Community Gardens on City-Owned Vacant Lots


Permit Applications Now Available for the 2023 Growing Season (March 1st-December 15th) for City-Owned Vacant Lots

The City of Rochester is proud to support neighbors in transforming vacant lots into bountiful community gardens. Whether you are an experienced gardener or a truly green – green thumb, the City has an abundance of free resources to help you transform a vacant lot into a beautiful garden. 

City Garden Permits

If you want to garden on a city-owned lot, you’ll have to complete an annual (1-Year) Garden Permit application here. For questions about completing an application, email Diane Powell or call 428-6807.

Note: For organizations that have successfully completed three growing seasons on a City owned vacant lot, the City offers a 5-Year Garden Permit. Eligible groups can complete that application here. 

City Garden Permit Resources

There are a number of City resources available to help support community members who garden on city-owned lots:

  • Selecting a City Vacant Lot: For support locating the perfect City owned vacant lot for your garden, email Stephanie Benway or call 428-7380
  •  Water Access: There are a few different options available including: 
    •  Water Credit Program: The City Water Bureau will apply a credit to the water account of a neighbor who supplies water to a community garden. For more information about this program, email Justin Johnson, Interim Superintendent of Water Distribution, or call 428-9322.
    • Water Barrel Program: Barrels are available for a fee from the City. Homeowners gardening on their own land start the process by signing an agreement with the City’s Water Bureau. To get more details, email Justin Johnson, Interim Superintendent of Water Distribution, or call 428-9322. For those holding a garden permit on a City owned vacant lot or running a community garden on private land, i.e. church, food pantry garden, school, etc, grant money is available to cover costs for a water barrel.  Costs covered include the fee for the barrel, the diverter kit (to connect to a downspout and put in a spigot), delivery to your lot and filling the barrel with water.  To get started, email Stephanie Benway or call 428-7380.  She will lead you through the process from there.
  • Plant Giveaways: Each spring & fall, the City hosts the Rochester Blossoms Plant Giveaways for community members gardening on City owned vacant lots. For more information about these free plant giveaways, email Stephanie Benway or call 428-7380.
  • Compost and Mulch Deliveries: •Compost and Mulch Deliveries: The City is able to provide limited free delivery of compost and mulch. To schedule a delivery to a City owned vacant lot, email Diane Powell or call 428-6807. All deliveries must be scheduled at least two weeks in advance and are subject to availability.
    Special note: Neither the compost nor the mulch are food grade. They can be used on flower beds or around trees (that do not produce food) but do not order for the purpose of using in a food garden, around berry bushes, etc.
  • Garden Education Workshops: The City offers free garden workshops throughout the growing season. For information about the City sponsored garden workshops email Stephanie Benway Or visit the City's R-Central portal for a list of upcoming workshops. 
  • Garden Contest: Flower City Flourishing 2023 is completed for this year. Click here for a list of the winners in each of their categories. Start prepping now for 2024’s garden contest!! Next year will be for community gardens only; residential or business gardens will not be judged.

Community Resources & Partners

For information about designing a garden, accessing additional garden resources, and connecting with garden volunteers, visit Taproot Collective or email Nathaniel Mich, Executive Director of Taproot Collective.

For information about soil testing, garden pest identification and more, email Cornell Cooperative Extension-Monroe County Master Gardener’s Helpline or call 753-2555.

Blocks In Bloom is a beautification program established by Cornell Cooperative Extension-Monroe County for lower-resourced neighborhoods; a minimum of six homes must be pulled in to participate. For information, email Ashly Piedmont at Cornell Cooperative Extension.

SouthEast Area Coalition (SEAC) operates a Tool Shed at 1255 University Ave. For more information email SEAC  or call  271-TOOL (8665).

Public Library Resources

The Rochester Central Library and City Branch Libraries offer gardening books and periodicals that you can borrow with your library card. Gardening programs are offered in the spring, summer, and fall. For more information about our gardening programs, visit the Rochester Public Library Program Calendar. For more information, email Renée Kendrot at Central Library: Science, History, and Social Sciences Department.