I live in a tiny apartment in Greenwich Village, and I really covet space. What I most covet, however, is a few square yards of dirt to grow some vegetables in. I was very pleased to read this week that the Obamas are planting a kitchen garden at the White House, and resolved to rig up some kind of herb and tomato garden outside one of my windows this year.
When I was a kid we had a vegetable patch at the end of our back garden, which was not uncommon in Ireland (and Britain) in the 1970s - certainly I remember a lot of gardening shows on TV and cooking programmes that would allude to using one's own garden bounty. We had the garden going most of the year round, and we variously grew runner beans (this was always our biggest crop, we'd eat them later from the freezer for months), sweetcorn, peas, purple-sprouting broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, spinach, carrots, parsnips, beets, rhubarb, onions, and horseradish (this one was a scourge - very hard to control and would appear everywhere in the garden, even years after you thought you'd gotten rid of it) along with radishes, scallions, lettuces and tomatoes in a "salad patch". We also had a few soft fruit bushes - redcurrants, blackcurrants, raspberries, and gooseberries - and strawberry beds, as well as two apple trees and a sour cherry tree. We would make our own compost from garden cuttings, or order horse manure or spent hops as fertilizer. It was always hard work breaking the ground after the winter to get the garden ready for spring. We'd spend hours out there in frosty weather turning soil, a little robin keeping us company as he grabbed meaty worms from the fresh soil while we dug.
I think our neighbours were pretty amused so see half our front garden dedicated to growing potatoes for a couple of years. This effort served two purposes - it gave us fresh spuds on the table (I love boiled baby potatoes straight out of the ground that day!), and it is also really good for aerating and adding nutrients to the soil, as we'd just finished doing an extension to the house, so were about to replant the lawn. Definately an occasional case of "The Good Life" at the Smith household in the 70s, though we never kept our own chickens.
A good option for city dwellers are community gardens, though I've not gotten involved in any as I don't always thrive well in a co-operative environment, preferring to put in time when it suits me rather than based on a rota. There is a garden near our apartment, on La Guardia Place, and it pleases me to see flowers and fruit growing there in the Spring and Summer. Another wonderful option are allotments, though I've yet to see them in the US - so please let me know if they have them here. Allotments are found all over Ireland and Britain, and probably elsewhere, and basically they are large areas of land managed by city or county councils (local governments) carved into seperate "lots" that are designated for private kitchen gardening. My sister has sizable one in the part of suburban Dublin where she lives with her husband, and she grows a plethora of fruit and vegetables there, as well as flowers (and there's an abundance of wild blackberries growing in the hedgerows around the allotment!).
I ate most vegetables as a kid - though only developed a taste for brussels sprouts as an adult, and it took a while to get into peas, which I found too sweet (I'd lace them with lots of salt) - and I realize that childen and vegetables is not always a natural match. Nolan, who is eight, generally avoids them when he can, with just a few exceptions - one of which is asparagus, which I find quite amusing, as it has quite an assertive "vegetal" taste. I do believe, though, that giving a kid some ownership in what you put on their plate can go a long way towards getting them to eat more healthy meals. I want to get Nolan involved in some of my window-sill and fire-escape gardening experiments this Spring and Summer, as I have no doubt that our kitchen garden was one of the reasons I so readily embraced a wide variety of vegetables as a a child. In the meantime I'm looking forward to see what next steps Michelle Obama will take on her mission of bringing more nutritious (and economical) fare to the American table.