Introducing City Dirt

January 10, 2012

Starting today, Amy Pennington -- urban farmer, founder of GoGo Green Garden, and author of Urban Pantry and Apartment Gardening -- will be writing a biweekly column for FOOD52 on how to start growing your own food, no matter how tiny your garden-to-be is.

Read on for how to get growing!

amy pennington  container garden

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- Amy Pennington

I spent the cold winter morning staring out at all of my container plants from the warmth and safety of my Seattle apartment trying to determine how best to ‘introduce’ myself to you. On the other side of the sliding glass door sits my faltering plants – their leaves turning dry and brown, likely due to under-watering more than the recent chill. Embarrassing, really, as I grow food for a living. While I love each of those edible plants dearly, winter renders me lazy and neglectful after a long season of gardening. I am tired.
I am an urban farmer. I grow food for people in their city backyards, front yards, side yards, you name it: any patch of land in which I can persuade food to grow. And by food, I mean greens, roots, fruits, herbs, flowers, and more.  I started growing food in other people’s back yards many years ago, as a weekend hobby. Eventually, my environmental idealism combined with my passion for food and inspired my business, GoGo Green Garden. I build plant and tend edible gardens for city folk. Best job ever. With GoGo I get to dig around in the dirt, plant seeds, and watch food grow.

Additionally, I’m a food writer and contribute columns to some local magazines and wrote a cookbook, Urban Pantry. (You may recall me getting my ass kicked by Frankies in the 2010 Piglet Tournament?!) I use the gardens for inspiration and write about what is in season, often turning to preservation as a tool to extend the harvest. The gardens are constantly dictating what I cook.

urban pantry  apartment gardening

The irony here is that I live in a small one bedroom apartment, so I don’t have a garden plot to call my own. I make do with what I have; in my case, an east-facing deck that gets the first rays of morning sun. Over time, I have overcrowded this tiny 75-square-foot space with pots, containers, hanging baskets, window boxes, and more. I’ve been forced to figure out a production schedule using only containers and through years of trial and error have it pretty dialed in.

My hope is to inspire people to eat a broader range of food and flavors than they are used to. I also want to evoke a sort of small-scale self-sufficiency in the daily lives of urbanites. The end goal is to have a prolific garden that both inspires and influences what we cook indoors.

In this new column, I will offer biweekly projects for anyone wanting to grow food at home – be it on a stretch of backyard or a pot on a balcony. Posts will be project based (like, “How & Why to Start Seeds”) and then have sub-sections of instruction for both back yard and container environments.

The concepts will follow the seasons so you’re not left wondering what you should be doing NOW. (We’ll also have a side bar addressing regional zones, so you have a quick reference for the climate in which you live.) Consider this your go-to guide for lessons in urban farming from a girl who has had to make her imperfect conditions work. My favorite photographer, Della Chen, will take instructional photos of gardens along the way so you have a rad visual guide to follow as well.

And of course, I want your questions! The goal is to get each of you food lovers engaged in growing your own food. It’s quite simple, really, and it opens up a world of flavors that you otherwise cannot find conventionally. (When is the last time you saw Tangerine Sage at the grocery?) So, mark your calendars, sharpen your garden forks and stay tuned.

First up? Figuring out what the hell to grow. Having a clear vision is a great place to start.

Photos by Della Chen


See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Carol Rosen
    Carol Rosen
  • SunBunny
  • Carole H
    Carole H
  • Jay Geneske
    Jay Geneske
  • debbie pond
    debbie pond
I am a cook and food writer, author & gardener who is passionate about the environment, using sustainable resources, reducing my impact on the earth and making conscious food choices that are both smart for the planet and taste fantastic. When I'm not knee deep in dirt growing food, you can find me in the kitchen where I'm likely standing over a canning pot or staring up in to my pantry deciding what to make. In the gardens, I have a business gogo green garden, wherein I build, plant & tend edible gardens for folks in their urban backyards. I also launched a garden-sharing website in 2009 that connects urban gardeners to unused garden space across the country - Check it out!


Carol R. March 14, 2015
So great to find your site! I used to live in the Shenandoah Valley where I had a huge veggie garden and loved the ability to serve fresh veggies and make my own pasta sauce. Now we live in a small condo with a small sunny kitchen, but no outdoor space so I really hope you can come up with some great ideas for my desire to re-establish a veggie garden for our family, all of which have dietary problems.
Pat T. February 19, 2019
Many years ago when I lived in Manhattan, I converted my 2nd bedroom into a “green house” and started raising some veggies and flowers. Later I was lucky to find an apartment with a 20’x40’ yard where I could expand my garden and allow others to view it. At the same time Roosevelt Island was just coming into its own - and the decision was made to allocate space for residents to have their “city garden”. It was wonderful - something fun to do that brought people together in a very healthy way (unless of course someone thought your plants had bugs and were infecting their plants).
SunBunny October 1, 2013
I've just started growing tomato plants and the bugs have been loving it too! What are some plants that deter mites from coming to the tomato plants that I can gather around them?
Pat T. February 19, 2019
Years ago my tomatoes had a terrible problem with those pesky tomato worms. I was told to add rose bushes and that would rid me of the problem. And, it did. Of course you had to avoid the thorns when you picked the tomatoes. I went to the fish market and bought a few fish heads which I planted as well - my tomatoes zoomed in growth - plants were gigantic and the tomatoes were fantastic. So much fun. Also boric acid added to the soil helps.
Carole H. January 29, 2012
I have been gardening for years but have been stymied by the lack of sun in my urban back yard. We have several gorgeous maple trees but I just cannot get tomatoes to do well with so little sun. i look forward to this column.
Amy P. January 31, 2012
Carole, did you see this weeks post on tracking your sun?! Will be a good guide for what you CAN grow successfully.
Jay G. January 24, 2012
This is quite exciting indeed. I recently moved to a new apartment in Manhattan with an east-facing deck. Just ordered a bunch of seeds and can't wait to get started.
debbie P. January 21, 2012
Looking forward to your article. I am mentoring a homeschool class this semester. The big project is to grow something. Anything, anywhere. They have heard a lecture on soil and this week it was on intensive gardening. This will be a great reference site.
bmallorca January 20, 2012
What a great addition to the Food52 site! Was negotiating for a raised bed last season, and with your inspiration it might happen now! I hope you will include suggestions for "part-time" gardeners; those of us with limited time to play in the dirt. Looking forward to your first column!
Amy P. January 31, 2012
Hello! You know, if you do it right the first time, you actually don't need to spend much time in the garden outside of daily watering, which is time consuming. Unless you invest in automatic drip system!
Pat T. February 19, 2019
I can’t recall the name of the book I used - it was considered the “bible” of indoor gardening! It was fantastic....let me see what I can find on Amazon. Perhaps it is still published (an updated version since this was MANY moons ago). And it was a hydroponic garden. Before that phase I would order flats of pansies from a fantastic gardening place in Connecticut (for me) and lilies of the valley for my mother (her love and her wedding bouquet). White Flower Farm is the name of the place I ordered from. There are a lot of books on Amazon for indoor gardening. Enjoy.....and tons more of “things” you can purchase to make your indoor gardening experience more fulfilling!
bmallorca January 20, 2012
What a great addition to the Food52 site! Was negotiating for a raised bed last season, and with your inspiration it might happen now! I hope you will include suggestions for "part-time" gardeners; those of us with limited time to play in the dirt. Looking forward to your first column!
Peggio January 19, 2012
Oh, I am SO excited to see your new column!
We have a small raised bed (8x16) that we have had some success with growing peas, root vegetables, herbs & tomatoes. We live in the Northeast with very little sun during the winter but I would LOVE to get some tips on how to start growing indoors for the winter. because I go through withdrawal after the last of the root vegetables have been harvested in the Fall.
Any & all ideas about how to have some homegrown winter success in the Northeast is welcome. I'm going to check out all the links here in the comments section & use my B&N gift card to get your book Amy ... I'm hooked already just on the ideas you have shared in this first column!
Amy P. January 20, 2012
Awesome, thanks! We will cover seed starting, winter gardening and more as the season and year progresses. The column runs every other Tuesday, so stay tuned! In the interim, have you ever considered sprouting? It's a great winter time growing project.
edamame2003 January 18, 2012
I am excited beyond words! I finally have a garden area again (after 2 years of poisonous rail ties lining my yard). Cannot wait to follow your every word. And I live in southern California, so there's no excuse not to grow my food again. a brilliant addition to food52!
tanmeet January 17, 2012
Amy-I keep checking back every day to see when this starts! What's the start date and can I get them emailed to me? This is just the kickstart I need to get gardening!
Amy P. January 17, 2012
Will run every other Tuesday! Thanks for your interest.
Binx January 16, 2012
Great! We're moving from New Orleans to Seattle next month . . . leaving behind our citrus trees. We'll get your book though, and we look forward to the blog.
DanaYares January 16, 2012
So Cool! We have a business in Northern California called My Urban Farm

I'm always SO happy when I see other people urban farming and teaching others. GO GIRL!
waterbabyandrea January 15, 2012
Sounds great, I live in a bachelor apartment, patio on the ground level, and indirect light, (northwest facing main window.) I would like to grow my own herbs for this year, if that goes ok will get more ambitious next year. maybe. ;)
Kate's K. January 15, 2012
Excited to read your new column. I have a small raised plot, 4x 8 in our community garden and have never been more inspired to grow my own produce. It was soooo much fun and so gratifying over this past - this tiny organic plot produced several lbs of sugar snap peas, 125 tomatoes, green beans, 7 different lettuces, chard, herbs and beautiful zinnias. I just picked my last salad 2 weeks ago.

If any reader has any inclination to garden no matter how small the space - do it! It is a most fulfilling hobby. Thanks Amy - very excited and looking forward to your column!
Amy P. January 16, 2012
Awesome! I just inherited a small plot, too, so I finally have a little piece of land. Make sure to add some root vegetables to your crop list, Kate! That will give you a more well-rounded rotation.
Lynnda January 15, 2012
Amy - I'm new to urban gardening and would like some suggestions for how to seed shop. What resources do you recommend? Thanks.
Amy P. January 16, 2012
Stay tuned for an upcoming post, Lynnda - we run every two weeks!
sheredel January 15, 2012
how do you know when new postings occur?
Amy P. January 16, 2012
Every two weeks! You can subscribe to the newsletter for a reminder of updates, too.
sheredel January 15, 2012
count me in, hoping to become inspired to create an indoor garden. Novice level gardener here!
petrini.elisa January 15, 2012
love this! i live in NYC and have only one sunny southeast facing window in my kitchen. i've been longing for an herb garden! what can you grow in such a small space??
Amy P. January 16, 2012
Hi Elisa, It's hard to do. Stay tuned for a post on containers and check out:
Patrisha January 15, 2012
Looking forward to urban dirt talk. I've been gardening, canning & cooking for years, but it is always interesting & fun to hear new ideas or even old ones. Can't wait.
kirstjen January 15, 2012
I love the idea. I live in downtown Chicago & would like to grow something... No patio, very limited Southern exposure. I'm on the second floor & am shaded by a building across the street. I'd be thrilled to hear your suggestions.