The history of community gardens in the United States can be traced back to the 1890s, when an economic recession led residents of Detroit to relieve their hunger by growing food in vacant lots.
The economic recession left many people, especially working-class and immigrant families, unemployed and hungry. In 1893, Detroit Mayor Hazen Pingree decided to tackle this problem by creating the country’s very first large, municipally sponsored urban gardening program. The program promoted the use of vacant lots to grow food. This was accomplished by providing unemployed residents with plots of land, seeds, tools, and gardening manuals in different languages. Cities from Boston to San Francisco decided to replicate Detroit’s successful program.
While the use of community gardens declined during periods of economic growth, they once again became popular during WWI and WWII. During these periods, cities and residents promoted community gardens as a way to improve food access and boost morale.
Since the 1960s and 1970s, individuals as well as grassroots organizations have promoted community gardens in order to foster environmental stewardship and education, revitalize neighborhoods affected by disinvestment and urban decline, improve access to healthy food, as well as build a sense of community and place.