green. I love the feeling of cool grass beneath my bare feet, the smell of the bouquet of roses sitting on my kitchen table, the gracefulness of a weeping willow… I am easily enamored by plants and trees. The New York Botanical Garden is my favorite place to be – ever. It is not a surprising confession then, when I say that one of my goals in life is to have a huge garden where I can plant my own collection of greens.

It’s slightly difficult, however, to maintain such a garden in New York City. While it is true that certain boroughs have more space than others (basically all boroughs except Manhattan), space is limited and expensive. As a resident of Queens, New York City, I am fortunate enough to live in a building that has a balcony. The balcony is made of concrete, but it has enough space to place potted plants and small trees. My family grows green peppers and ruby red cherry tomatoes each year. Yes, they’re delicious – but they are not enough to quench my need for seed.

This is where community gardens come into play. A community garden is self-explanatory: it is a garden for the people, created by the people. It is not uncommon for vacant lots to turn into community gardens. It is place where the people living in the community can come together to grow fresh produce. A community garden has many environmental and health benefits. For one, more plants would mean more oxygen restored into the air. This would reduce air pollution, which is especially crucial in highly polluted urban areas. Participating in a community garden would also increase environmental awareness.

Locally grown fruits and vegetables are often said to taste better and to be better for the environment. While there have not been any comprehensive studies to support these claims, I believe that just reaping what you have sowed is a truly more rewarding experience than buying produce from chain grocery stores. Furthermore, while buying locally might be more expensive than regular produce, growing your own food is the cheapest option of all. This has a great health implication for people of lower socioeconomic standing; community gardens make healthier foods more accessible to those who usually cannot afford it.

Besides, community gardens are fun. They allow you to interact with people from your community who share the same green interests as you do. Having a strong sense of community can create an opportunity for neighborhood crime rates to decrease. Go with your child, best friend, partner- or just go alone. No matter what, you are guaranteed to have a wonderful time.

About the Author: Sion (pronounced see-on) is an undergraduate student at the University of Michigan. She is an intern in the EPA Region 2 Public Affairs Division. She is a native of Queens. Sion’s favorite hobbies include eating, listening to Stevie Wonder, and breaking stereotypes.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.

Farmers markets: shrinking food’s footprint

Corn growing just steps from the National Mall.

Corn growing just steps from the National Mall.

by Jennie Saxe

On a sightseeing trip to Washington, DC, my family and I observed two unexpected sights, just steps from the National Mall: a busy farmers market in some valuable downtown parking spaces and huge stalks of corn growing in a small garden plot right next to the sidewalk. Farmers markets and urban gardens are a great way to feed your family healthy foods and protect natural resources at the same time. Reducing the number of steps between you and your food means that less water and energy are needed to get the food onto your dinner table.

The close connection between energy production, water supply, and food production has been described as the “energy-water-food nexus.” In fact, over 94% of water withdrawals in the United States are to support these three sectors. The energy-water connection has been the subject of past Healthy Waters blogs.  And we’ve talked about the work that the agriculture community is doing to protect water quality, as well, since our farms are a vital part of our economy that rely on clean water supplies for their livelihoods and to feed the country.

Let’s follow the food to find out how energy, food, and water connections all come together, by focusing on one of a cook’s favorite ingredients: butter. When you think of all of the steps that are involved in producing a stick of butter – from irrigation for the crops that feed the cows, to the processing of the butter itself, and its transport to your supermarket – energy and water are intricately involved in every step along the way. Globally, the water footprint of butter is estimated to be 5,553 liters of water per kilogram of butter. That is equivalent to about 167 gallons per quarter-pound stick – enough water to fill about 4 standard-sized bathtubs!

What if there were fewer steps in the process? Imagine that the cows are grazed on grass pastureland, instead of on delivered feed and that the butter was made locally. Farmers markets bring fresh, local food right into the heart of communities, while minimizing the impact on our natural resources.

While doing some research on the miniature corn field and farmers market that I stumbled upon, I found out that this week, August 2-8, was proclaimed National Farmers Market Week by the US Department of Agriculture. This week, get out to meet the hard-working farmers that grow your food at a farmers market near you!

About the author: Dr. Jennie Saxe joined EPA in 2003 and works in the Water Protection Division on sustainability programs. If your community is looking for assistance in developing a local food system, EPA’s Smart Growth program is accepting applications for Local Foods, Local Places technical support. Check out the announcement for details; applications must be received by September 15, 2015.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.