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Why Grow Produce in a Berkeley Backyard?

There are significant benefits to small-scale urban agriculture such as that contemplated by the Berkeley Edible Garden Initiative:

  • Better use of urban, suburban and agricultural land resources
  • Better health for consumers/residents and workers
  • Better pay and working conditions for Agricultural workers, and
  • A significant reduction in Food Miles associated with the production, transportation and acquisition of fresh produce.

Better Use of Land Resources:

Urban and suburban gardens and lots are a significant untapped resource for the production of fresh fruits and vegetables for surrounding communities. A typical Berkeley garden, intensively farmed, can easily produce enough fruit and vegetables for five families – or more – about 48 weeks a year.

By bringing this food production into the urban and suburban core, land just beyond the suburban edge is made available for the types of calorie and protein crops that require more space. The “food circle” surrounding the metropolitan area is pulled inward, reducing the distance all food travels to reach urban markets and plates.

Better Health for Consumers:

Each day produce sits in a warehouse, on a truck or train and on market shelves, important nutrients are lost. The vitamin and nutrient load of fresh foods are at their peak in the hours and days immediately after they have been harvested. In addition, it has been shown that children – and adults – who participate in growing fresh produce are likely to eat a wider variety and greater quantity of fruits and vegetables in their daily diets. Finally, vegetables that thrive in Bay Area soils and climate are particularly healthy – kale, chard, spinach, broccoli and other dark greens that offer maximum health benefits. These items are often overlooked in supermarkets carrying out-of-season products – some flown in from as far away as Chile. If you eat what you grow in a Berkeley backyard, you will inevitably be “eating healthy.”

Benefits for Workers:

Large scale farming in California has always depended on low wage, often immigrant workers. Conditions are often harsh, and workers are exposed to high concentrations of pesticides. Pay is usually at or even below minimum wage, hours are long, and living conditions rudimentary.

Small scale urban farming – using organic methods – provides significantly improved conditions. Workers must be skilled and are no longer hidden from public view. They are less likely to be underpaid or exploited. Families have a relationship with those who help to produce their food, and respect for the expertise and labor required to grow fresh produce – week after week, year after year – is greatly enhanced.

Reduction in Food Miles:

On average, food travels 1,500 miles to reach grocery store shelves. The fossil fuels used in transport release particulate and greenhouse-gas causing emissions, greatly increasing each consumer’s ecological footprint – and creating a toxic environment. Fossil fuel fertilizer and pesticide inputs also increase our reliance on non-renewable energy.

Once a small urban edible garden has been installed, the external inputs are limited. With organic farming, composting and other sustainable methods, the backyard farm requires fewer and more benign inputs than the conventional food system. Seeds, water, soil, sunlight and labor – often provided in whole or part by residents – require few or no food miles. Consumers are “on site” – food travels by foot from garden to kitchen and, where neighbors and friends share, by foot or a few blocks by car – a huge reduction from 1,500 miles!