Little Free Gardens in San Diego: Grow, Support, or Take What You Need

By Maria Hesse / Photography By Drew McGill | December 07, 2017
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Planting the first Little Free Garden in San Diego

On November 12th, I sauntered out to Ocean Beach from La Mesa with my 11-year-old in tow. Our destination on the overcast and chilly morning was Debbie Siegelman’s front yard on Coronado Avenue. Siegelman had volunteered her yard to be the site of San Diego’s first Little Free Garden.

You’ve likely heard of the Little Free Library, maybe from our newsletter or by spotting one of the hundreds in San Diego. The idea is simple: put up a Little Free Library box in your neighborhood where people can take and leave books freely. The Little Free Garden movement is inspired to do the same thing, with gardens in yards or medians that can be easily and freely accessed by the community.

Rob Greenfield at a San Diego Little Free Garden

The Little Free Garden event was organized by sustainability activist, Rob Greenfield while he was visiting San Diego and doing a #50daysofGoodDeeds campaign. Greenfield also forgave a bike thief during his stay and gave his "Dude Making a Difference" talk at a couple free events before heading to Europe (where he is now). He will head to Florida in January 2018, where he will spend a year homesteading and attempting to live completely off the grid.

I first learned about Greenfield a couple years ago when he was featured on national news for rescuing food during dumpster dives. He’s on the extreme side of environmental and sustainability activist, and he’s tried everything from living off the grid in a tiny house in OB to traveling completely off grid on a bike ride across the country multiple times.

During his first cross country ride there was a self-imposed rule for eating that required he only eat local organic and unpackaged foods. This rule had been easy to accommodate in California, not so easy in other states. Greenfield experienced several food deserts on his ride, which left him no choice but to exercise his exception to the rule—he could eat any food that was going to go to waste. By the end of the summer, 70% of his diet had been rescued from a dumpster.  Greenfield started a Dumpster Diving San Diego page on Facebook shortly after in 2014, which now has over 800 members.

Greenfield's awareness campaigns aren't intended to be models for other people to live by, but rather to demonstrate what is possible. In his talk, Greenfield identifies that living sustainably happens on a spectrum—and only you can determine what is feasible and works for you. Not everyone is going to be capable of or want to compost their own poo, or strap and carry all their garbage to their body for a month like Greenfield has. But, if a barefoot, wanderlust, activist can build and plant garden boxes with the help of a few neighbors, then maybe you can too. 

Tending to a Free Little Garden in San Diego

Costs for the Little Free Garden project were covered by Greenfield’s nonprofit, Happy Healthy and Free. Donations of soil, seeds, and sprouting kits came from San Diego Hydroponics and Organics. About 25 eager volunteers from the neighborhood helped build two foot by four foot garden boxes that were installed at five locations in the neighborhood. Each box was equipped with an olla watering pot, a terra-cotta clay pot that is used to improve garden water efficiency by permaculturalists. Soil, plants, and seeds were planted at each site. 

You can visit, tend to, or take from the gardens at:

  • 4775 Coronado Ave
  • 1883 Ebers
  • 5045 Saratoga Ave
  • 4662 Santa Monica Ave
  • 1678 Sunset Cliffs Blvd

To learn more about registering a Little Free Garden in your yard, check out the Little Free Garden website and order a starter kit for $25.

To learn more about Greenfield, check out

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