Urban Agriculture : container gardening (Technology for the Poor)


Read at : Technology for the Poor


Urban Agriculture:

A Guide to Container Gardens

With inexpensive containers and suitable soil mix,
you can create an urban garden virtually anywhere – on roof tops,
vacant city lots, brown fields, and unused portion of parking lots

Job S. Ebenezer, Ph.D.
President, Technology for the Poor, Mechanicsburg, PA 17055.


It is estimated that by 2030 AD nearly 50% of the world’s population may live in urban areas. As a consequence of this many millions of acres of productive farmland are expected to be lost to housing and other usage. Any further encroachment of natural habitat for other creatures may result in serious degradation of the eco-system. In addition to the loss of farmland, the new urban sprawl also creates urban wastelands like: roof tops brown fields and unused paved spaces.

Due to the recent terrorist attacks, food security and safety are seriously compromised. A large amount of the fruits and vegetables consumed by the US population is currently imported. There is no widespread testing of these imported produce for harmful chemicals and biological agents at the border crossings. Urban agriculture has the ability to mitigate this problem as the fruits and vegetable grown in the urban areas can be carefully monitored and safeguarded.

Migration from rural areas also brings into the urban areas many persons with very little formal education. This may result in unemployment and under employment of a sizable number of people. Idleness and frustration of the masses may result in the increase of crime and other problems. Urban agriculture may be a way to occupy the inner city youth, parolees and persons on welfare.

Urban agriculture has the potential for creating micro-enterprises that can be owned and operated by the community members without too much of initial capital. Inner city churches and community service organizations can use urban agriculture as part of their programs for the seniors, homeless persons, parolees and disabled.


Urban farming is not new. Ancient cities like Babylon had their hanging gardens and farms in or in the vicinity of urban areas. During World War II, it is estimated that nearly 40% of the fresh vegetables and fruits in this country were produced in the Victory Gardens. Only recently, the US has started to import much of the fruits and vegetables from other countries.

A few decades ago ECHO (Education Concerns for Hunger Organization) in Fort Myers, Florida, has introduced container garden techniques for impoverished counties like Haiti. In 1993, Dr. Job Ebenezer, former Director of Environmental Stewardship and Hunger Education at the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) established a container garden on the roof of the parking garage of the ELCA offices in Chicago. The hope was that the roof top garden would serve as a role model for creative use of urban space throughout the country. Dr. Ebenezer proved the feasibility of growing vegetables in plastic wading pools, used tires and feed sacks. The demonstration garden has proved to be highly successful. Each year since 1993, urban gardeners at the ELCA offices in Chicago harvested nearly 1,000 pounds of vegetables from nearly 40 wading pools and a dozen of used tires and feed sacks.


There are several reasons why urban gardens using containers are effective:

  1. They enable us to practice “intensive” gardening method through maximum utilization of limited space.
  2. It is easy to practice “intercropping” (planting a variety of plants in one container) which ensures the health of plants due to diversity.
  3. It is possible to “conserve” both soil and water as containers prevent run offs of soil and excessive watering.
  4. Urban gardens “make use of urban wasteland” (vacant lots, brown fields, unused parking lots, and roof tops)
  5. Urban gardening provides “meaningful employment” for persons with limited skills and formal education.
  6. Establishing and maintaining an urban garden are very “inexpensive”.
  7. Urban gardens provide creative ways to “recycle” old tires and other containers that otherwise would be thrown into landfills.
  8. Churches and social service organizations can use urban gardening to “rehabilitate, create income generation projects, and provide therapy.


Published by

Willem Van Cotthem

Honorary Professor of Botany, University of Ghent (Belgium). Scientific Consultant for Desertification and Sustainable Development.