Seeds: Sacramento rated best in California for urban gardening

Published: Saturday, Sep. 14, 2013 - 12:00 am

When it comes to urban gardening, Sacramento is as good as it gets among California cities.

Tell us something we didn’t know. If not official, we felt it in our green thumbs.

According to a new study by financial literacy and consumer advocacy website NerdWallet, Sacramento ranks No. 5 nationally among “Best Cities for Urban Gardening.” Released earlier this month, the study rated Washington, D.C., on top, followed by Las Vegas, Phoenix and Seattle.

“Urban gardening has really taken off,” noted NerdWallet analyst Divya Raghavan, who conducted the study. “Cities are cultivating green space to balance harsher urban areas. Some cities are really putting a high value on gardens and green space.”

NerdWallet, a really goofy but memorable name for a website devoted to such serious topics, used three equally weighted factors to determine its rankings: the number of community garden plots; spending on public parks and recreation; and percentage of sunny days.

Raghavan cited her hometown of San Francisco as a prime example of a city that values green space.

“I can walk to four parks from my apartment,” she said. “How cool is that? We have tons of parks, just not that much space for gardening.”

And not that much sun, which is why San Francisco did not make this Top 10 list.

Instead, the study lauded the efforts of the city of Sacramento’s Department of Parks and Recreation for its community garden program as well as the grass-roots efforts of the Sacramento Area Community Garden Coalition. Soil Born Farms’ community and urban farming efforts also were noted.

Although flattered by the ranking, Bill Maynard — Sacramento’s nationally known community garden coordinator — admits he was a little perplexed by the study.

“It’s hard to believe that we are No. 5,” said Maynard, president-elect of the American Community Garden Association. “There are some glaring left-outs like Los Angeles, Chicago, Atlanta, Des Moines (Iowa) and Portland (Ore.).

“And (the rankings) included cities such as Las Vegas — where they only have about three community gardens — and Phoenix, (where) they don’t even garden in the summer in July and August.”

This summer, the city of Sacramento has overseen 12 community gardens as part of its parks program. Including church and other non-school gardens, there are about 50 community gardens in Sacramento County, Maynard said.

“We have a good number, but not anywhere near Seattle,” he added.

At last month’s national community garden conference in Seattle, Maynard saw for himself.

“They have 88 (community gardens) in their park system alone, and they have five (coordinators) organizing them.

“Interest in community gardens is still growing nationwide,” he added. “There’s no sign of slowing down. At the national conference, everybody reported increased interest and participation.

“That’s great,” he noted. “Even though the economy is turning around, there’s still a need for community gardens. A garden is a good hedge against inflation and has many other benefits, too. You eat healthier, you exercise, you know where your food comes from. It’s all good.”

Sacramento offers 5.7 community garden plots per 10,000 residents, one of the measurements used in the study’s rankings. Other factors were capital spending on parks and recreation per resident, and average number of sunny days per year (called the “sunshine percentage”). Although Sacramento spends only about $20 per resident on parks and rec, the area enjoys 78 percent sunny days.

By contrast, Washington, D.C., spends $179 per resident on parks and rec, the most by any of the cities surveyed, and offers 27 garden plots per 10,000 people. Madison, Wis., which didn’t make the overall Top 10, leads with 33 plots per 10,000 residents. Seattle has 18 plots per 10,000 residents.

“I was really surprised by the high number of community gardens in Washington, D.C.,” Raghavan said. “It’s such a tourist city; it’s important to them to look pretty for visitors.”

Like Sacramento, Las Vegas also got a boost from good weather, Raghavan said. “Las Vegas spends a lot on parks and rec, $112 per resident. Also, it’s sunny — it helps things grow.”

Rounding out the Top 10 were (in order) Fresno; Tucson, Ariz.; Milwaukee; El Paso, Texas; and Denver. Read more about the study at

Although a long way from Seattle’s standards, Sacramento’s local list of community gardens keeps growing, Maynard said.

A new addition will open in October on the Sacramento campus of the UC Davis Medical Center. Another community garden is due to break ground at Wild Rose Park in North Natomas next year. The large park is still in the planning stages, but Maynard hopes to have 24 plots available at that site by next fall.

Meanwhile, there are still a few available plots scattered around town — and fall is a great time to start a vegetable garden. If interested, contact Maynard at wmaynard@ or call (916) 808-4943.

Make a Difference Day

Maynard also is coordinating crews of Sacramento-area volunteers for National Make a Difference Day. To be held Oct. 26, the event tackles local garden projects that could use a one-day push. Last year, volunteers cleared empty lots of trash, cleaned paths and pulled weeds.

“We’re now looking for projects and more volunteers,” Maynard said. Possible projects include community gardens, school gardens, green-space projects — anything garden-related.

If interested, contact Maynard — but at a different number and email address, (916) 508-6025 and

Call The Bee’s Debbie Arrington, (916) 321-1075. Follow her on Twitter @debarrington

Read more articles by Debbie Arrington

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