How to build your own urban garden


By Haleigh Patch

Building your own urban garden can be interesting and fun, but don’t forget the paperwork.

Urban agriculture has its advantages for anyone looking to have their own garden. It is beneficial to the environment in many ways, promotes healthy eating and exercise, and allows people to give back to the community. However, there are steps and regulations that must be followed in order to build your own garden in the city of Boston.

This is a guide to building your own urban garden for more residential purposes.

First you want to do as much preliminary research as possible to make sure this is something you really want to do. Then, take the time to notify your neighbors about your plan to discuss any concerns they may have once you have found the plot of land you want to use, this can include rooftops.

If you do not have access to land and are looking to purchase it, there are many vacant areas around the city that offer opportunities for farmers. According to the Grassroots Program Manager of the city of Boston, Shani Fletcher, you must apply to purchase this land and the fees can be up to $30.

“If it’s for the purpose of the public benefit the city sells land for $100 a parcel,” says Fletcher.

There are many land purchase programs listed on such as the New England Farmland Finder, the Land for Good Program, and the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Research.

Like anything, permits are necessary. This will be the first step you take in the process of building your own urban garden. Article 89 allows you to farm within Boston city limits and according to Boston city government, ground‐level farms under one acre are allowed in all areas within the city.

Make sure during this process you are not violating any zoning laws, as there are different requirements in each neighborhood, and you will need to find out if your garden is located in a residential, commercial, industrial, or institutional zone.

According to Harvard Food Law and Policy Clinic, “ground level‐farms may need to go through the design review process with the Boston Redevelopment Authority given their size” and “depending on your farm’s location, you may need to undergo additional review with other agencies.”

According to Director of the Mayor’s Office of Food Initiatives Edith Murnane and Clinical Fellow Alli Condra, you must fill out additional permits for water, electrical, composting, curb cuts, and soil safety.

“Mostly make sure you are paying attention to the city’s zoning requirements,” says Murnane.

You then apply for a building and use of premises permit only if you are building something like a shed once the design review is complete. Finally, all farms must secure a business permit. Once you have acquired all the permits and relevant approvals and undergone all required inspections, you can begin to farm.

Boston has some helpful resources for urban farming. “The Grassroots Program at DND helps people start urban farms on City land through land access and funding,” says Fletcher. There are multiple grants and funding programs you can apply for to help with the process, especially through the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental’s Office of Grants and Technical Assistance.

One of the grants available is the MDAR Urban Agriculture Program which supports community scale farming initiatives. Additional grants listed include SARE Farmer Grant which is for commercial farmers who have a new idea that they want to test. All projects should benefit other farmers and work to make farming more sustainable, Natural Resources Conservation Services and Conservation Innovation Grants and Farm Energy Discount Program.

However, there are certain requirements for each grant and only certain people may apply.

On top of grants and funding programs there are also micro loans offered. Some of these include USDA Microloans for Beginning Farmers and Ranchers or the Carrot Project which offers loans for small farms from $3,000 to $35,000. Again, these microloans may not be for everyone. It is important to do research to see if you are eligible.

When it comes down to the actual farming, the city offers multiple training programs to help you get started. Some of these include Eastern Massachusetts Collaborative Regional Alliance that allows new farmers to share ideas and information. There is the Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture that works to connect farmers and communities along with Northeast Organic Farming Association of Massachusetts which is a community of farmers, gardeners, landscapers, and consumers who work to educate the public on organic farming.

If you need assistance with business planning, the city also offers programs such as the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources Agricultural Business Training Program which is a five-session course for farmers who have been operating for two or more years. There’s also training for expansion along with Tufts New Entry Sustainable Farming Project Farm Business Planning that is for New and potential farmers can get help developing business plans.

Any additional farming tips are up to the farmer now. This includes the season you want to start your farm in, what vegetables or plants you want to grow, if you decide to use a raised bed or try vertical farming, which is using fences or trellises to have your plants grow vertically rather than horizontally on the ground.


If this process seems too tedious or complicated, there are other options if you are still interested in having your own garden.

Recover Green Roofs is a design-build firm specializing in the design, installation, and maintenance of dynamic rooftop green spaces on residential, commercial, and institutional buildings. Their team works with clients to design different garden projects. and they are known for designing, building and maintaining with an annual maintenance contract.

Maintenance includes soil nutrient management: testing, amending, fertilization, weed removal, vegetation replacement, winterization and summarization of irrigation along with different component inspections. The design process includes zoning and permitting, budget parameters, site analysis and project programming.

As for cost, extensive, the least expensive and lightest type of system is $10 to $50 or more per square foot. Semi-Intensive, blends characteristics of the extensive and intensive green roof categories is $25 to $200 or more per square foot. Lastly, intensive, the most sophisticated system, as it contains the largest amount of soil depth is $20 to $200 or more per square foot.