City of Somerville, MA
Urban Agriculture Initiative Blog

Posts Tagged: Somerville

Growing gardens, grows communities
by guest blogger Kim Schmid

As I walk around the city, it’s hard not to notice the urban agriculture boom happening here. Pots of tomatoes, peppers, and basil grow happily in many a front yard. I’ve even seen corn growing in front of my neighbor’s house.That’s right, corn. In Somerville! Such a sight is so fantastic, that you just might need to stop, introduce yourself to that neighbor and let him know that his garden makes you happy.

I did.

As I notice all this wonderful growth, I find myself thinking not just about how these vegetables nourish the people growing them, but about how a tended and well-cared for space feeeeelllss better and brings together the people living there. Growing gardens, grows communities.

Here’s a sampling of the before/after pics I have seen while exploring Somerville. What spaces have you seen transformed? What is the story behind that transformation? Who have you met along the way?

Kim Schmidt is the program coordinator for the Somerville Urban Ag Ambassador program- a joint project between the City of Somerville and Green City Growers. She is also the volunteer coordinator for the Somerville Community Growing Center.

There is NOTHING (truly nothing!) like a homegrown tomato.
3 Year old Isham Martin of East Somerville holds up his bounty of “Big Boy” tomatoes grown at his family’s Glenn Street community garden plot.  yummmmm.

There is NOTHING (truly nothing!) like a homegrown tomato.

3 Year old Isham Martin of East Somerville holds up his bounty of “Big Boy” tomatoes grown at his family’s Glenn Street community garden plot.  yummmmm.


Interested in learning about gardening and growing food?  Want to connect with others who are into it, too? Have a look at some of the events happening in the area. If you know of more events, please add them in the discussion!

SATURDAY, September 6, 2014
The Fall 2014 Mid-Cambridge PLANT SWAP, NOON to 2 pm 
a Fayette Park (off Fayette St., across from the former Longfellow School and library, near corner with Broadway) Bring anything that’s growing in too much abundance in your garden. Elegant packaging not required, but please write down plant names. Expect perennials, biennial seedlings, seeds, houseplants, catalogs, pots, and lots of “whatever.” Nothing to swap? Come anyway—meet other gardeners! Rain date Sunday, Sep.7, 12-2

SUNDAY,September 7, 2014
Belmont Green Garden Tour,  12 to 3. Come visit some of the most sustainable gardens in Belmont and talk with their miracle-workers! You will find everything from hoop-houses to compost know-how; beautiful perennials to delicious annuals…and yes, a bunny tractor! Pick up some new knowledge, commiserate on the dry season and enjoy the day with us. Maps available at the Beech Street Center that day or more info HERE.

SUNDAY,September 7, 2014
Watertown Citizens’Fall Life-Friendly Garden Tour, 1:30 to 5.
This fall will bring the 14th Life-Friendly Garden Tour on Sunday, Formerly known as the Chemical-Free Yard and Garden Tour, this event is co-sponsored by Watertown Citizens for Peace, Justice and the Environment and Watertown Community Gardens. A chemical-free growing space, however humble, is a welcoming place for beleaguered honey-bees, bumblebees, butterflies, moths and other important pollinators! Click here for more info.

SATURDAY, September 20, 2014
Somerville Garden Club Annual Plant Sale, 9am to 1pm, Davis Sq.  Great stuff, at good prices, and lots of advice.  Always fun. More info here.


Come on into Somerville City Hall where you will be greeted by Elena Viveiros, 311 Customer Service Representative, and the bounty from our demonstration garden.  Tomatoes and a smile, what more could you ask for?

Come on into Somerville City Hall where you will be greeted by Elena Viveiros, 311 Customer Service Representative, and the bounty from our demonstration garden. Tomatoes and a smile, what more could you ask for?


Cities are changing their zoning to address urban agriculture and Somerville is at the head of the class.

Read about it in American Planning Association’s this month’s Zoning Practice Newsletter (above).


Q: Where would you want to be when the vampires come?

A: The South St. Farm in SOMERVILLE!

Not only does the South Street Farm have freshly harvested vampire repellent (common name: garlic), but there is a water catchment system that captures 600 gallons of rain water and fantastic vegetables growing all over. This is how you transform a vacant parking lot into a vampire  apocalypse shelter. yessss.

'Tis the Season!
Grown in Somerville and sooooooo delicious. YESSSSSS!

'Tis the Season!

Grown in Somerville and sooooooo delicious. YESSSSSS!


Somerville Street Plants:
One man’s weed is another woman’s remedy?!

By Somerville resident and guest blogger, Steph Zabel

There are so many amazing –and usually overlooked plants that grow right at our doorsteps, in sidewalk cracks, and throughout abandoned city lots. Many of these plants, often condemned as “weeds,” are in fact wonderful examples of how plants can survive, and even thrive, in the harshest of growing conditions. Haven’t you ever wondered how those tenacious dandelions manage to grow in sidewalks where soil and water are not easy to come by?

Many of these so-called weeds also have medicinal properties or are nutrient-rich wild foods. Humans have had a relationship with these plants for centuries, using them to stay healthy, strong and nourished. So, here’s a brief run down of four of my favorite Somerville street plants (pictured above) and their medicinal and edible uses:

1. Burdock, Arctium lappa
With broad, fanning leaves and a stalk of magenta, thistle-like flowers, burdock is a noticeable plant in many corners of Somerville. The root is much esteemed as a food and can be harvested in early spring or late fall to eat sautéed or roasted, much like carrots. It has a sweet, meaty flavor that is very fortifying. Medicinally burdock is a plant that is incredibly nourishing for the body and gradually helps to re-build overall strength and vitality, especially in cases where someone is depleted and run down from stress. It is also great for skin issues such as rash, itchy skin, eczema and acne. Burdock helps to clear out toxins from the system (which can manifest as skin problems), and supports liver function. This is one of the best herbs to take consistently over the span of many months.

2. Dandelion, Taraxacum officinale
The ubiquitous dandelion is found all over town. This cheerful yellow flower, the bane of many lawn growers, blooms from early spring throughout the growing season. It seems that the more you try to weed it out, the more it will grow back. Dandelion is a persistent and prolific plant; fortunately so, since it is one of the single most beneficial herbs for humankind. Both the leaves and the roots are used medicinally to support liver health. It is also a prime herb for digestion – with its very bitter taste it stimulates our gastric juices, prepares our bodies to digest food, and helps with the assimilation of fats and nutrients. I find that drinking a tea of dandelion over several days helps me feel fresh, happy and invigorated, as if my liver were thanking me for treating it so kindly. Dandelion leaves and flowers can both be added fresh to salads, a beautiful way to use the abundance of this plant during the growing season.

3. Plantain, Plantago spp.
What an adaptable creature this humble weed is! You will see plantain growing in sidewalk cracks, waste lots, abandoned areas, places with poor soil, little soil, pollution, i.e. in places where most plants would not even think about growing. Fortunately for us, this inconspicuous herb is a kind friend to humans, and many herbalists call it the “Band-Aid plant” or the “First-Aid plant.” Indeed, plantain helps us with all sorts of minor issues and can be used topically as a poultice for wounds and scrapes, sunburn, itchy bug bites and even poison ivy. (It once helped me quite well with poison ivy outbreak.) Next time you become mosquito food, try placing a crushed (or chewed up) plantain leaf on the area that has been bitten – see if you don’t notice that the itch and swelling is relieved almost immediately.

4. Mullein, Verbascum thapsus
Mullein is a plant that you will see growing throughout much of the US, and although it is not a native plant, it has now become naturalized throughout much of the country. Another name for this useful plant is Lungwort, which gives a clue that it has traditionally been used for all diseases of the lungs and upper respiratory system. It has helped people with asthma, coughs and pneumonia, mostly by use of an old-fashioned steam bath. Furthermore, the beautiful yellow flowers that bloom on the mullein stalk are still used to this day to treat ear infections, especially in children. This is one of my favorite plants, and at this time of year you can see the two-year-old mulleins blooming along the highways and in forgotten areas.

Remember, when it comes to harvesting any plant material in the city, use good judgement. Gather plants that you know are growing in clean areas, away from road traffic and pollution, and also consider the soil quality. As always, you want to be mindful of the health of the surrounding environment when you are collecting plants for edible or medicinal use in an urban environment. If you are unsure, do not collect. A win-win situation is to ask gardeners and farmers if you can come and collect their pesky (but useful) “weeds”. Happy plant harvesting!

Steph Zabel is a community herbalist and educator based in Somerville. She teaches about practical home herbalism topics, and offers individual holistic health consultations. Steph is also the founder of Herbstalk, a community conference that teaches people about plants. Learn more about her work at:


Somerville City Hall garden is growing like crazy!

I’m talking serious amounts of cherry tomatoes and peppers!  Here is Max McCarthy, Urban Renewal Specialist,  tending to the container gardens on his lunch hour. There are 6 City Hall gardeners who water and two Urban Ag Ambassadors who tend it. Another special thing?  90 year old Guy Amara gave us those tomato plants. We also have eggplants, herbs and flowers!


Read Landscape Architecture Magazine article about Somerville leading the way on urban ag!

(doing the happy dance)

Here is a link to the July, 2014 issue of LAM. See page 44.