Thursday, January 01, 2009

Day One: Starting a Community Garden

I am not a gardener (this is not a photo of my garden). I skimmed Square Foot Gardener last year and had a few container gardens do okay. I made mistakes; not enough sun, broccoli eaten by cabbage worms, wrong things planted together, things planted too close together.

I kill EVERY houseplant I have. I try to compost, kind of. I have no idea what good drainage looks like.

So, why did I sign up to be on a planning committee for a community garden?!

I don't have much authority to be on a planning committee, other than just signing up. It will be a learning experience. In eleven short days from now, we will have our first meeting. I asked a friend who is an experienced urban farmer for advice and she directed me to this site. And this one, too.

Long before we worry about what to plant, or even when to plant it, we have to consider what the goal of the entire project is, who will be planting, why and what we hope to gain from it.

Step 1: Why Garden?
It's a good question. During the Great Depression and WWI and WWII, having a garden meant food security and survival in uncertain times. Victory Gardens were also known as "food gardens for defense." Growing your own food was a way to help reduce the strain of the war effort on the public food supply. Gardens meant food security and also doing your part in the war effort. In the early 1940s, over 40 percent of the fruits and vegetables consumed in America were grown in victory gardens.

We are in a war (still) and we just experienced the third worst year in history for the stock market (Depression-included). But thanks to industrial ag and processed food industry, we can still expect to find food on the shelves of the grocery store and all the most travel-friendly tasteless produce that the average person recognizes. Indeed, why garden?

  1. Food security is still a concern. Actually more so. If you read the news at all, you are certainly aware of the record number of food recalls in recent years. Food safety. Rising food costs. Global warming. Growing demand. All are compelling reasons.

  2. Diversity. I've tried more new produce in the last few years than I had my entire life. There are so many varieties that you will never find in a megamart. It's a precious resource, this diversity, and we have already lost 75 percent of the world's agricultural diversity. With home and community gardens, we can all choose to plant and save seeds for heirloom varieties to preserve what is left of this precious resource.

  3. Education. We've lost touch with our food and how it is grown. By participating in the process, we can begin to learn again about what real food is and how important it is to preserve farm lands and resources. We can teach our children about where food comes from (and it is NOT a drive thru) and reverse some of the damage our fast food culture has brought.

  4. Food Justice. A community garden can become a source of fresh, healthy foods in urban areas where there are few markets or sources. It can help make healthy foods affordable and accessible to those who can least afford them. Produce from a community garden can be used to donate or to support food banks, even if the surrounding community is food secure. Read more about Food Justice programs like People's Grocery.

  5. Environment. Preserving vacant land for food production instead of more strip malls. Green space. Reduction of global warming. Beautification. There's a whole lot that a community garden can offer the surrounding community.

  6. Community. Community gardens serve as a gathering place for the surrounding neighbors. Cultures mix, people meet, communities thrive.
There's a lot of reasons to build a community garden, school yard garden, or even backyard garden.

The next step is Setting Goals, or deciding which of these resaons are important to the surrounding community and building the plan for those goals.


Chiot's Run said...

I would love to start a community garden in my town.

Janet said...

Hey, good luck! Being the organizer doesn't mean you have to be the horticulturist--it just means you have to find one. :) I'm sure you'll do great, and it's certainly a worthy project.

Expatriate Chef said...

Chiot, I hope you find some helpful links and thoughts here. Good luck!

Thanks, Janet! I'll try, I can do manual labor and write grants, etc. I can lust over heirloom seeds, maybe I will learn a bit in the process!