Urban Agriculture in the News


NytimesThe director of DC’s 7th Street Garden told me about this terrific story about urban farming in the New York Times and observed that reports of the rise of urban agriculture are all OVER the media these days.  Good news!

So when I went online last night to find the story,  just look what was was front and center on the Times website – a "zen gardener" turning her compost pile!  I’m talking page 1 above the fold – if web pages could be folded.  Since then it’s been shuttled to the Home and Garden Section but screen shots don’t lie.  Here’s the story, where unfortunately I found this: "An unapologetic 60, Ms. Johnson has earthmother-y white hair, liver
spots, knee socks and gnarly rose-scratched hands that horrify her two
fashionable younger sisters in New York and Los Angeles."  Well, as a bottle-blond 59-year-old myself, what horrifies ME is that description.  Is 60 so old that it needs to be apologized for? 


  1. Susan, I agree that too much ink was spent on the age history of the gardener, Wendy Johnson, with vaguely snide remarks from her sisters. It could have been a more effective gardening article, if the writer had talked more about gardening. While Johnson’s past and the fact that she’s written a book may be interesting, I think more people need to learn about her local and organic gardening practices. But that’s the teacher in me revealing itself. Ginny

  2. 60 years old is not so old that it needs to be apologized for, but likewise I think “white hair, liver spots, knee socks and gnarly rose-scratched hands” should celebrated. Nothing is wrong with how people look naturally. But then again I grow my veggies in my side yard, not hidden in my back yard, so what do I know?

  3. That was a pretty weak, disjointed piece. But I agree, that photo was great. At a certain age–around mine, I think–everybody has a choice. Is your life going to be beautiful–or are you? Who has time for both? (Of course, you manage both, Susan.) To my mind, one of them makes you a more interesting person.

  4. Michele, you’re too kind. Really.
    And to further burst the stereotype in the NYT piece, I’ve changed our sidebar photo so readers are reminded that gray hair can be seen on top of VERY fit and sexy bodies. So there.

  5. This article seemed to be more focused on the image of Wendy as a prototypical California aging hippie earth mother rather than celebrating the wisdom of a seasoned gardener. When I went thru the Master Gardening program 13 years ago, Wendy Johnson was our lecturer on vegetable growing. After weeks of lectures by University of California professors, Wendy was a revelation. She spoke of tasting soil in order to understand it’s mineral content and was the first person to open my mind to the idea that weeds have justifiable purposes in a garden. She planted a vivid image of weed roots seeking out minerals deep in the soil and drawing them to the surface. It’s true that she does speak in metaphors, but that’s because she has managed to live a life that balances meditation and gardening in an absoultely gorgeous place without alot of crap interfering. She’s the most intuitive gardener I’ve ever met and that’s something to honor and celebrate, not to reduce to mere surface characteristics. The writer is clueless and wasted a chance to learn something from a real master.

  6. Patricia Leigh Brown sounds as though she was trying to write a ‘witty’ piece trashing ageing hippies for the amusement of
    NY urbanites such as Wendy Johnson’s sisters, and hating every moment of the assignment.
    What else would one expect of the botox, plastic surgery, youth obsessed fashionable world!
    As gardeners we watch the cycle of life everyday and know that we are part of it.

  7. Being a 30-ish male, I can’t comment on the ageism in the piece, but I found it striking that NY Times would do two articles in rapid succession with very different tones. The urban farming article was a little more applicable to me, so maybe they thought to run an article that was a little more applicable to the 50’s and 60’s crowd – the more, ah, “seasoned” among us.

  8. Do real people ever look their best while gardening? [spoken by a ‘silver-haired’ sixty-three year old sans gnarly hands and liver spots!]

  9. I don’t know what to think about the way the article was written.
    It seems somewhat detached , especially if you have an emotional bond with Green Gulch Zen center and its gardeners.
    This should make for an interesting conversation at next Sunday’s sangha meeting at the temple.

  10. The liver spots was one descriptive adjective too far, a bit rude really. Overall the article wasn’t all bad. It just seemed to lack a defined point. It was obvious that Ms. Brown, the writer, was a bit taken aback by a lifstyle that was completely foreign to her. I know what it is like to first encounter a Buddhist centered lifestyle coming from your standard suburban mindset. It is a jolting experience.

    To me the article was about living the spiritual life of gardening in a fertile Northern California coastal valley. Today a story like that resonates, including the scratched and gnarled hands. I can get past the author’s discomfort.

    Garden writing does not always have to be and shouldn’t always be about “How To”.

  11. The “unapologetic” bit bothered me too. And this isn’t the first time I’ve noticed the NYT attaching the hippie image to any Californian who isn’t oozing botox and collagen from every pore. It seems they just can’t help themselves. But I for one am looking forward to reading and posting about Wendy Johnson’s new book.

  12. i loved the article on urban gardening in the times. thanks for pointing me to the online version, there are more great photos.

    i too have been noticing the increase in media focussed on people planting edibles in their yards. not sure if it is because it makes for a good spring story, or a response to the rise in food prices. either way, i am happy about it.

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