Food Self-Sufficient in the City?

My decade of farming close to home

Paul Greenberg

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My Ground Zero Garden. Photo by Katherine Marks. (@kmarksphoto on instagram)

If you listen, I mean really listen, you will hear your garden speaking to you. Mine, which sits on a 10th-floor Manhattan terrace, a stone’s throw from where the World Trade Center stood, first spoke to me on a crisp September morning 20 years ago. I had jury duty that day and decided to walk the two miles south from my home in Greenwich Village down to the courthouse in the financial district.

But when I turned south on to 6th Avenue, I looked up to see see an orange hole flaming at the centre of the tower ahead of me. A woman nearby fell to the pavement, screaming something about a plane. It didn’t seem like a good day to go downtown; yet something compelled me to continue south. When I arrived at a gas station on Canal Street, a boom sounded and a puff of smoke issued from just behind the tower. “What was that?” I asked a taxi driver, filling his tank nearby. “Well, see those two buildings are connected with pipes,” he said with the unquestionable authority endemic to New Yorkcabbies. “When you get a fire in one it spreads and you get a fire in the other.” Makes sense, I thought, and pushed southwards.

At a certain point, people in suits started jogging and then sprinting in the opposite direction. Whirling spirals of office paper trailed them. Still, I continued south. Somewhere around Walker Street a policeman stopped me. “Buddy, where the hell do you think you’re going?” he said.

“To the courthouse,” I said producing my summons. “I have jury duty.”

“You know what?” the cop said, holding up his hand. “Jury dismissed.” The rest of the day, as they say, is history. I went home and watched the towers fall in real time.

A year later, my friend Esther found an open-plan, 1,200 sq ft loft, in a building dating back to 1927, that had stood in the shadow of the now vanished towers. Government grants designed to incentivise the recolonisation of the district made it cheaper than the up-and-coming hipster enclaves of Brooklyn. It had a basketball court-size terrace, shared with two other apartments. A little later we started dating. Then I moved in.

Shortly after that, I started a garden.

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Paul Greenberg

New York Times bestselling author of Four Fish as well as The Climate Diet and Goodbye Phone, Hello World paulgreenberg.org