By Holly Payne,
GreenStar Community Projects Coordinator

Can you get behind the idea of growing food anywhere in Ithaca — even in raised beds over concrete? Straight out of its cooperative roots, GreenStar Community Projects (GSCP) is helping organize the downtown community to grow more food. Our mission resonates with the City of Ithaca’s Comprehensive Plan (2015), which states that “All City of Ithaca residents will enjoy food security. Residents will have opportunities to grow their own food locally through private or community gardens …” GSCP, in partnership with Cornell Cooperative Extension (CCE), Loaves & Fishes, GIAC, and Southside Community Center, among others, is using this handsome document as a springboard to build collaboration among organizations, experienced gardeners, and residents — all to grow more fresh food!

Several years ago, CCE did a site inventory to identify existing plots of land suitable for gardening in the Town of Ithaca. Today, GSCP and CCE are exploring lots located in places central to the Food Justice movement — where even on a very small scale, residents could build self-sufficiency and community around their gardening efforts, while meeting some of their daily nutritional needs. We envision pop-up gardens that residents can develop quickly and use wherever they live.

On Feb. 6, GSCP co-hosted its 19th networking session along with CCE and Tompkins County Public Library. This year’s first quarterly event centered on Urban Food Gardening. Action groups have already emerged out of this session.

GSCP, CCE, and Loaves & Fishes are collaborating closely for a well-designed neighborhood garden. We’re scouting for the right site in the Southside and Northside neighborhoods. We’re in close contact with GIAC and the Southside Community Center. We’ve also begun knocking on neighborhood doors to hear concerns and identify interested participants. It’s exciting to note the potential for wheelchair-accessible gardening, which entails using tall raised beds for better access to seeding, watering, and weeding. Loaves & Fishes has offered to guide the volunteer process for the neighborhood garden. (They’re great at volunteer coordinating! They have 100 dedicated volunteers who serve 150 free meals every weekday to people in Ithaca who really need the food!) Further, GreenStar’s own Joy Mathews will bring her decades of experience to the plot as garden coordinator. Vegetables harvested from the neighborhood garden will benefit all who eat (for free!) at the Loaves & Fishes table.

There are many ways to join the urban food gardening movement, regardless of your gardening experience. Maybe you’d like your own plot, or window box, or tomato bucket. Maybe you’d like to be part of a community gardening project. Besides the neighborhood garden that’s hatching, there are long-standing volunteer opportunities at Ithaca Permaculture Park; the Ithaca and Floral Ave Community Gardens; Ithaca Children’s Garden; multiple ICSD school gardens; housing development gardens; Groundswell Incubator Program; private urban acreage; Food Policy Council; and more.

Want help with anything related to gardening? Cornell Cooperative Extension is a phenomenal resource for basic gardening support or brainstorming ways to confront multiple issues, such as deep shade, concrete, problems with contamination or pests, etc. Contact Chrys Gardener at or 607-272-2292, ext. 241, or click here.

Want to connect with others around gardening? Do you have something to share? Or would you like to earn GreenStar member labor credit for gardening? Contact Holly Payne at or 607-277-0020, ext. 509, or click here.