One year later



Yesterday afternoon, I stopped by Urban Roots, Buffalo’s first and only co-op garden center. There were balloons, kids’ activities, and a table of snacks—€”in the evening there was a party for the adults—€”because yesterday Urban Roots turned one year old. In spite of some misgivings, I was an early adopter of this cooperative city garden center concept, and became the center’€™s 17th member-owner. Now there are nearly 400. Maybe it was the free signed print by a local artist, but I think more than that it was the idea of having any full-fledged garden center within Buffalo’€™s city limits.

As all of you know, increasingly the independent garden center is becoming—€”if not a thing of the past—at least endangered, as Home Depot, Lowe’€™s, and the other big boxes offer all-in-one solutions to home gardeners. Here in Western New York, we are lucky, in that we have a number of excellent options. I can find everything I need for my garden without ever setting foot in a Home Depot, but€—a big but—all of the best places are a good 20-minute drive away from my city home.


In both its location and its offerings, Urban Roots has the city gardener in mind. They offer beautiful containers, interesting garden art, and trees perfect for small urban gardens and hellstrips. They also have rain barrels, cheap undyed mulch, and plenty of organic sprays and such.

While the suburban garden centers offer workshops that may as well be called “€œHow to spend a fortune on your koi pond” and “New and expensive perennials you gotta have,” Urban Roots has a three-part series on permaculture, including information on edible landscaping, water collection and conservation, and biological pest management. Urban Roots is also a local pioneer in heirloom vegetable education; they are the only place in the area offering seedlings of such plants as Brandywine, Cherokee Purple, and Green Zebra tomatoes (just to name a very few).


They listen to their member-owners and often bring in plants upon request. Sure, I’ve had my quibbles. Some of the founders of Urban Roots are much more interested in activism than horticulture—€”i.e., they don’t know a heuchera from a heliotrope. But you need the activists to get a place like this going, and the horticulturalists have followed.

Happy birthday, UR! And many more.

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Elizabeth Licata has been a regular writer for  Garden Rant since 2007, after contributing a guest rant about the overuse of American flags in front gardens. She lives and gardens in Buffalo, N.Y., which, far from the frozen wasteland many assume it to be, is a lush paradise of gardens, historic architecture, galleries, museums, theaters, and fun. As editor of Buffalo Spree magazine,  Licata helps keep Western New Yorkers apprised about what is happening in their region. She is also a freelance writer and art curator, who’s been published in Fine Gardening, Horticulture, ArtNews, Art in America, the Village Voice, and many other publications. She does regular radio segments for the local NPR affiliate, WBFO.

Licata is involved with Garden Walk Buffalo, the largest free garden tour in the US and possibly the world, and has written the text for a book about Garden Walk. She has also written and edited several art-related books. Contact Elizabeth: ealicata at


  1. Oh, what a neat place. A nursery you can go to, where they look up and recognize you and actually learn your name–and your plant preferences–is a true jewel and the “big box” stores don’t even come close.

  2. Urban garden centers are a hot trend in the industry. Molback’s in Seattle was one of the first to try it but it was too new a concept to work then. There was recently an urban garden center featured Nursery Retailer Magazine (that mag also featured me a few years back!!) in Chicago downtown. Also another urban garden center started in a “so so” hood on Chitown’s south side. It was doomed to fail from the start according the pundits but the place is thriving since they cater to the local hood….basic plants basic hard lines and all the help a novice city gardener needs.

    I do think it is a shame that civic minded grass roots change artists are called activists these days. Imagine if Ben,Geroge,Paul, John and others in 1776 were called activists……….

    I also love the article in Food and Wine’s summer grilling issue about “city farmers”. One gent from South Central LA started building veg and herb gardens for the poor inner city hoods. He would get on a city bus with his shovel and hoe (poor choice of words but I mean the tool) to get to his next client. Now at 60 plus years old he has a crew of 12 and four pick ups trversing the area helping people grow good food in their back yard. Activist? No, down right modern day hero in my book tackling the problem head on instead of waiting for the government or (Al Sharpton) to do it.

    Good luck with your co-op garden center the idea rocks and it’s time has come

    The (nice) Troll

  3. Michele…….

    I live in the Albany area. I am a mentor for Capital Ditrict Community Gardens (at least I was last year no calls yet this spring). I am looking to start a “back yard farmer” busines/co-op(?) next spring. Community gardens are great but there are some folks who can’t leave their home but would love to have a garden and just need a little help. Then there are the rich yuppies/weekenders or foodies who want the fresh produce but not the work.

    I work in the garden industry full time have connections with a local distibutor on Railroad Avenue.

    So if you want to further this idea I am all for helping to get it going. Now is the time since planting season 2009 does not start
    for 10 more months.

    The (wants to give back to the community) Troll

  4. We have nothing like this that I am aware of in the Nashville, TN area…any Nashvillians who know otherwise please let me know! To get the best plants I have to drive to another county…a local produce seller has a few heirloom tomato plants but they go fast.

  5. Gail, I would consider growing your own tomatoes from seed. It’s actually pretty easy and low-tech. I use 4-foot utility lights on phone books. Too late for this year, but a super fun project for 2009!

  6. Out here in the country we don’t have urban anything, but we do have co-ops. I’m a member of the Green Fields Market coop – wonderful produce bakery, deli and all manner of organic foods and products. WE are also about to have a coop mercantile – to take the place of discount big box stores which we do not have. This is a great idea for a new kind of coop. Continued success.

  7. I am much delayed in discovering Elizabeth’s story on Urban Roots’ first birthday. There is much to celebrate with this business at more than one year open and several years in the making. While we are not all gardeners who endeavor into the science, the organizers of the Urban Roots certainly appreciate what gardens do for a community and humanity, and we all DO have gardens, and we enjoy them in our own ways.

    Just a note, Urban Roots Community Garden Center is IN FACT the FIRST cooperative garden center in the country. We started organizing in late 2004, had our first plant swap in 2005, and had our first plant sale of heirloom veggies and perennials in 2006. While the founders of Urban Earth in Minneapolis took over an existing garden center that was closing in the fall of 2007 as a cooperative, we were the first cooperative garden center to be active in the country. Surprising but true.

    So – no – you are not going to find a place like this any where else other than Minneapolis.

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